Author: daflon

The Letters: Neves e Sousa, Câmara Cascudo and the Engolo Myth

By Ricardo Nascimento and Cinézio Peçanha

For the majority of capoeira practitioners, as for the majority of scholars, there is little doubt about the African character of this art form: the possible African origins of capoeira have always been of great interest to masters, activists, practitioners, intellectuals, artists, folklorists, researchers and people generally interested in Afro-Brazilian cultural practices.

As Matthias Röhrig Assunção (2005) highlighted, the encounter between the Luso-Angolan painter Neves e Sousa with the Brazilian folklorist Câmara Cascudo and Mestre Pastinha are at the origin of the myth. Their dialogues made the representation of engolo, as illustrated in the Neves e Sousa paintings, a possible origin of capoeira. As a ritual practice of the Nyaneka-Nkhumbi people in the South of Angola, engolo – also known as the zebra dance – became an object of artistic and ethnographic interest of the painter Neves e Sousa during his travels in the provinces of colonial Angola.

The paintings by Neves e Sousa and the dialogues followed by exchanges of letters, that took place between him and Câmara Cascudo, resulted in publications by the two authors that position engolo as an ethnographic finding explaining the African monogenetic origin of capoeira. These images, exhibited in galleries and museums in Brazil and abroad, and published by the scholar TJ Desch-Obi (2008) in his book, functioned like a certificate of the Africanity of capoeira. Therefore, the point of departure of the engolo myth inevitably starts with the epic encounters and dialogues between these three characters: the Luso-Angolan painter, the Brazilian folklorist and the Brazilian capoeira master.

N’golo. Drawing by Neves e Sousa. © Maria Luisa Neves e Sousa

Khandeka. Drawing by Neves e Sousa. © Maria Luisa Neves e Sousa

The details and nuances of these meetings, places and particularities are unknown to us; we only know of their multiplying effects, as the story of engolo was appropriated ever since as a foundational myth by the Afrocentric narrative of capoeira. One aspect of the outreach and scale of these effects can be verified in the dissemination of the iconographic symbols of engolo by capoeira Angola collectives, where the GCAP – Grupo de Capoeira Angola Pelourinho was the first to make use of the zebra image as a form of representation of the Angolan fight (Peçanha, 2019).

What we know today, and which is uncontroversial truth, is that these encounters, the mutual interests and the exchanges generated by these interlocutors were able to produce more precise narratives about the African ancestry of capoeira. If until then its Africanity was known and speculated about, from now on it was possible to identify a specific African ancestor, the engolo, characterized and disseminated as the zebra dance.

The ultimate proof of this relation is given by the information provided by Neves e Sousa and incorporated in the books of Câmara Cascudo (1967 e 1972), and the images of Neves e Sousa published in 1972. These encounters and dialogues materialized in a particular finding identified by the researchers Cinézio Peçanha e Ricardo Nascimento: the letters send by Neves e Sousa to Câmara Cascudo, archived in the Câmara Cascudo Institute, in Natal, and the documents from an exhibition about the painter in the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Federal University of Ceará, in Fortaleza. In the letters, Neves e Sousa tells us passages of his daily life, his trips, writes intimate messages of affection, describes landscapes, cultural practices and African rituals that had been enquired about by Câmara Cascudo, and that were subsequently published in some of the latter’s books. Neves e Sousa’s letters have, moreover, a curious particularity, as they were made up by a combination of writing and figurative drawings that help to elucidate the messages.

It is important to realise that the letters represent historical documents of high value and its scope reach well beyond the exchanges and dialogues about capoeira. The letters provide us with tracks of political, cultural and esthetical perspectives of intellectuals and artists of the time, as well as allowing an understanding of how these subjects understood and interpreted the Afro-Lusophone Atlantic. As historical documents, the letters exchanged between Neves e Sousa and Câmara Cascudo cover a period that goes from the Portuguese colonial and pos-colonial period in Angola, from the 1960s, when they met, right through the seventies, with the end of the Salazar dictatorship, until the 1980s, when the Lusophone post-colonial sphere is reconstituted.

In a telegram dated 31 July 1986, Luiza Albano Neves e Sousa paid homage and sent a message of condolence regarding the loss of the master Câmara Cascudo, bringing to a closure a cycle of dialogue via letters between the families. If we take into consideration the quantity of letters, the time span during which they were written and the qualitative focus of their imagery and written contents, we can conclude that they constitute documents that allow to analyse, through the narratives of intimate and intellectual lives of the two families, the social and political relations of the Afro-Lusophone Atlantic and its populations of this particular time period.

It’s important to state that the letters by Câmara Cascudo to Neves e Sousa were not encountered, but indices of their whereabouts can be found with the widow of the painter and in his archives, kept in Portugal, where Maria Luiza Neves de Sousa deposited great part of the painter’s estate. Albano Neves e Sousa, Câmara Cascudo and their families, ever since their first encounter, were great friends, exchanging letters and maintaining relations of familiar intimacy and cordiality. The letters written by Neves e Sousa to Câmara Cascudo relate to various topics. Generally, Neves e Sousa wrote about his trips to Africa and his family life with Luiza, talked about his exhibitions, asked for common friends, exchanged cordialities and affection, always referring to his friend as “Uncle Cascudo”, in a relationship that denoted proximity, respect, and a relationship of extended family affiliation.

We have doubts if engolo is in fact the possible and only African ancestor of capoeira. The certainty we have, and we bring to this reading, is that the impact of engolo in capoeira and in the Afro-diasporic culture reflects its symbolic power in the imaginary of the practitioners of capoeira who until then did not glimpse an existing African ancestor for their art, and from here stems the iconographic potential of the images that were produced by Neves e Sousa. Among the messages of the Luso-Angolan painter to the Brazilian folklorist, the letter of July 20, 1964 brought one of the first descriptions of engolo, at the request of Câmara Cascudo, who then quotes it in his book. In addition to the detailed descriptions, as usual, the letter presented the painter’s famous drawings, illustrating his narrative.

It is important to mention that the descriptions of the engolo as well as the references of the relationship with capoeira appear in only one letter we found, but it suggests that engolo was the object of a face-to-face dialogue and debate between the two friends. However, in all other missives, the countries of Lusophone Africa, their peoples and landscapes, are described using a poetic and romantic language as resource. Recalling that the letters were produced in a hybrid format between writing and drawing, we were struck by the combination of soft iconographic features, suggestively represented in black and white, which accentuated a picturesque and idealized imaginary of the African continent. Although the letters refer to experiences of a period of conflict in Lusophone Africa, the vehement contestation of Portuguese colonialism and clashes of the colonial war, Neves de Sousa rarely expresses feelings of disgust and repugnance towards Portuguese colonialism. However, his poetic tone and light trace speak of an ambiguous love for Africa that served as a source of inspiration.

We know today that Neves and Sousa, would have heard about Câmara Cascudo even before meeting him. The folklorist was conducting a research on food in Brazil and, convinced of the gastronomic connections between Brazil and Africa, he travelled to Angola in 1963 in order to learn more about food habits and local gastronomy. It was on this occasion that they met for the first time. In an interview with the widow of Neves e Sousa, Maria Luiza Neves e Sousa explains the meeting between these two characters, which marked the beginning of a long friendship:

“Albaninho had been here and had known about the existence of Prof. Cascudo, and Prof. Cascudo stayed at the Universo Hotel, and as the Universo Hotel had a huge panel made by Albano and several other paintings, Prof. Cascudo wanted to talk to Albano. I, at that time, was a stewardess. […] I said: ‘Prof., I come to rob you. And so it was… Me, in uniform. My TAG [Angolan Airlines] uniform. […] I entered the Hotel Universo, I knew the owner of the hotel. I took prof. Câmara Cascudo, I stopped by Albano’s house, I wasn’t married to him at that time, we took Albano”. (Interview of Maria Luiza Neves de Sousa by Cinézio Peçanha and Matthias Röhrig Assunção, March 2008)

It is important to note that relations between Neves and Sousa and Câmara Cascudo were part of a territorial triangulation involving the Lusophone Black Atlantic, sewing dialogues between Brazil, Portugal and Lusophone Africa. We are talking about a period when Freyrian ideas of racial democracy and Luso-tropicalism were at their peak. The folklorist and the painter, in their personal and professional instances, were part of a vast circle of intellectuals, enthusiasts of the Lusophone popular culture and who exchanged ideas and impressions about their findings in their respective countries, particularly involving Lusophone Africa and Brazil.

