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Key words: spice, flow, energy, connection, feeling, love, joy, nature, community, challenge, unimaginable experiences, circle of capoeira game, circle of life, dênde.

Part of my volunteering project is writing about solidarity, and I perceive solidarity as sharing knowledge and experiences. After the last year of workshops in Ljubljana and Belgrade, I got the inspiration for writing about different views on Capoeira’s philosophy, history, tradition, and spirituality. There is so much to write about it, personal experiences are something unique and needed to spread. For this article, I decided to do some research on the word: dênde.

I selected a target group of capoeiristas, with whom I have worked in the past on multiple projects, and made an online survey in Google Forms. Overall, it was quite a challenge, and I expected more responses, but it was definitely a good start. At first, I faced some challenges getting responses, such as lack of time and interpretation of what dênde is in general terms.  This article is divided into three parts that are intertwined – The first part is how it all started: with my own personal experience. The second part is related the word to culinary, and the third part is about different personal experiences, energy, and capoeira roda. These personal experiences and opinions are gathered from different capoeiristas of different nationalities: Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Portugal, Germany, Poland, and Mexico. This article is written using the interpretation of their opinions, where I will group together similar answers, and quote different interpretations of multiple capoeiristas.

The first time that I heard about dendê was last year in Ljubljana, Slovenia during Capoeira Balanço da Meia Lua workshops, given by professor Tirindin from Brazil. After the music and acrobatic class, he also prepared us a traditional dinner from Bahia. And there it was! An

ingredient called dendê. He explained to us the first meaning of dendê as palm oil and its use in parts of West Africa and in parts of Brazil, influenced by Africa, particularly the Bahia region. It is considered essential for the proper red-yellow color and flavor of culinary dishes from those regions.

The oil has a distinct flavor and in a combination with other ingredients, makes the whole food softer. It has a very strong, aromatic and specific flavor. Dendê, in Brazilian culinary, is regularly used, in traditional foods like Mukeka, Acaraje, and others.  Furthermore, as Katjuša wrote, the word dendê has its origins from Kimbundu (one of the Bantu languages in Angola), meaning a type of “nut” from which the oil is produced. I discovered later on that the process of producing oil is different, and can be either extracted from the pith or from the seeds of the fruit. More
about the oil you can read here.

Biologically, the oil comes from the dendezeiro (palm tree). Historically, the special boost in energy of this nutritionally dense oil for slaves and workers (Vaqueiro, Germany). It is an ingredient that changes the taste, makes it better, kind of “yammi”, make the food delicious (Drimo, Portugal).

As we ate, we started to talk about the spiritual meanings of dendê. We get into the story of spirituality and philosophy. Candomblé (“dance in honor of the gods”) and Orishás (Afro-Brazilian gods) and how the palm oil was used in the preparations of food and as a way to connect with the Orishás. 

FOR FUN: Writing about gods, there is also one character called Dende, presented in a Japanese animation franchise called Dragon Ball. This was my first thought when hearing for the first time the word dendê, as I used to watch Dragon ball as a kid. It is a healer and the earth guardian. Its kind is able to make their own set of Dragon Balls: wish-granting spheres when gathered together. This character can also resurrect living beings from death, and continue the previous legacy of protecting the earth and helping others.

I found it to be interesting, and some of the characteristics of this character can also be connected with capoeira dendê, as I was reading all the personal opinions of the capoeiristas. For example the place it lives is half of the sphere and it is where people

gather, train and chill and time inside the sphere slows down and if I relate this to capoeira, everything can be connected to the circle and energies in and outside of the circle. It is like Nebojša from Serbia wrote:

“That little bit of music, chorus, and play that makes a difference. A moment in which you forget on people’s thoughts in roda and become one with bateria and your playmate. Your freedom to play beyond expectations for fun and theatre of Capoeira.”

If I continue writing about oil, Croatians have saying: “premazan svima mastima”, meaning “cannot be fooled”. Regarding the topic- if someone “has dendê” it can mean that one cannot be tricked or taken down in a capoeira game. Because the person is slippery like it has oil on himself (Cavalo, Croatia). A bit different but interesting experiences has Tarzan from Slovenia, regarding massage. The oil that can smoothen certain things in life in general like for example massage- it helps to establish a better connection between a person who massage and the one being massaged. It transports into a deep calm and peaceful state that cause the feeling of leaving reality.

