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Congo street gang finds solace in ancestral martial art of capoeira

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By Reuters

By Djaffar Al Katanty

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo – Street gang leader Gloire Balume extends a capoeira kick at his friend, who ducks and blocks the threatening leg, before responding with a deft kick of his own.

The city of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has witnessed its fair share of violence, but this street fight aims to achieve something different: promote self-confidence and social healing.

Balume and his friends are practising capoeira, a non-contact Brazilian martial art that combines dance, acrobatics and music.

Balume, 21, has lived on the streets of Goma for 13 years, since his parents split up and his father died.

As the leader of his group of friends, who call themselves the Fire Gang, he hopes capoeira will help them realise their dreams of becoming a professional musical group.

“Capoeira is important to me,” he said. “I tell myself that when I am good at capoeira, I will make some songs and videos where I practice capoeira, and that will help me a lot in the future.”

Capoeira’s origins lie in the Kingdom of Kongo, from where Portuguese slave traders took their human cargo to work on sugar cane plantations in Brazil in the 16th century.

The art was developed by slave communities as a form of resistance that could nurture emotional and spiritual empowerment. Recognising its power, authorities banned it for several decades after slavery was abolished.

Now a Brazilian charity, Gingando Pela Pez (GPP), has brought capoeira back to Congo, offering homeless young people a safe space away from the frequent violence and rape, where they can live, play and socialise, says Flavio Saudade, who works for GPP.

“These street children are invisible in the community,” Saudade said. “Most of them only live in the present. Capoeira gives them somebody to guide them and helps them look to the future. It gives them a chance to dream.”