Cariocan society & culture

Rio de Janeiro had the most developed capoeira of all Brazilian cities during the nineteenth century. Originally developed by enslaved Africans and Creoles, it spread to the lower free classes during the course of the nineteenth century. Maltas, or capoeira gangs, formed on a territorial basis around church squares and surrounding neighbourhoods. During the latter part of the Brazilian Empire, these maltas congregated in two over-arching federations, the Nagoas and the Guaiamus. The Nagoas allied with the Conservative party, and the Guaiamus with the Liberals, helping them to rig elections. That is why the new Republican regime clamped down on the capoeira gangs after the proclamation of the Republic in 1889.

Hundreds of known capoeiras were arrested and deported to Fernando Noronha, a distant Atlantic island, and other locations. Capoeira practice and gangs were outlawed by the new Republican Criminal Code. Practitioners could be sent to prison and forced labour for sixth months, and gang leaders were supposed to receive even stronger penalties.


Capoeira disappeared from the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Yet how much of it survived in more discreet locations is a matter of controversy. Some people claim that capoeira fighting techniques were still passed on in popular neighbourhoods or favelas. Some of the bodily techniques were recycled into Batucada, or pernada carioca, a game that accompanied informal samba circle performances.  A number of techniques, mainly kicks, started to be taught in martial art academies by people like Jaime Ferreira and Sinhozinho in the 1930s. And many vagrants (malandros) used capoeira techniques when in street fights. By far the most famous of them is Madame Satã. This story is the topic of Lobisomen’s poetry, which you can download here [insert hyperlink]. Sete Coroas is another famous malandro, supposedly one of Satã’s teachers, whose history has been researched by Rómulo Costa Mattos da PUC [insert hyperlink to article and PUC webpage].