In the letters addressed to Câmara Cascudo, where the painter provided him with information about Africa – by demand and on the former’s request it seems – it was common for Neves and Sousa to refer to African or Portuguese ethnographers and researchers, both known to them, whom the folklorist could also ask for extra data for his research. Thus, names like Ário de Azevedo, José Redinha or Oscar Ribas, all of them characters from the Portuguese colonial world who worked in African countries, will appear in the missives exchanged between Neves and Sousa and Câmara Cascudo, letting us know the connections between these interlocutors and their common interests. Ário de Azevedo, for example, was an agricultural engineer of Portuguese origin, born in Maputo, and was a researcher at the Junta de Investigação do Ultramar, which collected much data on the colonies. José Redinha was an ethnographer and employee of the Portuguese Administration in Angola, he was director of the Dundo Museum, participated in several ethnographic expeditions to collect materials for the museum and knew the local languages as well as the community leaders of the villages. Like Neves and Sousa, Redinha had drawing skills that were much appreciated and useful in his ethnographic travels.

Neves and Sousa also maintained strong ties with Jorge Amado, exchanging some letters with him. The writer prefaced one of Neves e Sousa’s important books – Angola in Black and White, dated 1972 – and introduced some of the painter’s catalogues, such as the exhibition held at the Arts Museum of the Federal University of Ceará, in 1979, in the city of Fortaleza. In the open letter to Neves e Sousa, made in a preface in the painter’s book, Jorge Amado makes the following description:

Well, dear Neves e Sousa, you promised and did not keep you promise, you said you would return to Bahia this year and bring new paintings to show them here – the first were so appreciated and the exhibition resulted in a success, remember? Why didn’t you come then […]? Mestre Pastinha had already raised the berimbaus for the game of Angolan Capoeira in his famous school and Bate Folha’s Candomblé, the most important Angolan Candomblé in Bahia, as you know, will reserve a seat for you among the ogans at the celebration for Obatalá. (AMADO, 1972, p. 1)

In this quote we can observe that there was a proximity between the two interlocutors and an intimacy of Neves and Sousa with elements of Afro-Bahian culture, among them, capoeira and the figure of Mestre Pastinha. We would like to draw attention to the fact that the characters we mentioned circulated in intellectual, but also artistic and academic circles, were participants in the construction of an imaginary of the Afro-diasporic cultural universe, even though they were driven by a Lusotropicalist premise of a mild colonization and non-existent racism.

Different moments of the research: the authors at the Museum of Contemporary Art, at the, Federal University of Ceará and, later, with Daliana Cascudo, at Câmara Cascudo Institut, in Natal/ Rio Grande do Norte.

This intellectual milieu, which involved several actors from different parts of the Portuguese-speaking world, suffered from a tropicalist Lusocentrism that sought to accentuate Portugal’s role in the construction of a transcontinental space. This was not at all the case for Câmara Cascudo, since Brazil was no longer a colony. However, in a way, his research pointed to the Freyrian perspective of racial democracy in which the African contribution to the construction of national identity was a nodal point. The same cannot be said of Neves e Sousa and his relations with the colonial empire:

The work of Neves e Sousa is thus appropriated as a flag both for the promotion of the Portuguese colonial empire in a broader sense, and for those who, living in Angola (Portuguese or their descendants), consider it a vehicle of particular visibility of the colony, accentuating its idiosyncrasies (competing quickly with an idea of emancipation and independence from the metropolis). However, the terms in which this appropriation takes place reveal the clear ambivalence and ambiguity of the configuration of an image of the Portuguese colony in Africa (and in Angola in particular) and the resulting misunderstandings and conflicts. (PEREIRA, 2011, p. 237)

We understand that this contextualization is important to understand the nuances of the meeting between Câmara Cascudo and Neves e Sousa and between the latter and Mestre Pastinha. It is important to pay attention to the the context that gave rise to the encounter and the exchanges between these agents, mainly its meanings and intrinsic motivations. They were not just  paintings: for Cascudo, it was the material that allowed him to complete his work and positioned him as an important folklorist; for Neves e Sousa, it was the social and cultural relevance of his authorial work as a painter beyond the appreciative and aesthetic domain; and, for Mestre Pastinha, it was proof that capoeira Angola was indeed African.

REFERENCES

AMADO, Jorge. Prefácio. In: CASCUDO, L. C. Dicionário do Folclore Brasileiro. 3. ed. Rio de Janeiro: Tecnoprint, 1972. p.1.

ASSUNÇÃO, Matthias Röhrig. Capoeira – The History of an Afro-Brazilian Martial Art. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.

DESCH OBI, T. J., Fighting for Honor: The History of African Martial Art Traditions in the Atlantic World, Columbia: South Carolina Press, 2008.

CASCUDO, Luis da Câmara, Folclore do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro:1967).

CASCUDO, Luis da Câmara. Dicionário do Folclore Brasileiro. 3. ed. Rio de Janeiro: Tecnoprint, 197

NEVES E SOUSA, Albano Da Minha África e do Brasil que eu vi… Luanda: Lello, 1974.

PEÇANHA, Cinésio Feliciano. Gingando na linha da kalunga. A capoeira Angola, Engolo e a construção da ancestralidade. Tese de doutorado multiínstitutcuinal e multidisciplinar em difusão do conhecimento. UFBA, 2019.

PEREIRA, Teresa Mattos. Uma travessia da colonialidade: intervisualidades da pintura, Portugal e Angola. Tese (Doutoramento em Belas-Artes) – Faculdade de Belas Artes, Universidade de Lisboa, Lisboa, 2011.

An Old Attack on UK capoeira

 Sara Delamont, Cardiff University

 The UK has a ‘free’ Radio and TV service provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) which carries no advertisements.  It is funded by an annual licence, that the whole population is expected to pay for, and refusal can lead to a jail sentence.  At the time of writing this, the licence costs each household about £160.  The gaps between TV programmes are filled by trailers for other programmes and station Idents.  BBC One the channel with the largest audience, has Idents that showcase aspects of British Life.  Between 2001-2006 a suite of Idents featured adults doing physical activities, either sports or dance, including wheelchair dance, Tai Chi, aerial gymnastics, rugby football and capoeira.  Because BBC One has an audience of many millions, these ‘fillers’ are seen by many people.  The capoeira Ident, which can be seen online featured two young Brazilian men newly arrived in London, doing beautiful capoeira apparently on a London roof top with the dome of the St Paul’s cathedral as a background.  

The two men, now both mestres (Mestre Poncianinho and Mestre Casquinha) were seen by many people over the five years their performance was broadcast.  There was no explanatory caption and no bateria (percussion).  Those who knew what capoeira was recognised it with delight.  I have spoken to puzzled viewers who described it as ‘Cuban’, ‘gymnastics’, or ‘acrobatics’.  Mestre Poncianinho used a still from the Ident on his advertising flyers for many years and it is reproduced in his book.

