Capoeira Angola is an art form with roots in the Bantu tradition of Angola. Transported to Brazil through the advent of slavery, Capoeira fuses martial arts, dance, music, philosophy, acrobatics, and play into a “game” of wit over weight, cunningness over coercion. Both during slavery and today, to uninformed onlookers it appears to be a harmless ritual with no apparent functional use besides entertainment. However, , practitioners then and now know that this art can kill, has killed, and is training to kill if need be. What makes it different from many other martial arts in philosophy is that the idea is to sharpen your opponent as they sharpen you, knowing that when aggression comes in your direction it is coming for the both of you. Hence, iron sharpens iron until both make a double edged sword.
There is much more to say about Capoeira Angola, its use and its history. However, the point of this article is not only to highlight the existence of such a beautiful art form, but rather to speak about its philosophy and how it may help Africa out today. As an Igbo and a practitioner of Capoeira Angola, I believe that the spread of Capoeira on the continent could be essential to how we see ourselves when times of conflict arise. Because Capoeira is rooted in comradery yet still prepares one for battle, when conflicts arise in Africa we could use this unique viewpoint to guide the way we approach one another when angered.
One way it can alter our views is to understand that Capoeira is “played,” not fought. The element of play is crucial to conflict-resolution because at its essence it suggests that not all aggression is intentional maliciousness. Playing with a partner, while at the same time trying to sharpen them, allows each to accept challenges, criticisms, and sternness from another without taking it so personally. It’s in part competition and the practitioners understand that in competition people can become more aggressive. However, after the competition, you shake hands and congratulate each other on the match you played, such is the case with Capoeira Angola. Another way is to take notice that Capoeira is played to music that the players “dance” to, which emphasizes an element of art that is not present in many other marital art forms. Because this element exists in Capoeira, the practitioners tend to see and approach life rhythmically. When angered, venting frustration through dance could be just as powerful, or even healing, as through physical aggression. In the event that tempers rise, the hot-tempered person is simply seeking to let out that emotion. Dancing - rhythmically and loose or slowly and focused – is a medium to channel that pent up energy so that you are not hurting anyone in the process of addressing your irritation. Lastly, the culture of Capoeira is a community and facilitates the building of community. Every practitioner of Capoeira plays a part in the sustenance of the culture. From playing instruments to create the bateria, or band, of the Capoeira game; responding to the “caller” when singing to create somewhat of an orchestra for the energy of the Capoeira game; training with a partner when preparing to play Capoeira; to playing a part in the maintenance of the space you play Capoeira in; every practitioner plays a crucial element in the life of Capoeira Angola. With this philosophy of community deeply ingrained into the minds of capoeiristas it is hard to break up the vibe and unity of the community for petty and ill-advised reasons. Hence, when rage or fury embodies a person or people in Africa, if they played Capoeira they must think about the larger community before initiating aggression. Just as with the enslaved Africans of Brazil, they trained together and then came together to fight a common cause. In Africa we have bigger causes and forces to fight than to consistently fight ourselves. From neo-colonization, illness and disease, poverty corruption, we Africans must begin to look at the bigger picture and realize that we need each other to defeat the aggressors who are still trying to keep us down. So yes, we can push each other to the limit, but we must remember that our limits are more valuable when we all cross them together.