Roda de Capoeira, an International Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Capoeira is not only a sport, fight, dance or a great physical exercise – it is more than a Martial Art. It is a cultural and heritage practice embedded in a deep history of resistance against some of the most dehumanising and tragic events in humanity’s past. Capoeira is in fact a celebrated Cultural Heritage Practise, recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) when they declared the Roda de Capoeira an International Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2014.

What does all this mean and why has UNESCO acknowledged the Roda de Capoeira as it has?

Besides the many relevant facets the Roda has today, such as commonality among various groups, it is a way of preserving the history of the African slaves in Brazil. Over 5 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean from the interior of Western and Central Africa over a period of well over 300 years. Brazil was also one of the very last countries to abolish slavery in 1888. The oppression, violence and inhumane and horrific treatment of the slaves was immense and worked to strip the slaves of any sense of identity they had. Any traditions or associations back to Africa were forbidden. Capoeira developed as a way of dealing with the oppression and created a sense of togetherness and identity among slaves.

To be recognised as an Intangible Cultural Heritage Practise by UNESCO the practise needs to meet the definition of intangible cultural heritage as defined by UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention:

“…practises representations expressions knowledge and skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts, and cultural spaces associated therewith that communities, groups and in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage. This Intangible Cultural Heritage transmitted from generation to generation is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.”

The convention further describes that the practice is manifested through (among others), oral histories, performing arts, social practises and rituals, knowledge and traditional craftsmanship. Another criteria to consider is that the practice will encourage dialogue and reflect cultural diversity

Basically, every time a Roda de Capoeira is played, the participants, the Capoeiristas, are partaking in the safe guarding and preservation of Capoeira culture and practise. This is done by the observations of the rules and ethics of the game, ensuring respect for Capoeira and the Capoeira Community. It is a commemoration of the slaves who used Capoeira as a form of resistance, it is a celebration of their triumph over the oppression of the slavery and a deeply rooted method of bringing groups of slaves together and creating their own sense of identity. The Roda de Capoeira tells the story of the slaves.

Today, Capoeira has become the national symbol of Brazil, has spread to all corners of the country and is played on every continent (except Antarctica, unless you’re a penguin) in over 160 countries. It brings people from different races, religions, socio-economic backgrounds, languages together. ALL these fade in Roda, Capoeiristas unite in one aim – to watch learn and honour Capoeira, the slaves and the Capoeiristas that came before us. For more about why UNESCO enlisted the Roda de Capoeira, see the links below:

UNESCO declared Slavery and the Slave Trade (including the Transatlantic Slave Trade) a “Crime against Humanity” in the Durban Declaration of 2001 and considers this, the commemoration of the slaves and the celebrations of acts of resistance and abolition, a triumph over the tragedy of slavery. The 25th March has been declared the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade”.

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