Capoeira's history begins with the beginning of African slavery in Brazil. Since the 16th century, Portuguese colonists began exporting slaves to their colonies, coming mainly from Angola. Brazil, with its vast territory, received most of the slaves, almost 40% of all slaves sent through the Atlantic Ocean. The early history of capoeira is still controversial, especially the period between the 16th century and the beginning of the 19th century, since historical documents were very scarce in Brazil at that time. But oral tradition, language and evidence leaves little doubt about its Afro-Brazilian roots.
In the 16th century, Portugal had claimed one of the largest territories of the colonial empires, but lacked people to colonize it, especially workers. In the Brazilian colony, the Portuguese, like many European colonists, chose to use slavery to build their economy off the backs of kidnapped African people. In its first century, the main economic activity in the colony was the production and processing of sugar cane. Portuguese colonists created large sugarcane farms called engenhos, which depended on the labor of slaves. Slaves, living in inhumane and humiliating conditions, were forced to work hard and often suffered physical punishment for small misbehaviors, along with rape of their children as punishment, or homosexual rape of African males by white slave owners infront of other Africans of all ages to show dominance. Although slaves often outnumbered colonists, rebellions were rare because lack of weapons, harsh colonial law, disagreement between slaves coming from different African cultures and lack of knowledge about the new land and its surroundings usually discouraged the idea of a rebellion.
In this environment, capoeira was born as a simple hope of survival. It was a tool with which an escaped slave, completely unequipped, could survive in the hostile, unknown land and face the hunt of the capit„es-do-mato, the armed and mounted colonial agents who were charged with finding and capturing escapees.