Capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art practiced all over the world, was originally a criminal activity. Even after the abolition of slavery, in 1888, the police would repress any manifestation of Black culture. Lots of the early records were destroyed and capoeira disappeared from several parts of the country, thanks to the repression. It only survived in regions where African culture was particularly strong, such as the cities of Salvador and Rio. In Recife, capital of Pernambuco, it morphed into frevo, a popular dance that was quite rough in the beginning of the 20th century. As recently as the 60s, the umbrella – at the time not covered with fabric – was used as a weapon. Today, it is hard to believe frevo descends from a martial art.
Capoeira‘s prestige only began to grow after the 30s, when President Getúlio Vargas, a nationalist, decided it wasn’t a crime but a genuine Brazilian art that could reinforce national identity. Nevertheless, capoeira was seen as something marginal till recently and, in the 70s, you could still go to the jail if caught participating in a jogo.
The following three illustrations, by Calixto Cordeiro (Kalixto), were published in 1906.
You might be also interested in these posts: