Capôéra – A Lexical Introduction

Brazil is a huge country with many diverse influences. With its geographical size, it could be termed a subcontinent. And of all continents which could influence this subcontinent, Africa leads the group.

Save the introduction to the diverse Afro-Brazilian arts; for this is not an academic essay. This is focused on Capoeira—permit the wrong spelling, it’s pop culture to spell it that way.

What is capoeira?

  • An afro-brazilian martial art
  • A dance
  • Means to worship deities
  • Slave misbehaviour
  • Gymnastics and exercise
  • Personal spiritual journey
  • …and so on…
  • the ‘in-between’ (or intersect) of all prior definitions.

These are some of the many definitions you would hear across schools that “teach” capoeira; all of which are true but not complete—everyone concurs. 

I have been a capoerista—a term used to tag all who practice the art—for almost two years; still a baby in the group. And to fully understand a creed or religion or cause and so on, one must delve down to its origin. After a rather frantic search, I reached a definition—from pure lexical deconstruction—which I can work with. Allow me share my definition of “capoeira”—again, permit the wrong spelling; especially if you speak portuguese.

Disclaimer: I did not make the name. I am only an observer and an “explainer”.

First, the different spellings of the term

  • capoeira. Known and loved by the caucasian tongue as it is closest to caucasian phonetics
  • capoera. More on this later; notice it is the title of this post
  • capuera. Fostered by Mestre Marcio Mendez in Capuera Angola Treciral
  • and finally, there’s the one in the subject. This is what I settled on and the reasons follow soon.

First, some definitions.

Capoeira: This means “chicken”. How can a chicken be the name of such a fluid diverse art? Help me think because I’ve got nothing. If you can think of any correlations, do leave me a comment below.
Capoera: This is just a flavour in accent of the previous. Behind this may lie some true meaning.
Capuera: According to Mestre Marcio Mendez, “capuera” was the name given to the farm lands where the slaves—ported over to Brazil—worked.

None of these made sense to me. Chickens or naming your creation by the same thing that caused you magnanimous pain; not just physically but emotionally. Hence I sought its true meaning. Not one which has been passed down through generations thereby being highly susceptible to forgetfulness. Not one which has been passed down through generations innocently being falsified by “re-innovation”. But the pure meaning as is; the metaphysics of the art, if you may. I decided to break up the word. With my little knowledge in portuguese, I know éra—which is how the “eira” is spelt phonetically— literally meant “was” …i.e. past tense of “is” form the verb “to be”. The next step was to find out what “capo” meant. Thanks to Google Translate, I figured out capô meant “hood” …like bonnet of a vehicle’s engine. It all started to make sense.

Capô éra: “hood was”

Considering ancient Brazil and its African roots, we would understand nothing is ever called as is. A high jumper will be known as “bird”, a cold house would be known as “Finland”, a good looking woman would be known as “fire” or “flame”, especially when she dances… and so on. The “hood” therefore should not be understood in its literal meaning but its implied meaning: “the covering over our heads”, “the assurance of our hard-work”, “our shield from the harshness” , “[figuratively] our crown”, and so on. There is an infinite recursive possibility in traversing implied meanings but let us stop here in the name of brevity. From these implications, I came up with an implied meaning of capôéra.

Capô éra: “my right, the assurance of our hard-work, my crown… was”

Extracted from their home, and subjected to labor under the sun on vast fields, it’s clear where this rationale came from. The shelter was gone. Broken, they resort to establishing this truth in history; one which, later on, minds like mine shall ponder. Their rights have been taken from them. Their dreams distorted with no imminent hope to cushion the loss. They worked for an apparent nothing

This is why capôéra is not for the auspicious. Capôéra is not even for the Ghandis—those who willfully give away all they have do they can feel the pain of those who have nothing. Capôéra is for those whose homes and lives have been forcefully taken from them.

Capôéra: “There was once a time when my hard work was meaningful to me; that time is gone.”
— Yasky’s Interpretation


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