In 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic the BBC have launched a new capoeira Ident, in a new series called One:  Oneness.  These all show people doing physical activities that in normal times are done in groups.  To represent the lockdown the screen shows 6-10 people practicing alone, but all in unison.  The capoeira Ident shows people in flats, gardens or the street doing meia luas and queixadas, in capoeira uniforms (abadás). https://cdob.co.uk/bbc-one-oneness-ident

When Mestres Poncianinho and Casquinha did their performance they were members of Cordão de Ouro.  The new Ident features current Cordão de Ouro people, drawn from Contra-Mestre Mascote’s group based in Birmingham, London and Leicester.  The reappearance of a capoeira Ident at the time of the Black Lives Matter movement is a good opportunity to revisit an attack on the BBC from 2002 centred on the Poncianinho and Casquinha Ident.

 The right-wing newspapers in the UK regularly attack the BBC.  Their owners would like to have commercial TV and radio stations and make money from them.  The Murdoch family who own two newspapers, Fox News, and Sky TV, are particularly vocal about the BBC being run by London based liberal intellectuals who are anti-Christian, anti-family and therefore out of touch with ordinary British patriots.  The licence fee is attacked relentlessly in its own right, but also as something the liberal intelligentsia at the BBC ‘waste’ on left wing, highbrow, rubbish that no decent British family wants to watch but has to pay for.  The most extreme newspapers are The Daily Express and The Daily Mail which had big circulations (2-3 million readers) in 2001.  Both are reactionary, staunchly anti-intellectual, routinely support miracle ‘cures’ for cancer, and publish salacious gossips about ‘celebrities’.

 In 2002 the capoeira Ident was used as a pretext for an attack on the BBC.  The Daily Mail has an opinion and gossip column under the by-line of a pseudonym ‘Ephraim Hardcastle’ whose stance is that of the sensible ‘man in the street’.  The Daily Mail is notoriously hostile to all women, so the column really does represent the assumed views of ‘the patriotic man’, with common sense, living outside London.  In that context it was not surprising that the Ephraim Hardcastle column used the capoeira Ident to attack the BBC.  The journalist wrote that the BBC was using white males to perform capoeira, explaining that it had been created by ‘Black slaves’, and was a martial art which incorporated dance.  Hardcastle then told his readers that by hiring white men to perform capoeira the BBC was presenting to the British public – the licence payers – a dishonest travesty.  The Ident was ‘a case of patronising liberals getting all excited about exotic culture and completely missing the point’ (3/3/2002).  Hardcastle did not make similar points about the Tai Chi, or the New Zealand Maori Haka (a war dance) or the Argentinian tango.  The BBC did not demand a public correction or make a public defence, but Hardcastle’s basic premise was wrong.  Mestres Poncianinho and Casquinha are both Brazilians who self-identify as mestizos.  Neither is very dark-skinned, but they are both proud of their Afro-Brazilian heritage and would not, in London, or Cyprus (where Casquinha now teaches) be classified as ‘white’.  Hardcastle cannot have asked Poncianinho or Casquinha how they self-identified or he would not have called them white.  The journalist erroneously assumed they were unauthentic capoeira players in order to attack the BBC.

 Of course, even in 2002 Hardcastle’s sneering comment that ‘patronising liberals’ had ‘got all excited’ about ‘exotic culture’ and ‘completely missed the point’ was an odd set of complaints. Non Afro-Brazilians had been doing capoeira authentically for 60 years, and people of all races outside Brazil had been learning capoeira for 30 years paying great attention to the authenticity of what they learnt.  Two white Scottish women could have been filmed playing capoeira in the Orkney Islands and it would have been ‘authentic’.

 Later on that decade the BBC filmed a travel series about Brazil starring Michael Palin, who was seen having a capoeira lesson from M. Gente Boa in Salvador, and the run up to the World Cup (2014) and the Rio Olympics (2016) included programmes in which British journalists saw capoeira.  These programmes were not ridiculed, perhaps because the Brazilian capoeira experts shown were all very dark-skinned Afro-Brazilians.

 “Embodying Brazil:  An Ethnography of Diasporic Capoeira”  with Sara Delamont, Neil Stephens and Mestre Claudio Campos.

 The One: Oneness Ident shows men and women with a variety of skin-tones practising basic moves to the sound of a berimbau. (https://cdob.co.uk/bbc-one-oneness-ident).

 At a time when BLM campaigners have thrown a statue of a slave trader into Bristol harbour, and a popular historian has been sacked by two universities for talking about ‘damn Blacks’ in a recorded interview, it will be interesting to see if the anti-BBC press again seize on a capoeira Ident to attack the BBC. If any of the capoeiristas in the 2020 Ident were accused of being inauthentic, their teacher, Contra-Mestre Mascote, would be well placed to reject that accusation.  He is a British Sociology graduate, and could contest any such media slurs.  His own roots in capoeira are deep. I remember embracing Mestre Jogo de Dentro at Mascote’s first batizado and very wonderful it was.  

I hope that this capoeira Ident leads to an explosion of new students enrolling for live classes as soon as the whole UK comes out of lockdown.

My colleague Professor Paul Bowman drew my attention to the Daily Mail piece for which I am grateful. 

Sara Delamont is co-author of Embodying Brazil:  An Ethnography of Diasporic Capoeira  with Neil Stephens and Mestre Claudio Campos

 

Capoeira, the transnational dialogue of bodies in motion

By Daniel Granada

“Once the African-Brazilian martial art called capoeira was distant. Now it’s right next door. North American women and men play this blend of dance and combat in Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Santa Fe, Boston, New Heaven, Washington DC, Atlanta and New York City” (Thompson, 1992, xi)

This is how Robert Farris Thompson begins one of the first books dedicated to the practice of capoeira in English. The preface to J. L. Lewis’ Ring of Liberation, published in 1992, was both a foreshadowing and acknowledgement of the expansion of capoeira outside Brazil. This represented a new chapter in the development of the practice permeated by ruptures and continuities, permeated by processes of creative reinvention.

The relocation of capoeira practice, both in Brazil and abroad, necessarily implies a social and cultural resignification of the practice, both in the contexts in which it is introduced, as well as with the agents who make these exchanges and translations operational. If in Brazil the transformations of the practice have already been intense, with regional characteristics having shaped different playing styles, in the case of capoeira outside Brazil, new potentials have arisen due to the agents’ creative capacity, the need for an implementation of this art in new contexts, and the possibilities existing outside the country. This has been remarkably demonstrated by the various works dedicated to map the expansion of capoeira outside Brazil which problematise the adaptation processes of capoeira and its practitioners in new contexts. These studies highlight the relationship between the “cultural” and the “political” fields within different national contexts, as well as affecting identity construction and the power relations resulting from the encounter between Brazilian practitioners and local practitioners in the United States, (Travassos, 2000) in Canada, (Joseph, 2008a, 2008b), in France (Vassalo, 2004; Ferreira, 2015 a; Gravina, 2010; Brito, 2017), in Spain (Guizardi, 2011, 2013) in the United Kingdom (Ferreira, 2015a, 2015 b; 2017), and in Portugal (Nascimento, 2015; Brito, 2016). Another study analyses the impact of the transnationalisation of the Studies such as Fernandes’ (2014), on the practice of capoeira in Germany, and Nascimento’s (2015) on the practice of capoeira in Poland and Portugal brought new elements to think the relocation of capoeira in Europe. In both works, the authors’ knowledge of the practice of capoeira and their rigorous reflection on the ethnographic material they perform stands out. In the case of Fernandes (2014), the relation of the interviewed masters with the broader Brazilian emigration process in the first wave of capoeiristas going abroad is evident, thus demonstrating the importance of folklore groups in relocating the practice outside Brazil. Nascimento (2015: 98-104) also highlighted the prominent role of folklore groups in the expansion process of capoeira outside Brazil.

