Religion & Spirituality In Capoeira

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Religion & Spirituality In Capoeira

Historical Background

Capoeira's roots lie in Africa, the concept behind it was born from African slaves who had to defend themselves against their captors. Originally it was the Portuguese who transported Africans to Portugal and Brazil to make use of them as slaves. It is estimated that nearly four million Africans were transported from Africa to Brazil. When the Portuguese began shipping slaves to Brazil the country already had an mixture of religions. Catholicism was desperately trying to rid the area of the native Indian beliefs.

During slave revolts many African slaves escaped their senzalas (plantation homes) and gathered in what became known as the quilombos, which was villages where escaped slaves lived. In these villages, the slaves made significant efforts to preserve their African heritage – language,customs and culture.

The slaves brought their beliefs in spirits and magic to the Brazil. While the slaves outwardly worshipped under the Catholic faith, they covertly carried on their religious beliefs since slave owners prohibited slaves from practising their African form of worship.

Afro-Brazilian Religion


The native faith believed in spirits and magic just like the slaves, so it was bound to be incorporated into the slaves beliefs and the two religions merged. The God, Exú, became St.Anthony, Iansã became St. Barbara, Iemanjá became Our Lady of the Glory, Naña became Our Lady of St. Anne, Oba became Joane of Arc, Obaluayê became St. Lazarus/St. Roque, Ogum became St. George, Oxalá became Jesus Christ, Oxossi became St. Sebastian, Oxum became Our Lady of the Conception, Oxumaré became St. Bartholomew and Xangó became St. Geronimo.

To this day, millions of Catholics continue to worship these gods or Orixás (deities) privately while maintaining their Catholicism publicly. The term for this umbrella religion which is polytheist (many Gods) is known as Macumba. Macumba is also used by non-practising Brazilians except it is known to be a form of witchcraft, black magic or religion of African origin.


Candomblé more well known to many non-Brazilian Capoeiristas as this was the form of religion that developed around Salvador Brasil, which is also the home of Capoeira Angola. Candomblé is also a syncretic religion that evolves worship of the Orixás. It surfaced through a process of syncretism between the traditional Yoruba religion of West Africa and the Roman Catholic form of Christianity. Like Macumba, Candomblé is a polytheistic religion and an oral tradition so it does not have holy texts. Candomblé means "dance in honour of the gods", as such music and dance are an important parts of the Candomblé ceremonies.

The worship of Gods

Orixás worship, is common in Brazil, there is a calendar celebration for all the gods, which generally coincide with the Catholic celebrations of Lent, Advent, Easter and the days of Saints John, Peter, Paul, Lazarus, Cosmos and Damian, Anthony, Sebastian, George, and All Souls' Day, and Immaculate Conception.

Candomblé practitioners believe that every person has their own tutelary deity which controls his or her destiny and acts as a protector.


The orixás Exú is regarded as a trickster, he must be appeased before any commemoration can begin as such he is always fed first in any ritual. He is the only god to have a indefinite amount of locations. His main place is any street crossings.


The orixás Yemọja is the best known of the Afro-gods as the Queen of the Waters, especially the sea. She is Identified with Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, she dresses in sky-blue satin and wears a string of pearls, a tiara, a richly decorated fan and a long white veil with gold stars. Her statue, which is the most common artefact of Candomblé, has alabaster skin, large breasts and is sometimes in the form of a mermaid.

On the 31st of December, many millions of Brazilians and tourists with no other connection to the Afro-Brazilian religions dress in white and go to the nearest beach to honour her. Miniature boats painted silver and filled with a bar of soap, a mirror, a bottle of perfume, a comb and white flowers are ritually prepared with much dance and song. At midnight they are launched, accompanied by a massive fireworks display.


The orixás Ògún is associated with Saint George the dragon-slayer, he is the god of steel and lives deep in the forest his colours vary but always include the red of blood. His symbol is the sword and other wrought iron tools. Associated with Wednesday, his food is red meat and palm wine, and his dance imitates the march of a warrior. He is the most prevalent dominant god.


The orixás Oxalá's colors are white, ivory, pearl and silver. His days are Friday and Sunday and his nature tokens are the oceans, rivers, the sky, mountains and peaks. His metals are silver and platinum, his amulet a necklace of white beads. The great public celebration held in honor of Oxalá takes place in Salvador Bahia. It is the duty of the baianas (woman dressed in white cloth who wear elaborate necklaces) to wash the front stairs of the Church of Bonfin . The water used to wash the stairs is prepared in a secret ritual. This washing is done at the beginning of the year to symbolise the purification of sins. The baianas also sprinkle water on those people present during the ceremony.

Capoeira & Religion

Even though many Capoeira songs have a tinge of religious and spiritual aspects to it because of Christian or Candomblé (an African religion) references Capoeira doesn't necessarily have a religious or spiritual component. The spiritual aspect behind capoeira is more to do with how the mestres who themselves are religious relate to one another more than with the gods. Even though Brazil is a very Catholic country there are no clear relation between the practice of Capoeira and religion.

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