Capoeira finds a place in Indonesia

As published in The Jakarta Post
Sun, May 2 2010

Capoeira, a form of martial arts-cum-philosophy and an icon of Brazilian culture, has been spreading its wings across Indonesia, with groups of practitioners sprouting in many of the country’s cities.

Developed during the days of the slave trade in South America, thus long entrenched in Brazilian culture, capoeira came to life in Jakarta recently, when Cordão De Ouro held a two-day workshop to deepen people’s understanding about this  martial art.

“Prepara, Pronto, Vai!”, which was held from Nov. 20-21 in Blok M Plaza Hall, South Jakarta,  was aimed at capoeiristas (the term used to describe practitioners of capoeira) of the Cordão De Ouro group and those eager to gain more insight into this martial art. The Cordão De Ouro, created by Mestre Suassuna, is one of the most influential groups in the world of capoeira.

Capoeira is an intriguing mix of martial arts, dance, music and acrobatics. Africans brought to Brazil by Portuguese slave traders, practiced it as they were forbidden to hold fights.

Capoeira was partly developed to fool people into thinking it was simply a dance whereas it was the slaves’ way of training to fight, so they could free themselves from oppression.

Odeo Tamaguru, the head of Cordão De Ouro for West Java, said the event also aimed to showcase the group’s particular style of capoeira, as well as invite more people to join the group.

“We want to introduce and raise awareness about our capoeira Cordão De Ouro style. It’s also a great opportunity to get to know members from other Cordão De Ouro groups in other cities in Indonesia,” Odeo continued.

Nowadays, capoeira is perceived as more of a hobby, a way of life and a sport, rather than a philosophy of life.


A capoeirista attacks her opponent with an armada or a kick (right) while her rival attempts an esquiva (escape) to avoid it.
A Capoeirista attacks her opponent with an armada or a kick (right) while her rival attempts an esquiva (escape) to avoid it.

A capoeirista attacks her opponent with an armada or a kick (right) while her rival attempts an esquiva (escape) to avoid it.


“I want this event to be more than a workshop where the students only learn about capoeira movement and technical skills,” Contra-Mestre Papa-Leguas said.

Papa-Leguas explained he was there to guide new capoeiristas and make sure they understand the philosophy behind the practice.

“Capoeira in Indonesia is quite new, whereas we’ve had in England for 20 years. Now I am making sure they understand the philosophy behind capoeira,” he added.

Back in 2001, Contra-Mestre Papa-Leguas set up his own Cordão De Ouro group in Nottingham, the UK, after training at home in Brazil for many years.

Day One of the workshop, for Cordão De Ouro Indonesia members only, focused on improving practitioners’ basic movement skills, developing a bond with their own mestre (master) and delving into songs and music skills.

Practitioners were separated by level or cordao (belt). The green-color group corresponds to the first-belt level; whereas the green-yellow, together with the yellow-cordao have a higher level. Beginners don’t have a cordao yet.

The mestre taught each group a sequence of movements they then had to practice. Then Contra-Mestre Papa-Leguas took them through each mistake to correct their steps.

During the workshop, the mestre reminded students they should focus on their own thoughts, as well as keep an eye on their opponent.

“It is training your brain and forcing you to keep your eyes on your opponent and not to lose your concentration or self-belief. However, you are not going to tackle or kick, or even wrestle the person in front of you — both of you must help one another stay on your feet, not block or even defeat each other,” the mestre told his students who had formed a roda (a circle where two people play a game) around him.

Day Two of the course wasn’t very different from the first, except participants came from diverse backgrounds. Capoeiristas from other grupos (groups) like Senzala Indonesia and Sinhá Bahia Indonesia also joined the workshop. People who wanted to watch and practitioners from other groups  were welcomed to the workshop.

The mestre started with a singing and music lesson. He played the atabaque (a long, cyndrical drum), and switched to the berimbau (a single stringed, bow-shaped instrument), while singing capoeira songs in Portuguese.

Music and singing: Contra-Mestre Papa-Leguas sings and plays the berimbau in front of Cordão De Ouro Indonesia members.
Music and singin: Contra-Mestre Papa-Leguas sings and plays the berimbau in front of Cordao De Ouro Indonesia members.

The participants followed the lyrics at their own rhythm, and then sang together, responding to the mestre’s singing.

The harmonious sounds of Brazilian music filled the hall, enthralling workshop participants.

All students followed the lesson attentively, even though they couldn’t speak Portuguese. Practicing capoeira involves learning the movements, as well as songs and other elements of Brazilian culture.

The music lesson was followed by a movement class. At around 5 p.m. the day ended with participants forming a roda. Participants could jogo (play) in the middle of the circle, with the beating of the  bateria setting the pace of play and the style to adopt.

Ninis, a Cordão De Ouro Jakarta’s capoerista, said the workshop had deepened her understanding of capoeira and her wisdom.

“Contra-Mestre Papa-Leguas told us to strengthen our basic skills, and kept in mind the essential rules of capoeira. We have to stay connected to the bateria, the master and other capoeiristas, especially in a roda. It’s not only about the movement, songs and even the cool stuff. It is mainly about manners, because the roda is like the beginning and the end of all of our practices.”

Ai Kawana, a Japanese Cordão De Ouro capoeirista who had joined previous Cordão De Ouro Indonesia gatherings,  said she was glad to see the group had significantly progressed within just a few years.

“It is amazing since the mestre is not actually living here, but still manages to find time to visit to help the group improve its skills and originality.”

While the workshop has come to an end, the spirit of Cordao de Ouro’s lives on in Indonesia. At present, Cordão De Ouro Indonesia can be found in Jakarta, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Kediri, Lamongan, Bogor, Ngawi and Solo.


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