The transnationalisation of the practice of capoeira, both regional, angola or other modalities, is closely associated with the movement of increasing contacts and international circulation of people. Not only Brazilians, but individuals from different nationalities, were, and continue to be, responsible for safeguarding capoeira’s memory, expansion and dissemination. The role of the pioneer capoeiristas who left in the 1970s and 1980s to appear in folklore shows in Europe and the United States and decided to stay working in small jobs, who discovered through capoeira practice ways to stay in connected to Brazil and live with dignity as artists abroad, highlights the existing inequalities at the international level. It is not by chance that in the 1980s and 1990s, airports began to be the destination of dozens of capoeiristas who, through their networks and contacts, sought the means to live from capoeira practice abroad. The years passed and these capoeiristas created schools, trained instructors, teachers, trenéis, interns, contramestres, masters, and many other classifications that capoeiristas created to differentiate the length of practice and engagement of the members of their groups.

The structure currently established abroad, which is the result of a collective process where men and women – Brazilian or not – operate, relies also on individual determination, highlighting a process implemented by people who come together and form groups around a practice that carries memory recorded in bodies, transmitted through movement imitation, songs, rhythms and behaviours. Capoeira’s contribution around the world, which unfortunately still lacks recognition in our country, is related to what makes us humans, our ability to create, to invent ways of living together. The practice of capoeira is the art of celebrating this encounter, of continuing with each new roda a game that never ends, which is reinvented at each meeting through the joy and banality of performing dialogues of bodies in motion, through dancing, making music and living together.

Whilst these lines are being written, we are going through a world crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. This health crisis which was also resulted from the intensification of circulation of peoples associated with the globalisation process, has the so-called social isolation as its main method of reducing the spread of the virus. In the countries that are going through this crisis, capoeira rodas have been cancelled – however, the berimbaus have not remained silent. They appear on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram lives and videos of capoeiristas playing the berimbau and singing, others moving their bodies in front of their smartphones, celebrating and keeping capoeira practice alive. Capoeiristas’ appropriation of new technologies and their use is not something new either, as capoeiristas have been using the internet and its potential to publicize their groups and events for some time now. What is new in this moment of crisis is the impossibility of meeting friends in rodas. Within the process of the transnationalisation of capoeira practice, this moment will certainly be remembered as a singular event, but in the future it will make way for new rodas, hugs and handshakes to the sound of berimbaus, thus further intensifying the transnational dialogue of bodies in motion.

 Daniel Granada is a lecturer in  the Department of  Natural and Social Sciences, Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC). 

References

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ASSUNÇÃO, Matthias Röhrig. Capoeira: The history of an Afro-Brazilian martial art. London: Routledge, 2005.

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DELAMONT, Sara. The smell of sweat and rum: Authority and authenticity in Capoeira classes. Ethnography and Education, London, v. 1, p. 161-176, Aug. 2006. Disponível em:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17457820600715380?src=recsys&journalCode=reae20

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_______. Práticas em movimento: a pesquisa de campo no caso da capoeira fora do Brasil Soc. e Cult., Goiânia, v. 22, n. 1, p. 299-317, jan./jun. 2019. Disponível em: https://www.revistas.ufg.br/fchf/article/view/49203

GRAVINA, Heloísa. Por cima do mar eu vim, por cima do mar eu vou voltar. 2010. 411 f. Tese (Doutorado em Antropologia Social) – Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, 2010. Disponível em: https://www.lume.ufrgs.br/handle/10183/31733

GUIZARDI, Menara Lube. Todo lo que la boca come. Flujos, rupturas y fricciones de la capoeira en Madrid. 2011. Tese (Doutorado em Antropologia) – Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, 2011. Disponível em: https://repositorio.uam.es/handle/10486/13068

______. Para pensar las redes transnacionales: itinerarios e historias migratorias de los capoeiristas brasileños en Madrid. Vibrant, Brasília, v. 10, n. 2, dez., 2013. Disponível em: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1809-43412013000200008

LEWIS, J. Lowell. Ring of Liberation: Deceptive Discourse in Brazilian Capoeira. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1992.

NASCIMENTO, Ricardo César Carvalho. 2015. – A globalização da capoeira. Tese (Doutorado em Antropologia). Faculdade de Ciências Humanas e Sociais, Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Disponível em: https://run.unl.pt/handle/10362/15257

TRAVASSOS, Sonia D. 2000. Capoeira, difusão e metamorfoses culturais entre Brasil e Estados Unidos. Tese (Doutorado). Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro.

VASSALLO, Simone P. 2001. Ethnicité, Tradition et Pouvoir: le jeu de la capoeira à Rio de Janeiro et à Paris. Tese (Doutorado). École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales de Paris. Disponível em: http://www.sudoc.fr/061648213

WESOLOWSKI, Katya. Professionalizing Capoeira: Politics of Play in Twenty-first-Century Brazil. Latin American Perspectives, Riverside, v. 39, n. 2, p. 82-89, Nov. 2012. Disponível em: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0094582X11427892

Camisa Preta

By Antônio Luiz dos Santos Campos (Mestre Boa Alma)

Miguel Camisa Preta (= Michael Black Shirt) was a capoeira, a rogue, a bohemian. A survivor in the streets and ghettos of the universe of the old capoeiras in Rio de Janeiro. Alfredo Francisco Soares was his baptismal name, one of the most famous names among the malandros in the Cariocan streets, at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Miguelzinho Camisa Preta, as he was known, by the police as well as by the other rogues, was a landmark and left his name in the history of capoeiras, malandros and tough guys that populated the bohemian streets of the “wonderful city” at the beginning of last century.

His death

According to the newspapers A Gazeta de Notícias, and A Noite, Miguel Camisa Preta was assassinated in the dawn of 12 July 1912, a Friday.

Where he was killed

The rogue was assassinated in the Rua do Núncio, near the actual Tomé de Souza and Visconde do Rio Branco avenues. Around one o’clock in the morning.

The reasons for the death of Camisa Preta

The police officer Elpídio Ribeiro da Rocha appeared on the location, a declared enemy of Camisa Preta. Some years ago Elpídio had killed the malandro Leão do Norte (Lion of the North), a tough capoeira from the streets, and a great friend of Camisa Preta. Camisa Preta had sworn vengeance and had confronted the policeman already twice. In one of them, they both ended up at the police station, with Camisa Preta wounded by a shot in the leg. In this last and decisive confrontation, in the night of 12 July, the policeman and his fellow officer, both armed, supposedly killed Camisa Preta as he raised his arms. Both apparently had offered guarantees to the malandro that they would not shoot. However, as soon as Camisa Preta raised his arms, Elpídio shot him in the head. That was the end of the most famous tough guy, bohemian, capoeira and malandro which inhabited the universe of the streets of Rio de Janeiro at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Camisa Preta in umbanda

Miguelzinho Camisa Preta became a spiritual entity in Umbanda, worshipped in various corners of Brazil. In his “phalange” (or family of entities), he introduces himself with various names, depending on the place: Miguelim do Morro, Mané Soares…

There are other versions about the history of his life, death and after-death. Due to my respect for each medium and spiritual leader working with this phalange, I want to make clear that I only used newspaper articles from the newspapers cited below, which were published on the day after his death.

Credits:

A Noite, 12/07/1912

A Gazeta de Notícias, 12/07/1912

Médium Gugu Fragoso; creator of the blog malandromiguel

Originally published on Facebook, posted 31 January 2020

There are women in the roda: Female empowerment in capoeira

By Letícia Vidor de Sousa Reis

Introduction

We live in a country where violence against women is  naturalised. Blaming women for the violence of others is a patriarchal strategy that happens in many cases and covers up the aggressor’s identity and crime. Women need to be heard and listened to by men as well as women from older generations so that together, our sisters, daughters and nieces do not have to go through what so many other women endured. Directly related to this topic comes the issue of sexual assault in the Brazilian capoeira community, within and outside rodas.

“The capoeira scene has undergone a transformation over the last forty years, not only due to a rise in numbers with more women joining, but also due to the fact that they realise they are living in a hostile and dangerous space.” (Note from Grupo Nzinga de Capoeira for the end of gender violence, 2020). 