What does it mean to put your dendê into the capoeira game? 

One of the responses that I get from Coala, Mexico is related to “adding spice into the way we move” and “the way we play with others”. Basically everyone has a particular style for cooking and using spices. Related to capoeira, dendê makes each style and feeling of playing unique to achieve different energies or “flavors” in the roda or during the jogo. It is a nice journey through capoeirista is learning and understanding how to apply dendê, is like the discovery of the one self-taught practicing capoeira. As dendê is some kind of spice, that makes food tasty, the metaphorically meaning can be something like personal spice in your own energy, movement…something that is yours and spice up a capoeira game and without it, it is like something is missing (Maja, Slovenia). 

“Beauty, spice, flow, allure, connected with the quality of the capoeiristas playing, or the capoeira game or the music that makes it alluring, and capoeiristas in the roda hooked. A nonchalant spin followed by a deadly kick, a mischievous smile, facial expression, and body language which are performances themselves, a skillful variation on the berimbau, improvisation when singing to highlight a particular thing taking place in the roda…Those particular “little” things that add flavor to the capoeira game (Palma, Serbia). 

Dendê is colorful, rich, interesting, it is happiness and energy– that rush that goes through your body and goosebumps when you are in a big roda, either playing or singing and clapping. When you start seeing black spots or stars around you after stopping for a second during training or in a roda- that’s when you know you got some dendê (Locutor, Sandi and Coala from Serbia, Slovenia, and Mexico).

Inside the roda people get into the flow, everything seems fluid. It’s that time when you stop actively thinking and just act and do things. The creativity rises and people do things outside of their limits (Frodo, Croatia). 

A game, music, situation or person who did something special, out of normal. That moment when someone really sings and shining with a whole heart, playing at the moment and being surprised  by ownself. It is when you get connected with your own spirit, squeezing the beautiful energy out of it and let it follow the flow without doubts and fears (Katjuša, Slovenia).

“If you have dendê, you are able to remove yourself from difficult situations with ease, move lightly and spicy at the same time. All space is reachable to that person. It is beautiful to watch the person move, challenging to play with.” (Pippi, Croatia).

“For me, dendê in capoeira roda is like some special spice that makes the game fluent, smooth, easy, natural, coherent. If you observe roda as a big pot and capoeira’s as main ingredients, dendê is the spice that makes all characteristics of the ingredients express themselves and connects them together in a perfect blend.” (Sashimi, Serbia)

Adding “ingredient” of dendê into game, roda, singing- that great feeling of positive energy! The ingredient ads the “yamms” to the ritual. For Drimo from Portugal this is an important concept, he proposed to play with it in small and big rodas. 

The ingredient, the spice, that is used to spice up the food can be also used for capoeira game and a roda that’s “spices up” as well as for the capoeiristas who are playing in roda or in bateria as well, someone who has dendê on berimbau, atabaque, pandeiro, etc. (Cavalo, Croatia)

Materialized positivity expressed in each movement, singing songs and tones of the berimbau, for Chicote from Croatia, dendê is an energy that is created in roda.

Banaca from Poland describe it like creation from the engagement of the people and emotions related to those moments. Something dense that bonds people participating in such occasions – like social interaction glue. However, not a “super-glue” one – it bonds for shorter periods in an intense way but after that, it lets people go their own way until the next roda or training.

Dino from Serbia described the flow of energy, a special feeling of connection and limitless between all of the people in the roda. No matter whether you are playing an instrument, watching a jogo, and singing or playing the game in the roda. It is like trance, state of mind when you feel completely immersed in the whole happening of roda- music, movements, singing and clapping. You feel what everyone is feeling the same, everyone project this energy to all and receive it from everybody.  That feeling of being in the right place, right time and part of the well-oiled machine that works fluidly and perfectly – dendê.  

“In capoeira, dendê represents a bit metaphysical at times, dendê is a pure expression of physicality, a boost in energy and determination that drives a roda forward.” (Vaqueiro, Germany)


For capoeira community, 

gathered by Vagalume, 

Slovenia April 2020; 

being part of Udruga Amazonas volunteering project.

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