The Capoeira Association Gambia
Capoeira was introduced in Gambia to Adama Badje by a traveling Master in 2005.
Mestre Valu from Salvador, Bahia was in Gambia and saw Adama who was a young guy during athletic sports with a strong dedication and positivity. He spoke with him and explained about capoeira.
Adama was encouraged by the moves and practice. He soon understood that capoeira was a part of his own culture and history. Valu spent two weeks teaching him many basic moves, playing the instruments, singing some songs and explaining the origin.
When Valu left Gambia, Adama was convinced that he found his life mission, to make capoeira known among his people and help to spread this knowledge in Africa. He was dedicated to the mission and knew what he had to do! He sacrificed everything for the capoeira. He would spend all time teaching, talking and showing the capoeira to everyone around. In the beginning, it seemed that nobody had encountered capoeira before so many people would think that Adama was going crazy, making things up himself. He had to bring some people to the net café to show them capoeira from Brazil and convince them of its existence. Some people had seen commercial movies about capoeira such as “only the strong” or “The Beatle (Besouro)” and quickly understood that it was the same Adama was trying to do. After a while he had managed to make a core group of dedicated people that were training hard to learn capoeira. They were often training together and learning from one another. They also searched for new moves on the Internet and did everything they could to advance their skills by themselves.
Together they established the association of capoeira in Gambia with the support from their friend Prince Kolani in the states, who managed to print capoeira shirts for them to promote the association locally. He also helped making The Door of Return in Tanji.
In 2012 another capoeirista, Josselin, from Grupo Geracao Capoeira in France, moved to Gambia and started to give classes. The local association started to train with him and he managed to arrange a few capoeira events and helped making some connections to capoeira groups in Senegal.
In 2015 he arranged a celebration of 10 years with capoeira in Gambia, were he invited his own master, CM Cebola to come and take part.
That was the first encounter with a Brazilian master for the most Gambians present.
Experiencing advanced capoeira coming from abroad, convinced many people about its existence, ancestral connection and importance. But it is still very rarely known among the general public.
The association have gained a lot of respect from some local communities and have taught kids and young people around the country.
In 2015 i met Adama Badje who showed me the Door of Return on the beach in his home town Tanje, he told me this story and we decided to try to make this project, that could help the capoeira to grow in Africa and spread the important history about a fight for freedom.
The Door of Return
On the beach in West Africa there is a “door of return” facing the Atlantic.
The door of return is a construction made by the Capoeira association in the Gambia and Prince Kolani from Washington DC who came to Gambia to pay respect to his brother Baba Ishangi who died in Tanji village in 2003.
Baba Ishangi was an Afro-American who went to Afrika to make connections and reunite with his ancestral culture and family. He had the vision to make a door of return as a symbol to welcome all Africans once stolen from their motherland to come home and unite.
The history of the transatlantic slave trade still plays a big role in the lives of many Africans, but just few people know about how the journey of their ancestors proceeded after they left Africa and how capoeira was created in resistance to the slavery in Brazil.
On Goree island in Senegal, remains a old house of slaves and the well-known ”Door of no return”.
The place is known as one of the main slave trading points in West Africa during the colonization and was the last stop in Africa for many slaves before they left their motherland well aware that they would never return.
In contrast to this place, the association of capoeira and Prince Kolani made the door of return as a capoeira training ground and a place to receive and welcome every descendant family back home to their roots. They wanted to invite the great Masters of capoeira back to Africa to teach the art of capoeira and share their knowledge and history with the African people.It would be the return of the surviving brothers. An act of unity and freedom among people.
Slavery in West Africa
Gambia is well known for the story of Kunta Kinte "Roots" written by Alex Harley from the US. The story is claimed to be partly based on memories inherited from his ancestor Kunta Kinte who was born 1750 in the Mandinka village of Juffure, in the Gambia. He was shipped as a slave to the New World and verbally transmitted his history of origin to be told through generations, which resulted in the book Roots, when Alex Harley traced the story back to his ancestral family in Gambia.
The transatlantic slave trade took place across the Atlantic Ocean from the 15th to the 19th centuries and transformed the traditional slave practices.
Gambia was a popular source of slaves during this era, due to the Gambia river running 1,120 kilometers, reaching far into the interior, made the transportation and raiding expeditions easier for the Europeans.
The first European to actually buy enslaved Africans was Antão Gonçalves, a Portuguese explorer in 1441 AD. In the region of Guinea, he was trading mainly gold and spices and set up colonies on the uninhabited islands of São Tomé.
The Portuguese interest in trading for gold, ivory, and pepper increased and in 1482 they built their first permanent slave trading post Elmina Castle on the western coast of present-day Ghana. The Portuguese position on the Gold Coast remained secure for almost a century until the seemingly insatiable market and the substantial profits to be gained from the slave trade attracted people from all over Europe. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, first the Dutch, and later the English, French, Danish, and Swedish, were granted licenses by their governments to trade overseas.
