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The origins of capoeira are somewhat controversial. Unfortunately, few written records of the early days of the art exist. Most people agree that capoeira was created in Brazil by Africans, but there are multiple theories about when, where, why, and how it developed. However, capoeira's history in the past century is clearer and more well-documented. Here are several internet sources with information on the history of capoeira:
Capoeira History Overview from the site of Volta Ao Mundo under Mestre Rony
The Tradition of Capoeira Angola from the site of Mestre Joćo Grande
Detailed Capoeira History by Mestre Vaguinho (Wagner Bueno) of Capoeira San Jose
Very Detailed Capoeira History by Mestre Acordeon (Bira Almeida) of the United Capoeira Association.
Also be sure to check out the following books about capoeira in English:
The Little Capoeira Book by Nestor Capoeira
Nestor Capoeira, a former student of Mestre Leopoldina and Mestre Preguica, has been teaching capoeira in Europe for over thirty years. In this book, he gives an overview of the stages of capoeira history, from the time of slavery to the underground period to the worldwide spread of capoeira in recent years. He also describes the roda and touches on the philosophy of malicia. The second half of the book is devoted to diagrams and descriptions of capoeira movements: kicks, defenses, Bimba's sequences, takedowns, and more. This book is a good introduction to capoeira.
Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game by Nestor Capoeira
Nestor Capoeira provides a more in-depth discussion of the topics introduced in The Little Capoeira Book. It begins with the roots of the game, exploring the philosophies of malicia and malandragem, the significance of the berimbau to the art and of capoeira to Brazilian society. The next section presents a more detailed description of capoeira's history, examining the art as it appeared in different ages and different places in Brazil. Part three offers a continuation of the capoeira training manual, giving combinations of movements on the ground, upside-down movements, various exercises, and advice on strategy in the roda. Finally, Nestor includes conferences and debates of the 1990 World Samba Capoeira meet. This book draws on the viewpoints of other researchers and capoeiristas in addition to the author's, and gives a deeper look at capoeira history, philosophy, and training.
Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form by Bira Almeida (Mestre Acordeon)
Mestre Acordeon was a student of the legendary Mestre Bimba and one of the first to bring capoeira to the United States. He opens with a well-researched account of capoeira's history, weighing the different stories of the art's origin and continuing into the academia period and contemporary capoeira. The next section, "The Color of the Sound," describes the origins and functions of the instruments used in capoeira, as well as the significance of the songs. Finally, Mestre Acordeon provides a deeply personal description of his own path, from his tryout for Mestre Bimba's school through his journey towards mastery of capoeira. This book offers many interesting insights on the art.
Ring of Liberation: Deceptive Discourse in Brazilian Capoeira by J. Lowell Lewis
J. Lowell Lewis, a lecturer in Anthropology and an amateur capoeirista, performed extensive field research on capoeira in Brazil, the product of which is this book. It begins with a history of capoeira, focusing a special section on capoeira in Salvador. The next three chapters are titled according to three forms of discourse in capoeira: "Jogar - Body Play," "Tocar - Musical Play," and "Brincar - Verbal Play." Each one examines the nuances of the interactions among capoeiristas; Lewis highlights patterns of movement, music, and song that trace their roots to the time of slavery. Though Lewis is not a capoeira master, his book gives a lot of interesting food for thought about the discourse of the roda.