Capoeira returns to Zanzibar

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Images and words by Lauren Kent

A very long time ago, slaves in South America were rebelling against their bondage to plantations and their owners. Some managed to escape and among the escapees, the dance form than today is known as Capoeira was developed. It was (and sometimes still is) a highly politicised dance, and it was eventually banned in Brazil, where it developed. The practitioners used the dance to keep themselves strong, to rebel against slavery, to cause chaos in the government etcetera. However, in the early 1900s, the practitioners of Capoeira developed it into a “folk dance” to make it more acceptable to the wider public. And this is how Capoeira developed into the dance that is still practised today; a danced steeped in history and some mystery, as the true history of Capoeira is still disputed.

The leaders and teachers of ZSTC above.

There are a group of Capoeiristas (what the practitioners of this dance are called today) who practice every day in Stone Town, Zanzibar. I met them three months ago, and for the last two months I have been a student with them, as they patiently teach me the moves and the names of each move, and play Capoeira with me, even though they have to dumb down their moves considerably so that I can keep up. They are all young boys and men who with patience and dedication now play Capoeira with skill that has gotten them much acclaim. There is something that fits the history of Zanzibar (a major slave port for many, many years for the Arab slave trade) to have young men performing this resistance dance. There is something too that fits the deeply mixed and exotic nature of Zanzibar to hear strong voices singing the songs that the dancers dance to:

Paranaue, paranaue, parana
Paranaue, paranaue, parana!
Zum, zum, zum,
Capoeira mata um!
Zum, zum, zum,
Capoeira mata um!
Onde tem marimbondo
Tem zum, zum, zum
Onde tem marimbondo
Tem zum, zum, zum
Eh! Capoeria, ehh Capoeria,
Eh! Capoeira, ehh Capoeira!

Sitting in a circle, before and while we are playing Capoeira, singing these songs with long gusty voices, is a spine tingling moment.

Capoeira outside Tembo hotel, Zanzibar.

The Zanzibar Stone Town Capoeira (ZSTC) is now an official organisation promoting Capoeira as a legitimate dance and art form in Zanzibar. The group has been practising Capoeira for the last four years, and before that, they would do acrobatics on the beach. You can see the crew practising everyday either on the grass at African House or outside on the beach at Tembo Hotel. They are a group of very welcoming people, and if you are keen to add a twist to your time on the island and learn some Capoeira, then find them and begin the learning. They dance as the sun sets into the ocean, as children play football and splash in the waves.

After Capeoria, they also break the dance; breakdancing on the beach outside Tembo Hotel.

For more about the ZSTC visit


  1. Merle Fannin

    September 23, 2012

    I saw Capoeira being performed on the South Bank of the Thames outside the South Bank theatre in London. I was absolutely spell bound by the physical ability of the performers. Reading your blog about the group in Zanzibar who were prepared to teach you I recognise why you were proud to be taught by them. I was under the impression that it was strictly an ethnical dance strictly performed by decendants of slave families.

  2. fromhere2timbuktu

    October 5, 2012

    Capoeira is an absolutely magnificent art form to see in action. There are 2 main styles from memory “Regional” pronounced hayjanal and “Angola”. The regional form is the quick, acrobatic form that is simply spectacular to see. Angola is the traditional form which is much slower and has much more ground work. The Angola form develops your bodily strength significantly and you’ll marvel at how these guys can control their bodies sow gracefully.

    IMHO, Capoeira is probably the most magnificent “martial” art you’ll ever experience.

    Thanks for sharing!

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