Capoeira women in the past

Criminal proceedings against female capoeiras are quite rare. Pires, in his work A capoeira na Bahia de Todos os Santos (2004), sought to trace the social history of capoeira between 1890 and 1930. The small number of women (3%) among those prosecuted for homicide and bodily injuries demonstrated that during this period, capoeira practitioners in Salvador were predominantly men.

One of those proceedings refers to a Bahian washerwoman, Maria Elisa do Espírito Santo, who, in 1910, was at her workplace when an incident occurred.

She claimed to have forgotten her mistress’s towel at the fountain of Baixa das Quintas, where she washed her clothes, to earn her and her family’s livelihood. She went back to the fountain and started looking for the towel among the belongings of two co-workers, because, in the end, it could only be with another washerwoman’s things (Pires: 2004: 113-114).

The washerwomen who were there denied her accusations, and Maria Elisa, dismayed, uttered “obscene words” to “an elderly black lady”. Manoel de Santana, who had a hardware store nearby, overheard the ongoing conversation and got involved in a physical confrontation with Maria Elisa, injuring her arm with a machete.

The previously mentioned black woman, seeing her wounded, hurried to return the towel. Thus, Maria Elisa wrapped the towel around her good arm (…) “Here is the proof: the towel stained with blood ” (Pires: 2004: 114).

Probably because she was unable to pay her mistress for the loss of the towel and was quite nervous, Maria Elisa started a fight with Manoel Santana. “[In this situation], seeing herself cornered and at a disadvantage, she used the only weapon available to her in that moment and attacked her opponent with capoeira moves” (Pires, 113-114).

In his work Culturas Circulares (2010), Pires, based on the assumption that capoeira is part of urban working-class culture, carried out a study on the Cariocan (from Rio de Janeiro) capoeira groups in the last decades of the nineteenth century, until about the 1920s, based on police documents. Women have been involved in capoeira since the First Republic, even if in very small numbers, and their existence was very rarely documented, adding up to only 7.1% among those recorded for practicing capoeira, which is predominantly male.

Although, capoeiristas were generally considered vagrants, this clashed with the collected evidence. Ana Maria da Conceição, for example, was arrested in 1906 for doing “body agility exercises” but presented a certificate that she worked as a cook. So, despite practicing capoeira, she was acquitted (Pires: 2010: 114). Another case which also took place in 1906 involves a family. The police officer who participated in the arrest claimed that the group was “playing capoeira” and said

That the two male defendants [were] causing disturbances and that the three female defendants also present [were] upsetting the neighbourhood and [startling them] with threats and antics [and] jumping around with their arms and legs. (Pires: 2010: 113)

New paths for capoeiristas

The number of women interested in capoeira has grown since the 1970s. As Lima (2016) pointed out, ethnomusicologist Emília Biancardi is one of the main responsibles for the promotion of capoeira in Brazil and abroad. In 1962, she created the group Viva Bahia in a public school in Salvador (BA) and from then onwards the capoeira established itself as an artistic spectacle for its own promotion . Moreover, this made it possible for capoeiristas to perform abroad.

Christine Zonzon (2017) proposed to tackle one of the themes that she maintains is a taboo in capoeira studies – women’s bodies. Her main research focus was the invisibility of women in the Capoeira Angola roda.

The absence of female capoeiristas in traditional capoeira spaces / practices becomes even more evident in street rodas, as it is precisely in this “open” ceremony that the number of women and their bodies, their actions and the spaces they occupy in the roda are even more diminished (idem).

The obstacles for female capoeiristas are not restricted to playing the berimbau or being the lead singer , but also includes values ​​of excellence, such as rising in the group’s hierarchy. However, this does not prevent them from dedicating themselves to capoeira. Tereza, a young Angolan woman explains that: “Capoeira helps me to work out certain ways of being in the world that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It is work in action; it is in the body ” (2017: 304). Many female capoeiristas emphasize the lack of recognition and the devaluation they experience. However, the author believes that:

The inclusion of gender equality in the agendas of groups (which is also associated with the anti-racist struggle, notably via the “black woman”) testifies to this phenomenon, since it questions the assignment of knowledge and powers enforced in traditional society (2017: 306).

In other words, some female capoeiristas believe that rodas exclusive to women can help fight gender discrimination in capoeira.

The representation of women in capoeira songs

As with other Afro-Brazilian art forms, oral communication is the basis of the transmission of knowledge and tradition. In capoeira, songs are one of the most important records of collective memory. In these songs, several representations of the woman can be observed. One of them is that of an unfaithful woman or “traitor”. One song says: She has a gold tooth / It was I who ordered it to be placed / I am going to plague her with a plague / For this tooth to break / She does not remember me / I will not remember her either. (public domain)

Another representation is that of the jealous woman, who, for this particular reason, makes it difficult for her partner to maintain relationships with other women, as can be seen in this song: The straw house is a hut / If I were fire I would burn it / Every woman is jealous / If I were the Death I would kill her, mate. (public domain)

The woman also plays the role of a mother who is sometimes careless, since she is supposedly the sole carer for the child: Cry boy! / Nhem, nhem, nhem / The boy cried / Nhem, nhem, nhem / If the boy cries / Nhem, nhem, nhem / It’s because he didn’t suckle / Nhem, nhem, nhem / Shut up boy! / Nhem, nhem, nhem (public domain).

Another image of women in capoeira songs seems them as the beatified mother of God, as demonstrated in this farewell song, sung at the end of the capoeira roda. Goodbye, goodbye / Farewell! / I’m leaving / Farewell! / I’m going with God / Farewell! / And Our Lady Farewell! (public domain).

Women’s sexual harassment is one of the key current problems which was discussed at a meeting in Campos (RJ) in 2019. For Argentine journalist and capoeirista Silvina, women need to be heard:

As a social communicator, female capoeirista, a defender of human, animal, and environmental rights, I want you to understand the importance of stopping to think and reflect on the difficulties that we, women, suffer both in sport and daily life.

According to Mannu, the coordinator of the United Black Youth Movement (MNURJ, Juventude do Movimento Negro Unificado):

In the 21st century, with the admission of women in sports such as capoeira, machismo and sexism are still present (…) [Through debates, it is possible] to disentangle the issue of harassment.

According to social scientist and capoeirista Jhe, it is essential that men and boys take part in this discussion so that they do not continue and reproduce this model of machismo. [Some people think] “that harassment is just sexual abuse, but some of the subtler aspects of harassment are often not considered” (Capoeira women discuss harassment in Campos, 2019).

Initiatives to empower women in capoeira

The re-democratization of Brazil from the mid-1980s made it possible for the reappearance of social movements, including the resurgence of feminist associations and collectives. It is then that women began to play a significant role in sports activities in Brazil. In capoeira, the performance of some women since the end of the last century was fundamental to advance that cause. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Mestra Cigana Capoeira

Born in Volta Redonda (RJ), Fátima Colombiano, better known as Mestra Cigana Capoeira, started practicing capoeira in her hometown. In an interview she gave to the series As Mestras das Artes Martiais (The Masters of Martial Arts) in 2016, she said that she started practicing in Belém do Pará (PA) with Mestre Bezerra in the 1970s.

At that time, the prejudice against female capoeiristas was quite obvious. Cigana married a successful engineer because she couldn’t bear to live with her family anymore, who rejected her for being a capoeirista. Her husband also demanded that she choose between capoeira or living with him and their three children, all still quite young. She laments:

I will never forget the custody hearing of my 1-year-old son; my ex-husband exclaiming: “- Excellency, she is a capoeirista! And the judge replied: ´- But you are going to quit capoeira, aren’t you? ’”

And she explains to the journalist: “(…) Capoeira was my ideal, my philosophy of life and I chose it”. She was the only woman to participate in her master’s rodas, and remembers the difficulty in interacting with other capoeiristas, since as a woman, “she was invisible”. She complains: “(…) I would spend hours at the foot of the berimbau, asking for permission to enter, and when I finally managed to get in I couldn’t even stay 30 seconds before they took me out [of the roda]”.

