Book Explains How Capoeira and Samba Became Symbols of Brazilian Identity

Author of 'Black Wheels,' historian Roberto Pereira sees the concept of cultural appropriation as simplistic

São Paulo

Born in São Luís, Maranhão, Roberto Pereira has been practicing capoeira since childhood in 1985. Now, at the age of 46, he holds the title of contramestre, a level preceding the highest degree of mestre.

(230706) -- SALVADOR, July 6, 2023 (Xinhua) -- Local artists perform the Capoeira in Salvador, Bahia state, Brazil, July 4, 2023. (Xinhua/Wang Tiancong)

With a Ph.D. in comparative history from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Pereira approaches capoeira with the intellectual refinement it deserves. After publishing "Capoeira in Maranhão between the Decades of 1870 and 1930" in 2019, he now presents "Black Wheels - Capoeira, Samba, Theater, and National Identity." In this new book, the historian explores "the most beautiful fight in the world," as Jorge Amado wrote, but goes beyond it. He aims to show how manifestations of black culture, such as capoeira, samba, and frevo, transitioned from being viewed as ethnic and marginalized expressions to becoming symbols of Brazilian identity.

Through extensive research in newspapers from the Southeast and Northeast of the first half of the 20th century, among other sources, Pereira argues that this cultural transition towards much broader visibility also occurred thanks to the agency of black communities, not just through the actions of the state, economic elites, and intellectuals, as various authors have claimed.

"This discussion about identity was very common, and scholars often emphasized the state's involvement when talking, for example, about samba. They also discussed the role of capitalism in this construction," says the historian.

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