Capoeira Dance, Brazil, 1830s

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Image Reference

Johann Moritz Rugendas, Voyage Pittoresque dans le Bresil. Traduit de l'Allemand (Paris, 1835; also published in same year in German). Reprinted in Viagem Pitoresca Através do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro, 1972; images shown on this website), and in color from original water colors, in Viagem Pitoresca Através do Brasil (Editora Itatiaia Limitada, Editora da Universidade de Sao Paulo, 1989) [NOTE: both 1835 French and German original editions were published in black/white].

Caption, "jogar capoera ou danse de la guerre" (capoeira play or war dance); men and women onlookers; drummer on right. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial arts-dance form whose origins are obscure: it may have originated in Africa or in the slave quarters of Brazilian plantations. In any case, it is a uniquely Brazilian practice, and the term can signify "an individual who engages in the athletic pastime of the same name, in which the participant armed with a razor or a knife, with rapid and characteristic gestures goes through the motion of criminal acts" (translators note in Gilberto Freyre, The Masters and the Slaves [New York, 1956], p. 48, note 120). A more recent view and detailed analysis stresses "The capoeiras organized public contests for entertainment. They played capoeira in military and religious processions and scorned and derided public officials. Their performance was accompanied by music, dance, and interaction with the spectators. Although public officials attempted to brand the capoeiras as dangerous and violent hoodlums,the masses admired and respected the performers" (Maya Talmon-Chvaicer, The Criminalization of Capoeira in Nineteenth-Century Brazil, Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 8 (2002), p. 525). For an analysis of Rugendas' drawings, as these were informed by his anti-slavery views, see Robert W. Slenes, African Abrahams, Lucretias and Men of Sorrows: Allegory and Allusion in the Brazilian Anti-slavery Lithographs (1827-1835) of Johann Moritz Rugendas (Slavery & Abolition, vol. 23 [2002], pp. 147-168).