Behind, M. Curió e M. Cigana Capoeira; below, M Arara. Photo avaiable at http://mulheresnoaikido.blogspot.com/2017/02/as-mulheres-da-capoeira-glaucia-durooes.html Acess on May 7, 2020

In 1975 she met Mestre Canjiquinha in São Paulo and went with him to Salvador (BA). After five years of training, she became the first female capoeira master in Brazil. Mestra Cigana did not stay in any group for long. She revealed that one of the main reasons was that she refused to yield to the masters’ sexual harassment.

A documentary about Mestra Cigana Capoeira is being prepared at the moment – it is still in the material gathering stage. Photos, magazines, documents and more will be collected. The main objective is to reconstruct her route in the cities of Salvador, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Volta Redonda.

Upon returning to her hometown, Cigana opened the Associação Mestre Canjiquinha, where she had more than one hundred students. She then founded the Associação Cigana Capoeira, where around twenty instructors graduated. She has a degree in Physical Education, Pedagogy and Philosophy from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Today her priority is teaching capoeira, which she does in schools and other places.

Mestra Janja

Janja, left of the photo, in a class at Grupo Nzinga in São Paulo. Photo avaiable https://www.sescsp.org.br/online/artigo/13022_O+PARANAUE+DE+MESTRA+JANJA Acess on May 7, 2020

Rosângela Costa Araújo, known today as Mestra Janja, was born in 1959 in the city of Salvador (BA). As she says in an interview given to Almanaque Brasil in 2018, she had never thought of practicing capoeira during her adolescence. This was because her maternal family, made up of white people, demonstrated no connection to Afro-Brazilian culture.

In 1983, she started training with Grupo de Capoeira Angola Pelourinho-GCAP, in Salvador, a reference point in the promotion of Capoeira Angola in Brazil and abroad, and directed by Mestre Moraes. It was there that she found something she had always been looking for: to think, about the body and historical identity from the perspective of African culture.

The Nzinga de Capoeira Angola Group was born in 1995, when Janja moved from her hometown – where she had graduated in History from the Federal University of Bahia – to São Paulo, where she did  her Master’s and her Doctorate at the Faculty of Education at the University of São Paulo. In the 1990s, , Paula Barreto (now Mestra Paulinha) and Paulo Barreto (now Mestre Poloca), which were part of the GCAP (Grupo Capoeira Angola Pelourinho) in Salvador since its foundation, joined the Nzinga Group. The group’s website states:

The Nzinga Group focuses on preserving the values ​​and foundations of Capoeira Angola, according to the lineage of its greatest champion: Mestre Pastinha […] (1889-1981) […] Its principles are the fight against oppression , the preservation of values ​​that we inherit from the African diaspora, and caring for children and young people, mainly through culture and education. This includes the fight against racism and against gender discrimination.

Gradually, Nzinga became a reference point in the struggle for women’s equal rights, inside and outside the rodas. The group has just published a manifesto against machismo in capoeira, in which it ensures:

Our solidarity is with ALL capoeiristas who are victims of violence, we work towards men practicing violence taking responsibility for their actions, and for a world and a capoeira in which we are all truly free. (Note from Grupo Nzinga de Capoeira for the end of gender violence, 2020).

In 2004, Mestra Janja received the title of Paulistana Citizen, granted by the City Council of São Paulo, for her important role in fighting for and preserving the values ​​of the black community. In 2013, she was also awarded the title of Bahian Citizen, granted by the Salvador City Council.

Today, Mestra Janja is a professor in the Department of Gender and Feminism Studies / DEGF at the Federal University of Bahia. On March 8th (International Women’s Day) 2020, the Nzinga Group celebrated its 25th anniversary and commemorated their achievements and their work in five Brazilian cities and twelve cities abroad.

Other iniciatives

Another achievement towards women’s empowerment was the creation of groups formed by women, such as Mulher & Capoeira, Obirimbau – Berimbau Feminino and the Mulher-Capoeira Movement, which I am part of. We formed it in Piracicaba in early 2018 and its participants are capoeiristas (among them, contra-mestres and teachers from different capoeira groups in the city, as well as researchers) who, through sharing knowledge and experiences, seek to strengthen women’s representation in capoeira.

The Collective of Studies and Musical Interventions Marias Felipas is made up of female capoeiristas, researchers, educators and activists. On July 20th, 2019, it launched the Documentary Mulheres da Pá Virada in Salvador (BA). From my perspective, this documentary is a compelling record of female capoeiristas from different generations. Mestra Ritinha da Bahia, who died at the early age of 52, at the beginning of the shooting for the film, had an important career in Capoeira Angola but practically without any visibility. The recovery of the interviews carried out during the two final years of her life, as well as photos and audio-visual records from her life, allowed Ritinha to not only be the guiding thread of the script, but also the main reference point of the documentary.

Final considerations

Here, I make the words of Grupo Nzinga de Capoeira Angola my own, which state that:

Using capoeira as a space for political discussion, we introduce questions about the need for shifting roles and values ​​[created in a context marked by different types of violence]. (Note from Grupo Nzinga de Capoeira for the end of gender violence, 2020).

The presence of women in capoeira may promote new paradigms in this art form, as it starts from another social space – one affected by violence – within a society marked by machismo, and, this can never be said enough times, by racism too. I think it is thus essential for male capoeiristas – regardless of their group, style and graduation – to rethink their masculinity and responsibility in this fight for equal opportunities for both sexes in the capoeira community. Since the 1980s, capoeira masters and researchers have been publishing books, doctoral theses, master’s dissertations and articles which work to further expand the theme of capoeira and gender. I believe that this contributes not only to the singular perception of the female body in capoeira but also to the conquest of the legitimacy of the female space and its manifestations in the capoeira roda and the circle of life.

Letícia Vidor Reis holds a BA in History, an MA and a PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of São Paul (USP). From 1988 to 2006, she taught on the History degree at the Methodist University of Piracicaba and since 1986 she is a teacher at the Edson Rontani state school in Piracicaba, São Paulo. She is author of the classical study A capoeira no Brasil: o mundo de pernas para o ar. (3ª ed., 2010).

References

Books

LIMA, Correia Lucia. Mandinga em Manhattan: internacionalização da capoeira. Rio de Janeiro: MC&G; Salvador: Fundação Gregório Matos, 2016.

PIRES, Antonio Liberac Cardoso Simões. A capoeira na Bahia de Todos os Santos: um estudo sobre cultura e classes trabalhadoras (1890-1937). Tocantins/Goiânia: NEAB/Grafset, 2004.

______. Culturas Circulares: a formação histórica da capoeira contemporânea no Rio de Janeiro. Curitiba: Editora Progressiva/Salvador: Fundação Jair Moura, 2010.

REIS, Letícia Vidor de Sousa. A capoeira no Brasil: o mundo de pernas para o ar. 3ª ed. Curitiba: CRV, 2010.

ZONZON, Christine Nicole. Nas rodas da capoeira e da vida: corpo, experiência e tradição. Salvador: EDUFBA, 2017.

Sites

Available at: https://portalcapoeira.com/capoeira/capoeira-mulheres/mulheres-da-pa-virada/ Accessed on: 18 Dec 2019.

