"The roots don't depend on the tree. The tree depends on the roots." / "As raizes não dependem da árvore. A árvore depende da raíz."

Thursday, October 7, 2010


"Rhythm in light
rhythm in color
rhythm in movement
rhythm in the bloody cracks of bare feet
rhythm on torn nails
Yet rhythm
Oh painful African voices."

                    - From poem "Fire and Breath" written by Agosto Neto,
                      Accomplished Poet and Angola's first President

Undoubtedly, capoeira has a myriad of influences. Developed and stylized over centuries of practice, use, and contact with a vast number of cultures, it can almost be said that one does not know exactly who and what have permanently left an imprint on capoeira as we know it today. However, one thing is for sure: enslaved Africans played a major, central role in capoeira’s creation and sustenance.

Often disrespected, dishonored, and dismembered from the story of the Americas and Africa as well, descendants of the enslaved continue to fight for the value of their contributions to the world. Spread out in many directions across the globe, including the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Eurasia, these Africans, stripped of almost everything but faith and cultural memory, brought with them key markers of their African existence once on The Continent.  Some elements such as the use of drums, dance, intricate footwork, headbutting and grappling martial techniques, as well as ancestor worship serve as evidence of their shared connection to Mother Africa with the Africans who still inhabit The Continent today.

In this forum we will explore the many contributions and manifestations of Africans, on the continent and in the Diaspora, that have or could have helped to shape capoeira as we now know it. Today, to those who are unfamiliar with it, we introduce you to Moring (also known as Moringue).

Moring is a combat sport and martial art that originated on the island of Reunion. It was created and developed by enslaved Africans in their sugarcane fields who combined traditions from Mozambique and the neighboring island Madagascar to create this art. Its history is traceable back to the mid-18th century and it is seen as a representation of the “cafre” culture, or people of Creole African descent. The activity became an escape for workers in the sugar cane fields and the poor white working class after the abolition of slavery on the island in 1848. Given the musical and dance elements associated with the practice it was seen as non-threatening to the slave owners who were aware of its existence. Combining folkloric traditions from the maloya and sega (customary religious and dance practices from the African islands in the Indian Ocean), Moring is performed to the beat of drums during the matches and/or training. Each match commences with bumping of the chests of the participants involved and the drums then indicate the pace of the bouts, rendering whether they will run slow or fast.  

When the actual bout begins the dancers/fighters kick, sweep, and use their hands, upside down and right-side up, in attempts to show their bravado while trying to knock the other person off their feet. Please note that Moring is practiced by both men and women. Unfortunately, the art was banned soon after slavery by the French government, who colonized the island, because it was seen as violent and pertaining to the maroons, or slaves who escaped from the fields. Moring only made a revival in the 1960s through the efforts of a man named Jean René Dreinaza.

Mr. Dreinaza was an international French boxing phenomenon. He had only known the stories of Moring through the tales his mother told him as a child. In 1989, at 29 years old, he visited Madagascar, his ancestral homeland, for the first time. It was then that he discovered the traditional martial arts of the moraingy of the coast, the diamanga and dakebé of the highlands. When seeing moraingy he recalled, “What appealed to me most was the musical and ritual aspect of the fight, the respect for the forefathers.” Inspired, he traveled back to Reunion to reinvent and reintroduce this art to his contemporaries. Within a few years he drew the interest of many young people to the elegant techniques, styles, and rituals his culture. Taking pride in the slave ancestry of the sport, the reintroduction began to serve as a revival of cultural pride for people on the island because for so many years African and Malagasy (Madagascar) culture had been outlawed and/or looked down upon. As Dreinaza continued to teach Moraingy (now known as Moring), he called upon the older generations to recall their knowledge and correct his teachings and songs where he was insufficient. 

All of this is to say that the similarities between Moring and Capoeira are striking. While there is no concrete evidence that directly links the two art forms one can deduct that the traditions of Mozambique, strongly present in both Brazilian and Reunion culture, manifested near identical qualities in two separate parts of the world. This peculiarity has even peaked the interests of some Brazilian capoeiristas, as Mestre Lua Rasta, a Capoeira Angola teacher, and Mestre Nennel, a Capoeira  Regional teacher, have both been known to perform and demonstrate Moring with their respective academies. Given the facts, we do believe that there is indeed a correlation between capoeira and Moring. Whether distant or immediate, the aesthics and history of both arts parallel in such a way that it is hard not to see a connection. So today, we give thanks for the legacy of Moring. We give thanks to the people of Mozambique and Madagascar for holding onto their culture while enslaved and not allowing their conditions to completely repress or erase it. We give thanks for the lives of the enslaved Africans for their strength, tenacity, and creativity in the face of desolation and despair. We honor your contributions to the African continuum. The rhythm continues. 

We are reaching out to our contacts in Reunion and the Indian Ocean islands to conduct an interview of what Moring is like first hand so stay tuned! In the meantime, check out some videos of Moring below (and do some of your own research) and tell us what you think about its relationship to capoeira. Thanks.   


(Please excuse the advertisements in this one but if you get past it there is actually interesting footage.)

1 comment:

  1. In case you haven't contacted him already: Profesor Peninha is the founder of the academy Capoeira Madagascar, which has (very) active groups in Antananarivo and all regional capitals of the island, as well as on La Réunion and Mauritius.

    Profesor Peninha:

    Capoeira Madagascar: