Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines singing and percussion with dance, combat and street theatre. Enslaved Africans and Creoles developed the practice in the port cities of late colonial and imperial Brazil. It survived initial harsh repression until being recognised as a national sport and important Afro-Brazilian tradition in the twentieth century. Two competing styles were responsible for its modernisation in the 1930s-50s. They were merged during the following decades into the current mainstream 'Contemporary' style, now taught and played around the world. Capoeira has been recognised by the Brazilian government as integral to the nation's cultural heritage in 2008, and declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2014.
In this major research project, funded by a Leadership Grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (2018-20), Professor Matthias Röhrig Assunção, the project research team and its associated researchers trace the emergence of ‘Contemporary Capoeira’ through interviews conducted with surviving capoeira masters who were responsible for the development and expansion of the new, modernised style of capoeira between 1948 and 1982.
The project also collects material from local archives to complement and corroborate these testimonies in close collaboration with the local project partner, the Laboratory of Oral History and Image at the Federal Fluminense University in Rio.
In order to engage with as many audiences as possible, the research findings are being disseminated through a wide range of forms on the project website and associated media: webpages, articles and literary texts to download, blogs by invited contributors, online “lives”, podcasts and short documentary films, including a 360 virtual reality video.
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ProfessorDepartment of History, University of Essex
Research Interests include: History of slavery and post-emancipation societies; Agrarian and peasant history; Political history of Nineteenth and twentieth century Brazil; Latin American popular culture; and Capoeira - combat games and martial arts in the Black Atlantic.