Available at: https://portalcapoeira.com/capoeira/capoeira-mulheres/documentario-sobre-mestra-cigana/ Accessed on 03 mar. 2020

Available at: https://www.geledes.org.br/as-varias-faces-da-violencia-contr-as-mulheres/ Accessed on 05 mar. 2020

Available at: https://almanaquebrasil.com.br/2018/01/31/mestra-janja-se-penso-na-africa-estranho-menos-a-presenca-da-mulher-na-capo Access in: 05 Mar.2020

Available at: http://mundoafro.atarde.uol.com.br/ Accessed on: 05 mar. 2020

Available at: http://nzinga.org.br/pt-br/grupo_nzinga Accessed on: 05 mar. 2020

Available at: http://mulheresnoaikido.blogspot.com/2016/06/serie-as-mestras-das-artes-marciais.html Accessed on: 05 mar. 2020

Available in: https://www.facebook.com/mestraciganacapoeira/?__xts__[0]=68.ARDUvDw6ecUb2A45b-D18o3iAIgMrv7XBdWIJt2Eii8qhEJlirTBkfeQm2ngENUxImH08ubzS9pWJz_3S3RagMqbGkkuzxT4l2A-3YiGBhnsmVeNrUdvircc2ieQ1Y_kcZFUwQ-wVbfW7r5LjXf3yW6cALpbNnEXYYzAAXbrABZe-7wzYGu2_w17kWUOhpxrabZDDcYADqjxy3xXBX0KCMl4rxNlSM1SGS56XlUvDoOYAgsbkdn1Q5fDvsY5DoYYRRGjB8TJqHD0H7VsdhF1sebtwA7rH7ztgznD-X8W_nzvr-2FeW1c9hR_7yCpE3mSwdBieh-jGYDpue2LQ0TVdCjqDQ&__tn__=HHH-R Access: 17 March 2020

Available at: https://www.facebook.com/grupo.nzinga.5/photos/pb.629045683815350.-2207520000../2786655948054302/?type=3&theater Accessed on: 17 mar. 2020

Available at: https://www.jornalterceiravia.com.br/2019/05/01/mulheres-da-capoeira-discutem-assedio-em-campos/ Accessed on 09 mar. 2020

Available at: https://images.app.goo.gl/QL2F7kegzZpsgWyr9 Accessed on March 17. 2020

THE SENZALA GROUP AND THE CAPOEIRA SAFEGUARD

By Mestre Gato (Fernando Campelo Cavalcanti de Albuquerque)

The Capoeira Circle and the Capoeira Masters Craft

The Roda de Capoeira and the Capoeira Masters Craft are cultural assets recognized as Cultural Heritage of Brazil since 2008. The Roda de Capoeira was internationally recognized by UNESCO, in 2014, as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Following the guidelines of the publication Safeguards of the Roda de Capoeira and the Capoeira Masters Craft – Support and Promotion (IPHAN, November 2017), the Senzala de Capoeira Group intends to act for the Safeguarding of Capoeira, through an inventory of the characteristics, practices and fundamentals of capoeira that it has practiced, taught and spread in Brazil and around the world over the last 56 years.

Capoeira, as popular art, has its own subjectivity, nuances that its practitioners feel, understand, but often cannot explain due to this subjectivity. On the other hand, it is important to make an inventory of its characteristics and fundamentals, for its own cultural preservation.

Capoeira is a dynamic and popular manifestation that has been changed by its practitioners since its inception, according to the social context. It is fight, play, dance, body expression, and rhythm; all these elements are present in the practice of capoeira, which needs to be exercised collectively, with the Capoeira Circle, which integrates and includes its participants spontaneously.

The Senzala Group

The Senzala Group has its origins in the Bahian capoeira, initially following the method of capoeira regional, where the student learns the basic teaching sequence, the cintura desprezada (balões) sequence, the falls and unbalancing attacks, presenting “sketches” (attack and defence in combined sequences, containing falls, rasteiras or sweeping kicks, balões) and playing to the different rhythms of the regional style.

Capoeira in Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s mainly featured capoeira from Bahia, brought by the masters Artur Emídio, Mário Santos, Roque and Paraná, but there was still a remnant of capoeira carioca, capoeira of the rogues, of the pernadas, the samba duro and the jackknives, represented by the capoeira of Sinhô and the roguery of the shantytowns on the hills of Rio. Without the continuous presence of a capoeira master, whilst being influenced by the capoeira that existed in Rio de Janeiro at the time, and needing to teach to larger groups of students, the group developed its own teaching and training methods, characterized by the following main features:

Warm-up and gymnastics, developed from the basic fundamentals of capoeira, using ginga and negaças when training attacks and defences, feints, movements of high, medium and low game, practice of evasive movements and defensive positions, guards, descending and ascending movementss, and steps. Conducting these trainings sessions with the entire group of students performing the ginga at the same time, doing physical and muscular conditioning through capoeira positions and movements, such as the bananeira, corta capim, aú com queda de rins, rolê,and various types of negativas, among others..

Strike and hit training on light targets and hitting bag.

Training two by two, simulating game situations.

Attack, defence and counterattack training.

Using training sequences, such as those of regional capoeira, with variations with the use of dodges and defences, such as front and side dodges. Training of low and medium game sequences, trying to practice different movements such as cabeçadas, rasteiras, bandas and tesouras.

Developing didactics for learning, how to teach possible forms of attacks, for example, making an armada by entring diagonally to the aim or defending and counterattacking diagonally.

Stimulating the student’s creativity and spontaneity, through intuitive teaching methods.

Improving rhythm in movement and play through training to accompany different rhythms, respecting capoeira traditions and rituals, as described below.

    • Jogo de Dentro – a game to work on continuity and proximity, exercising esquivas de coluna, quedas de rins, entradas and saídas de tesouras, trying to stay close to the berimbau throughout the game. Pace – Inside Game.
    • Jogo de Iúna – a game to work on continuity and movement flourishes, using balões from the cintura desprezada of Regional style. The Senzala Group started to allow the practice of the the Iúna game only for blue belt graduates. Rhythm – Iúna.

    • Angola game – Rhythm – Angola or São Bento Pequeno, medium or slow.

    • São Bento Grande game – Rhythm – São Bento Grande of Angola fast or São Bento Grande of Regional.

Uniform and belts

Such training methodology provided rapid development of the capoeiristas from the Senzala Group in technique and efficiency of the blows. In addition, the group adopted a uniform consisting of white mesh pants (which came to be called abadá) and a grading system symbolized by the colours of the students’ belts.

The student, when baptized, received the white belt, moving on successively to yellow, orange, then blue, which was the first advanced level, when the student had to present, during the graduation ceremony, their knowledge of the berimbau rhythms, the songs and play a Iúna game, showing the balões of Cintura Desprezada.

Subsequently, the green, purple and brown belts would follow. After a while on the brown belt, the student was proposed for the red belt, becoming a representative of the Senzala Group. In the 1990s, Mestre Peixinho created the gray belt, for the intermediate level between beginner and advanced, after the orange belt and before the blue belt, which was adopted by the other masters of the Senzala Group.

Group methodology

The Senzala Group has stimulated interactivity between its red belts {masters] since the late 1960s, which allowed the formation of a completely different group from other capoeira academies and associations existing at the time. In the group’s weekly rodas, every capoeirista was welcome, thus creating the opportunity to play / train with someone different every time. During the summer holidays, some members of the group went to Salvador, to train at Mestre Bimba’s academy, to visit the street rodas and the masters of the “old guard”.

Mestre Gato, 2019. Photo: Capoeira History Project.

Back in Rio de Janeiro, the group discussed how to practice those movements, the low game, the high game, the malandragem (roguery) they observed, carrying out real training labs which, together with visits to the rodas of masters Artur Emídio, Zé Pedro, Roque, Celso de Pilares, in Rio de Janeiro, were going to strengthen the training methodology and didactics of the Senzala Group.

Since the late 1960s the Senzala Group has organized the capoeira rodas with 3 berimbaus, Gunga, Médio and Viola, an atabaque, one or two tambourines and sometimes a reco-reco. The classes consisted of 3 parts, a warm-up inspired by capoeira movements (Mestre Gil Velho made great contributions in this regard), training of kicks, sequences and game situations and the capoeira roda. In the late 1970s, due to the large number of students in the classes, Mestre Garrincha started to make several capoeira circles before the final roda, which became a common practice of the Senzala Group.

