If one book can be regarded as the capoeira bible, it is Waldeloir Rego’s work from 1968 titled Capoeira Angola: Ensaio Sócio-Etnográfico. Every meaningful capoeira book written to this date has at least referenced Rego’s work. A lot of authors even based whole chapters on this book.
The reason is that Rego was the first one to document capoeira and it’s history in detail and publish his work as a book. His book is especially important because he documented information about a lot of great masters which would otherwise have been lost (like which berimbau toques the masters used).
Ensaio Sócio-Etnográfico is the crown jewel for a capoeirista’s collection, but it is also very rare due to its limited production. If you happen to find a real copy of the book, you’ll easily pay between €200 and €500. A lot of sellers on Brazilian online marketplaces claim to have it, but those are mostly fake and just out on your money. Your best bet to find a copy, is going to Brazil and having some good connections.
Luckily for us, there has been a digitized version of the book floating around the internet for years, be it in a very unhandy HTML version which can be downloaded as an archive. While not practical, that’s how I first read it. Or at least tried to.
A year or two ago, when browsing around the internet looking for interesting articles, I stumbled upon a new version of the book. Downloadable for free as a PDF and with a decent lay-out! It made my day! My Portuguese had improved and I could finally print it out and read it properly. Unfortunately, the website -and with it the download link- went down a short while later.
When cleaning up my bookmarks today, I came across the old link and it worked!
Projeto Capoeira Viva
If you would like to read Ensaio Sócio-Etnográfico, head over to The Capoeira Viva Project. It is an initiative funded by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture and promoted by Fundação Gregório de Mattos with the goal to promote capoeira as Brazilian cultural heritage.
On the website, you can access several books, CD’s and video’s on capoeira. To open the books, you need to have the Flash plugin installed. But I’ve also found them as PDF files on the server. That brings me to the PDF download of the second edition of Capoeira Angola: Ensaio Sócio-Etnográfico.
(update: the website seems to be down, so here’s a backup to download the PDF file).
If you are interested in reading other books on capoeira, check out my ultimate book collection article.