The origin of capoeira is inextricably bound up with the itinerary of the black man in Brasil. This itinerary starts around 1530, official date of the beginning of the colonisation of Brasil (Brasil was discovered in 1500 by Pedro Álvares Cabral, but didn't present much interest to Portugal apart from pau brasil (tree used for red tint that gave its name to the country), as Portugal was at that time too busy with trade in Asia). The Portuguese introduced the sugar cane on the Brazilian littoral and imported African slaves to grow it, as the Amerindians succombed too quickly from the illnesses imported by the Europeans. The captives were initially put in feitorias, human cattle piled in corrals, waiting for the infected holds of the slave-ships. Since the initial cost of the ''merchandise'' was cheap, the traffickers overcrowded their boats with half a thousand souls in order to obtain more profit. Because of the precarious conditions during the three-month journey, approximately 400,000 people lost their lives. Four million people were traded until the middle of the nineteenth century when the traffic was officially abolished (slave trade was abolished in 1850 by the law Eucébio de Queiroz). Nevertheless Africans were smuggled into the country almost until the abolition of slavery in 1889.
Three major African groups contributed in large numbers to the slave population in Brazil: the Sudanese group, composed largely of Yoruba and Dahomean peoples, the Guinea-Sudanese groups of Malesian and Hausa peoples, and the Bantu groups from Angola, Congo, and Mozambique. In the colony they were mixed on the same plantations, making organised rebellions against captivity difficult. Nevertheless, in addition to constant individual escapes, history records important revolts against captivity. Many times, after escaping from the senzalas (name given to the slave quarters on the plantation), they founded independent villages in the back lands called quilombos. There were at least ten major quilombos with internal socio-economic organisation and commercial relationships with neighbouring cities. The Quilombo dos Palmares lasted sixty-seven years in the interior of the state of Alagoas rebuffing almost all expeditions sent to extinguish it.
In spite of the oppression, the Africans and their descendants developed an extraordinary cultural, social, and political universe parallel to the social system imposed on them, keeping alive many expressions of African culture, some of them traditionally preserved, others gradually assuming new forms.
There are many theories about the origin of capoeira and although we present several here, far from us the idea to state that this list is complete or even that one of these theories would be closer to the truth than another one.
* Augusto Ferreira states that capoeira was born out of a burning desire for freedom. Only through the efforts of these men would the slaves free themselves, and return once more to the life of freedom they had known in their own land. The first steps towards this reconquest of freedom were taken when the Dutch lashed out against the Portuguese colony, invading the towns and plantations along the North-eastern coast concentrating on Recife and Salvador. With each Dutch invasion the security systems of the plantations and towns were weakened and the slaves, taking advantage of the opportunities, fled, plunging into the forests in search of safe places in which to hide and survive. At the time the land along the coast was separated from the interior lands by a strip of Amazon-type forest, traces of which are still found today. It was in this strip of forest, in areas 100 kilometers wide, that the best hiding places were found. These areas were known as capoeiras. capoeira developed its structure as a fight in the quilombos. The embryo of capoeira as a rudimentary fighting style was created in the slaves' quarters, and perhaps would not have developed further if left only to that environment. It would have been only a series of strike movements, utilising above all the muscular strength of its practitioners. It would have remained an essentially rustic style used only to evade the aggressions of the slaves' captors and masters. The development of capoeira as a fight occurred in the quilombos, basically because it was needed not just to defend against physical aggression, but as a defence in life or death situations in which the attackers did not simply use whips, but rather deadly weapons, even fire arms. Another indication that capoeira was used by people of Palmares was its diffusion throughout large parts of Brazil. When the quilombos were destroyed, the watchful warriors, no longer able to stay together, were scattered throughout several states, even as far as Rio Grande do Sul, and with them went their fight.
* Jair Moura quoting Albano de Neves e Souza from Luanda wrote: Among the Mucupe in Southern Angola, there is a zebra dance, the n'golo, that takes place during the efundula, the celebration of the puberty of young girls, when they stop being muficuemes, or girls, and pass to the role of women, ready for marriage and child rearing. The boy who wins the n'golo is directed to choose a wife from amongst the new initiates, without paying the dowry. The n'golo is capoeira. The slaves from the south that went to Brazil took with them the tradition of fighting with their feet. Over time, that which was principally a tribal tradition was transformed into a weapon of attack and defence...
