Maculele is an Afro Brazilian dance where a number of people gather in a circle called a roda with one or more atabaques positioned at the entrance of the circle. Each person brandishes a pair of long sticks, traditionally made from biriba wood from Brazil.

The sticks, called grimas, traditionally measure 24 inches long by 1 and 1/8 inch thick. As the Maculele rhythm plays on the atabaque, the people in the circle begin rhythmically striking the sticks together.

The leader sings, and the people in the circle respond by singing the chorus of the songs. When the leader gives the signal to begin playing Maculele, two people enter the circle, and to the rhythm of the atabaque, they begin striking their own and each other’s sticks together.

On the first three beats, they strike their own sticks together, making expressive and athletic dance movements, and on each fourth beat, they strike each other’s respective right-hand stick together. This makes for a dance that looks like “mock stick combat”. (Also, traditionally in Maculelê, the players wear dried grass skirts).

In some capoeira schools, Maculelê can be played with the use of a pair of Facões (literally big knife) which are large knives of about 40 cm, used primarily to cut way through tall grass areas. However this style of play is only practiced by graduated students and masters. It is characterized by the loud noises and flying sparks when the players strike the knives.

Origins: The origins of Maculele are shrouded in mystery, and there are many stories, theories and beliefs that claim “this is how Maculele came to be”. Here are two:

  1. During the slavery era in Brazil, the slaves in the sugarcane plantations would gather and play Maculelê as a game to vent their anger and frustration from being slaves. At this time, machetes were used instead of sticks. Sticks were later incorporated for safety reasons. However, some experts still use machetes.
  2. There were two tribes in Brazil: a peaceful tribe, and a warlike one. The warlike tribe would repeatedly attack the peaceful tribe, who had no way of defending themselves. One day, during an attack, a young boy named “Maculelê” picked up a pair of sticks and fought off the other tribe. The other tribe never attacked again. The boy didn’t manage to fight them off completely, but did die trying. His home tribe then made a mock combat dance using sticks and named the dance “Maculelê” in his honor and memory.

Maculelê is sometimes practiced by itself, but is quite often practiced alongside Capoeira, and featured in many Capoeira performances. It should be noted that Maculelê and Capoeira are fairly similar in style.