During the 16th century slavery existed in Brazil. It is estimated that over two million slaves were brought to Brazil at the Port of Bahia from Africa. Slaves had to work on plantations where sugar and tobacco were the main crops and where the demand for labour was greatest.
These captive Africans created the first form of Capoeira to increase their chance for freedom and independence. With dancing and religious gatherings as a pretext, they practiced fighting techniques. This is how Capoeira has become an art form through which many have freed themselves.
In "Pernambuco" (a state of Brazil where sugar cane was plentiful), a group of 40 slaves used Capoeira to rebel against their master and burned down the plantation's main residence. Thus freed, they headed for the mountains. Eventually, they reached what they thought was a safe place, which they named "Palmarès", due to the abundance of palm trees. In these mountains, an African community was born, it lasted nearly a century and grew to a population of over 20,000 inhabitants. These slaves came from different parts of Africa, and therefore from different cultures, tribes who initially were enemies and who united in the Brazilian lands for the same objective.
After the abolition of slavery in 1888, the planters no longer had an interest in the former slaves as a labour force. Most of them therefore entered the cities and formed what are called slums. As jobs were scarce, several ex-slaves became criminals and used their Capoeira skills on their victims. Eventually, a rather rigid and strict penal code was initiated, stipulating that any person recognized as being "capoeirista" (person practicing this art) should be banned.
A law, which prohibited the practice of Capoeira was in force until 1920. Capoeiristas who did their best to keep their traditions alive, presented their training in the form of folk dance. From this angle, Capoeira was better accepted by society.
In those years, it was common for capoeiristas to have one or more nicknames, so the police had a much harder time arresting them, since they did not know their real names. This tradition has continued and is still practiced in the current academies of Capoeira; when a person is baptized (during the "Batizado"), they are given a nickname inspired either by their personality, a physical trait, their style of play or even an often funny anecdote!
In 1937, "Mestre Bimba", one of the most renowned masters of Capoeira in the state of Bahia in Brazil, received an invitation from the Brazilian President to demonstrate his art in the capital, Brasilia. After a successful performance, he returned to his state, and with the permission of the government, opened the first Capoeira academy in Brazil. It was the first step towards more open development. A few years later, the Senate adopted a bill establishing Capoeira as a Brazilian national sport.
Manuel dos Reis Machado, Mestre Bimba was born November 23, 1900 in the "bairro do Engenho velho" (Old Mill district) in Salvador (Bahia) in Brazil, died February 5, 1974 is one the most famous Brazilian capoeiristas; he is the father of Capoeira Regional.
In 1928, Mestre Bimba created the capoeira regional which he himself qualifies as a real very complete fight, a mixture of batuque and Capoeira Angola with a few strokes added.
On June 12, 1996, the Federal University of Bahia awarded an honorary title which recognized capoeira as a symbolic exercise of ancestral bodily wisdom and celebrated Master Bimba as an actor and promoter of Afro-Brazilian culture.
Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, Mestre Pastinha was born 1889 and died 1981, is a great master of capoeira. At the beginning of the 1930s, he gave his letters of nobility to this art conveyed for decades before him by the former African slaves.
He created the first Angola capoeira school while establishing a teaching method that was based on ancient traditions. He also wrote the first book on the subject, where he exposes his own philosophical conception of capoeira. It was Mestre Pastinha who institutionalized the colours for the clothing of the capoeiristas, which produced the jersey of the master's favourite football team.
He created the traditional orchestra (the bateria) that accompanies this art: three berimbaus, two pandeiros, an atabaque, a reco-reco, an agogo. He also trained great angoleiros capoeiristas like Mestre João Grande, Mestre João Pequeno.