* Another theory states that the origin of capoeira was born from games the slaves played at the bird market in the street Rua da Praia de D. Manoel, awaiting for the market to open. The name capoeira would originate from the basket in which they carried their chickens on their head. (in modern Portuguese capoeira means poultry)
* The roots of the word capoeira can be traced to the Guarany language, the indigenous mother tongue of the majority of the native Brazilian Indian dialects. In that case it relates to wood, leaves, tree, forest and vegetable growth in general.
* Antenor Nascentes believes the game is related to the bird odontophorus capueira spix, also simply called capoeira. This is a kind of small partridge that lives in flocks in the south of the states of Bahia, Mato Grosso, São Paulo, Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. The male capoeira bird is very jealous and engages in fierce fights with its rivals. In conclusion, he writes ''... the steps of dexterity of this fight... are comparable to the steps of the people who use agility and skill in the simulated fight of capoeira with the goal of amusement.''
The written history of capoeira began in the eighteenth century. The oldest known descriptive text on capoeira was written by Melo de Morais Filho, a physician and highly regarded historian who documented the popular traditions of Brazil. During the first two centuries of colonisation, Portugal did not pay much attention to its colony in South-America other than to exploit its natural resources. The growth of cities without adequate economic and sociocultural planning guaranteed a large vagrant population. These people were attracted to capoeira, that besides the benefits of sport and play, gave its practitioners a powerful means of attack and defence, and for many, a weapon for their crimes of survival. The identification of the outlaw with capoeira was so widespread that the simple word capoeira became a synonym for bandit and thief.
In 1808, in a political move to avoid an impending French invasion, the monarch Dom João VI fled from Portugal and established the centre of his empire in Brazil. Among his many economic and cultural programs, the monarch created the first organised police force of Brazil. Fourteen chefes de policia (police commander) succeeded each other until 1831, making the capoeirista's life a reign of constant terror. During this period manu successive historical events influenced the social dynamics of the country, with obvious repercussion on capoeira.
* In 1815 Brazil becomes a Kingdom.
* In 1822 Brazil signs its declaration of independence and becomes an empire.
* In 1850 slave trade is abolished.
* In 1865 triple alliance of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay against Paraguay.
* In 1885 the law Saraiva Cotegipe (also called lei sexagenário) frees all slaves at the age of 65.
* In 1888 slavery is abolished without granting compensation to the slave owners.
* In 1889 the emperor is dethroned by the army and the republic is proclamated.
The stew of wanderers, ... was thickened by veterans returning from the Paraguayan war, by people from the destroyed quilombos and by former slaves who were not adequately absorbed by the society. If these people were not capoeiristas, they soon became attracted to the art. The official repression of capoeira was intensified.
Once in a while capoeiristas were considered heroes, as when they were sent to the front lines during the Paraguayan war and when they helped to suffocate a rebellion of foreign soldiers in 1828 (The Brazilian government brought in mercenaries to reinforce its troops during the Rio de Prata war. Unhappy with the governments treatment of them, several batalions rebelled, left headquarters, looting and killing innocent bystanders they encountered in their path. The incident ended when the soldiers were confronted with a group of capoeiristas. Although armed with rifles, the soldiers could not defend themselves against the clubs, razor blades, stones and cunning of the capoeiristas. They fell down in the streets and in the plazas, the majority wounded and a large number dead).
In the last days of the empire, conflicts between republicans and monarchist occurred frequently. In order to protect Princess Isabel, the monarchists created the Guarda Negra (black guard), composed of blacks, mulattos and many freed slaves. These men were extremely devoted to the princess because she had signed the law abolishing slavery. The Guarda Negra battled republicans until the last spark of the empire's life had died out. Furious, republicans swore to kill its members; if the monarchy could not extinguish capoeira, the newly-established republic was going to try.
At the dawn of the twentieth century capoeira was widespread, used by outlaws, bodyguards, mercenaries and politicians who wished to influence the outcome of elections. In 1920 the police chef of Bahia (Pedro de Azevedo Gordilho) placed the full power of his cavalry squadron against outlaws, rodas de capoeira, terreiros de candomblé and afoxes, making him the number one enemy of the capoeiristas in Bahia. The repression of capoeira abated after a military revolution put Getúlio Vargas in power in 1930. To bolster popular support the chief of government instituted a regime of paternalistic labour legislation, while easing up on repression of popular cultural expressions, including capoeira. In 1932 Mestre Bimba was the first mestre to open a formal school of capoeira. On July 9, 1937 the course of history changed with the official recognition of his school by the government through the office of education and public assistance.