Many plantations opened in Brazil and the expanding "New World" and the demand for slave labor quickly increased in the Americas. Trade in slaves soon overshadowed gold as the principal export of the area and the west coast of Africa became the principal source of slaves for the New World.
The demand for slave labor also made the slave trade very lucrative to the West African powers, leading to the establishment of several actual West African empires thriving on slave trade. The costume to have slaves, already existed in Africa before the European influence, but slavery in Africa was quite different from that which existed in the commercial plantation environments of the New World. Slaves in African communities were often treated as junior members of the society with specific rights, and many were ultimately absorbed into their masters' families as members. In the European plantations, the conditions were quite different and they demanded an inhuman labor force, leading to very poor longevity.
The trade peaked in the late 18th century, when the largest number of slaves were captured on raiding expeditions into the interior of West Africa.
It is estimated that the Atlantic slave trade took 70,000 people per year, primarily from the west coast of Africa, at its peak.
Philip Curtin, a leading authority on the African slave trade, estimates that roughly 6.3 million slaves were shipped from West Africa to North America and South America, about 4.5 million of that number between 1701 and 1810.
The demographic impact of the slave trade on West Africa was probably substantially greater than the number actually enslaved because of the significant number of Africans who died during slaving raids, in captivity awaiting transshipment or during the journey across the Atlantic.
The importation of slaves into the United States was outlawed in 1807, but continued in Brazil until 1888 as the last country in the western world.
Because of the many decades it took to end the slave trade, some historians doubt that the humanitarian impulse inspired the abolitionist movement. According to historian Walter Rodney, for example, Europe abolished the trans-Atlantic slave trade only because its profitability was undermined by the Industrial Revolution.
Rodney argues that mass unemployment caused by the new industrial machinery, the need for new raw materials, and European competition for markets for finished goods are the real factors that brought an end to the trade in human cargo and the beginning of competition for colonial territories in Africa. Other scholars, however, disagree with Rodney, arguing that humanitarian concerns as well as social and economic factors were instrumental in ending the African slave trade.
History of Capoeira
During the transatlantic slave trade, Brazil had the largest import of African slaves in the world to sustain the production of especially sugar, coffee and cotton. An estimated amount of 4,9 million Africans was shipped to Brazil from the year 1501 to 1866.
The demand for slave labor was huge and new slaves were constantly arriving.
There was no tradition of holding slave families like they did in the states because of the affordable prices for new slaves and there were little expectations of longevity among the slaves due to the hardworking conditions. A slave was not expected to live more than some five years on the plantations.
The constant flow of Africans arriving in the country maintained the memories of their cultural heritage, traditions and motherland. There was a large population of African Brazilians, in the former capital of Salvador, from different tribes and regions of Africa.
Together they developed the foundation of capoeira.
It became a common space for African slaves and other people despised by the Brazilian society. They made instruments such as drums and the Berimbau that became the recognizable sound of capoeira.
They would form a circle of people clapping and singing to the music, and within the circle two people would enter to fight and play the game of capoeira. It was a way to unite and maintain some African identity and at the same time they could learn fighting and improve their chances of defeating the slave masters to make their way to liberty. Like a movement of resistance to all the injustice that they went through.
Making a circle of people made it difficult to see what was going on from the outside. The fight was in constant movement and involved acrobatics and dancelike movements, that have might made it unlikely to be perceived as martial art training for the slave masters.
Despite the restrictions of doing any such activities among the slaves, they managed to do their practice and develop capoeira under camouflaged and hidden conditions, which made capoeira commonly known as the fighting dance.
The practice of capoeira soon became popular among slaves and would spread throughout the country. Some slaves escaped plantations and made their way to freedom. They would typically gather in some of the most remote areas, where the Portuguese had less control, power and influence.
A mix of ethnical groups all against the Brazilian regime, established underground communities called “Quilombos”. In these places capoeira was a common practice and made a strong sense of community and unity among the people.
Capoeira was illegal in Brazil until around 1935. When the slavery was officially abolished in 1888, most former slaves found themselves in very difficult conditions and did anything necessary to survive, including crimes and violent robberies. Capoeira was associated with a lot of those incidences and was known to be dangerous.
The reputation of capoeira in Brazil was very bad, until one master (Bimba), managed to change some structures and renovate capoeira to become more commonly accepted. That was the birth of Capoeira Regional and led to the legalization, when Bimba convinced the government of its values and importance.
In the same era, another master (Pastinha) wanted to maintain the old and most original form of capoeira, what became known as Capoeira de Angola.
In recent times, Capoeira have started to appear in many countries and can be found in most major cities in the world.