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Capoeira comes home, to Angola PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 26 October 2008

by Candido Mendes*

Black teenagers in white robes spin in circles, throwing their feet in the air and then pounding against each other, following the rhythms of a drum in a distinctively Brazilian beat.
They are training in capoeira, a blend of martial arts and dance, in the country where some experts believe it originated — Angola.
Father Stefano, an Italian priest who came to Angola five years ago, said he'd always believed capoeira was created in Brazil by descendents of African slaves who developed it to secretly practice martial arts in the guise of dance, so they could fight their way out of slavery.
But when he arrived here, he says he found evidence of its earliest roots in Angola, from where up to two million people were taken to the Americas as slaves from the 16th to 19th centuries. Half of them are believed to have gone to Brazil.
"My research showed that capoeira was born in Angola, in the central-south part of the country," he told AFP.
Father Stefano was surprised to discover that the sport is almost unknown in Angola, where young people are captivated by modern games like football, basketball and handball.
"But those sports aren't Angolan, while capoeira is," he said.
"We want to take capoeira back to where it belongs," Father Stefano said, so in 2004 he started offering lessons at the Dom Bosco Centre, a Catholic school located in the crime-ridden Luanda slum of Sambizanga.
At first, he had to bring trainers from Brazil to coach his first students, and parents didn't want to allow their children to learn capoeira.
"They said they wouldn't let their kids to learn how to fight. They have enough violence in the neighbourhood," he said.
Slowly he convinced parents that by practising capoeira, the children would keep away from crime while learning about health and discipline.
Now his first class has graduated to become coaches themselves, and teenage boys and girls come from around the city to learn the sport, which has earned a place in the school's official curriculum.
Yolanda Silva, 15, was among the students who struggled to convince her parents to allow her to learn capoeira.
"At first they said no, because they thought it was dangerous for women," she said. Her persistence and passion for the sport finally convinced them to agree.
"With so many bad things happening around us, capoeira is a positive thing to do," she said.
One of Father Stefano's assistants at the school, Sister Furvia, said that capoeira was one way of teaching teenagers the integrity and strength needed to survive in Luanda's sprawling slums, which house millions of people who fled to the city to escape decades of civil war.
"It's not just about the art. Capoeira is about the person as a whole," she said. "In an area like this, we want people to respect life. So we're spreading positive messages in a crime area."
The sport is now getting so popular that Father Stefano has started new courses in other parts of Luanda and in smaller provincial towns.
"We want to show that capoeira is very Angolan, very African," he said.


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