"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."

Friday, October 1, 2010

What does Capoeira Africana mean to me? - Chike

Capoeira Africana is a state of mind. It is a way to see capoeira, to engage with capoeira, to experience capoeira. It is a respect for capoeira's African roots as well as a respect for its Diasporic branches. It is the way one feels about capoeira today and could very well be a style of how one plays capoeira tomorrow. Capoeira Africana is the reason I began capoeira, the reason I still do capoeira, and the reason why I will continue to do capoeira.

When I began in this art some years ago I was immediately attracted to the African nature of this expression. Capoeira was presented as something foreign to me but yet it was so familiar. The drums, the bells, the theater of the game. They were all elements I had seen and experienced before in contemporary African culture, Nigerian to be specific. Then came the philosophy, the history. That's when it became personal to me. Given my shared heritage with the Africans and Brazilians who developed this art I believed, and still believe, that Africans on the continent could use capoeira as a springboard to begin to talk about and heal from the deep-seeded wounds inflicted upon the African world, by outsiders as well as ourselves, during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. I began to imagine capoeira as common pastime in Africa, one that would have child soldiers "go to war" in the roda and hug afterward; women free to be bold and assertive without the threat of masculine insecurity; grown men "play" with the idea of fighting a common oppressor, not amongst themselves. Capoeira could be an intricate experience where Africans learned to build comradery and community, nimbleness and nations, poise and power.

The expansion of capoeira to Africa does arise some questions though. With all due respect to Brazil, and the Afro-Brazilian people especially, I wonder how would the transfer of stories and style be interpreted once continental Africans join the narrative. Specifically, these questions are:

  1. What role will language play in transporting Capoeira Angola to Africa? While I applaud the current Capoeira Angola seeds planted in Mozambique and Angola, I wonder what types of challenges may occur when taking the art to a non-Portuguese speaking country, say Nigeria, where the Orishas originate from or Congo where many Afro-Brazilians came from during the slave trade? Shall it be expected that Nigerians praise their own Gods in a foreign language? The Congolese speak about their own lineage in an unfamiliar voice? How much give and take should be"allowed" if African languages are incorporated into capoeira? 
  2. What role will contemporary African storytelling have in capoeira? Given that Capoeira Angola is a representation of the African experience and resistance to oppression should Africans be "allowed" to sing about their struggles in Africa today as well? Maybe sing songs about what was happening on The Continent when slavery was going on? Or songs about African gods that may have been previously untold?
  3. What role will other African martial arts and dances play in the development of capoeira in Africa? Will capoeira acquire some new moves? If so, which ones would/should they be? Also, will the line between Capoeira Angola and Capoeira Regional become more blurry as other African moves are incorporated into the game?
These are just some questions that come to mind when thinking about what capoeira in Africa would look like. I would love to engage with people about them.

Thank you for the opportunity to share. Peace.
                                                          - Chike ( http://www.igbokwe.org/Chike.html)


Chike is an Angoleiro of Nigerian descent. He has studied with FICA-DC & FICA-BA, as well as taking many classes at M. Joao Grande's Capoeira Angola Center in New York City and Chicago's Low Country Capoeira Angola Society in Philadelphia, PA. Currently, he trains with an independent group of capoeiristas in Brooklyn, NY.

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