Group fundamentals

In addition to the characteristics described above, the masters of the Senzala Group seek to practice and teach capoeira according to the following fundamentals and principles:

respect for capoeira traditions and rituals, with the rhythm of the game commanded by the berimbau gunga;

respect for capoeiristas and older masters, building and maintaining an environment of camaraderie which is welcoming to capoeiristas of all origins;

discipline and development of the capoeiristas’ technical level and establishment of a standard of physical conditioning at an athletic level;

cultivation of humility and effort to learn from each game partner;

development of the perception of rhythm and of the other, always looking for a favourable situation in the game and not being surprised, but accepting the steps in a good mood and calmly seeking your rematch;

encouraging good humour and playing in the game.

Mestre Leopoldina – part 3

By Nestor Capoeira

The disciple

I met Leopoldina in 1965, at the age of 18. He was 31 and, and despite being in great shape, full of energy, with a lean and muscular body that was very toned, his face looked like that of a much older man. The curious thing is that as the years passed, his face and body remained almost the same.

I was attending the UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) School of Engineering, located on an island in the Guanabara Bay called Ilha do Fundão. Leopoldina taught capoeira in Atlética, the sports department there.

Leopoldina was kind and friendly to students. He did not allow an older or more experienced student to hit a beginner. He carried the most interested of his students to samba, candomblé and umbanda, to the hills and to the carnival parades on Avenida Presidente Vargas.

He was a great Master without even trying to be one, who introduced those university students, myself among them, to Brazilian “popular” culture; to the philosophy of high-spirited roguery – “good business is good for everyone” (as opposed to the so-called Gérson Law, “I take the best from all”, the 171 fraudsters and ordinary scammers); and with a radical and revolutionary approach towards women and sex as compared to bourgeois morality and sexist approaches: “No one belongs to anyone”.

Mestres Leopoldina, André Lacé, Artur Emídio e Celso do Engenho da Rainha at Apoteose – Sambódromo, Rio de Janeiro. Photo collection André Lacé.

 Leopoldina thought that capoeira classes should only be taught twice a week, and that they should last one hour; the rest of the time would be for rodas and games.

His teaching method consisted of a brief warm-up (a run around the room and some jumping jacks), some strikes and counter strikes in pairs of students (similar to those he learned from Artur Emídio, who in turn based this on Mestre Bimba’s exercises). Occasionally there would be training of kicks, with students approaching a chair in a row and giving a blow over the chair one by one, and at the end of the class, there would be a fifteen to twenty minutes roda. The classes generally had four to eight students. Leopoldina has never been what would be considered “successful” in terms of student numbers, nor did he teach for more than five years in the same location.

In fact, when I met him in 1965, although he was known and beloved amidst capoeira practitioners, Leopoldina was not as renowned as Artur Emídio was or, later, the Senzala capoeira group. His fame grew slowly over time, on the trips he constantly made to São Paulo and on the friends he made among the Grupo Senzala, which became hegemonic in Rio at the time. This was mainly due to his high-spirited and positive personality, as he was someone who only made friends and avoided enmities, and was liked even more for his capoeira songs which, while being inventive with the lyrics and especially in harmony, appealed even to the players that wanted to remain closest to tradition.

Gradually, his figure began to be associated (and rightly so) with the last of the “good rogues” and Zé Pelintra himself, a spiritual entity from the Afro-Brazilian religion Umbanda.

In 2005, when he was over 70 years old, he was still in great physical shape, playing at a fast pace with four or more young capoeiristas, one game followed by the next. He was one of the best-known masters of our time, along with Mestres João Pequeno and João Grande (former students of Mestre Pastinha from Salvador).

His greatest interests were women, capoeira, samba, big cars (which he bought and equipped with a lot of chrome and painting), trips around Brazil and abroad (where he started to go around 1990), parties, friendships – in short, he enjoyed the small pleasures of life.

To see more

The documentary Mestre Leopoldina – o último bom malandro brings an interview Leopoldina gave to Nestor Capoeira. You can see here the third part:

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Where did we go, huh!

Julio Cesar de Tavares

Professor of Anthropology, Universidade Federal Fluminense (Niterói, Rio de Janeiro)

Who would have been able to imagine, a century ago, that today, capoeira would be out and about in the world and bringing out more and more capoeiristas to the artful game of rogues?

No doubt, this was not accomplished without suffering, effort and dedication. Nor did it happen without humiliation, frustration, persecution and exclusion. Capoeira, by its original definition, was, is and will continue to be the art of disguise (ginga/mandinga), whether Capoeira Regional, Capoeira Angola, Contemporary Capoeira or an independent style. It is deeply shaped by rebellion (hidden resistance/resilience) against the injustices of the State regarding the daily lives of subaltern individuals and subordinated social groups. This is, like it or not, one of the most intriguing aspects, in any of its styles or denominations – this permanent libertarian communication, demonstrated by the interest of individuals empowered by a certain rebellious condition when they let themselves be captivated by capoeira. Emerging through permanent recreations and projections by the Afro-descendant population, there is an endless appeal to creativity in capoeira beyond the very conditions that created it.

In spite of being concentrated, until the beginning of the 20th century, in the most subaltern groups of the population in large urban centres, such as in Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and Recife, and in addition to being classified by hostile and defamatory categories, loaded with negative associations, capoeira always managed to circulate among other social strata and attract individuals from other ethnic-racial origins. For this very reason, it has always shown enormous flexibility in overcoming racial and social boundaries. And, surprisingly, it entered environments totally characteristic of the plantation’s big house (casa grande), while preserving the characteristics, the main features, the language, the way, the rhythm, the nostalgia and sorrow typical of the ancestral tradition present in black African music throughout its diaspora. This paradoxical process allowed capoeira to recreate itself and adapt to the demands of a world in constant transformation, which, every day, is founded again in what we call the contemporary ways.

Today, in 2020, capoeira is not only anchored, increasingly refined, careful and meticulously centred in its knowledge of technical, physiological, musical and artisanal research, but also supported by the various academic fields of History, Anthropology, Ethnomusicology, Performance Arts, Literature, Physical Education, etc. What most calls our attention is the speed with which all this happened – in little more than half a century, if we consider 1966 as the landmark of capoeira expansion.

Yes, Mestre Pastinha was present at the First World Festival of Black Arts, in Dakar, Senegal, and hence the song by Caetano Veloso that goes: “Pastinha has already been to Africa, Pastinha has already been to Africa, to show capoeira from Brazil (…)”. And there he presented, on the soil of the mother continent, the matrix of an African movement celebrated in the swing (ginga) of the diaspora, and the most relevant transnational fact, which was the insertion of capoeira into the world, in the context of that first great pan-African and Afrodiasporic encounter. The First World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar, in 1966, with the presence of Mestre Pastinha, voiced to the world the dynamic asymmetry, the rhythmic movement driven by the beat (levada) of the berimbau, in multiple synchronicity with the infinite combination of movements on the ground, in standing, in flight and in addition, with playfulness, the game, and the permanent joy and smile of enchantment.

From then on, capoeira won over the world. It managed to spread its phenomenal development at an exponential speed, which until then seemed impossible to imagine. We witness that everything had happened in a smooth and cautious way, cannibalized by the world and exemplified as a symptom of the emerging transnationalization of Afro-Brazilian culture.

After its presentation in Africa, capoeira expanded throughout the United States and Europe, still in the late 1960s. Until Katherine Dunham, the beloved student of anthropologist M. Herskovits and considered by Levi-Strauss as the founder of Dance Anthropology, with her ethnographic examination of the religious dances of Vodou in Haiti, and the gestures and movements of Santeria in Cuba, interfered with the overall direction of Afro-Brazilian culture. And it did so, transcending the choreographic dimension of capoeira, by combining the capoeirista’s body with diasporic politics of recognition and visibility. Dunham accomplished this through a professional gesture when hiring capoeira practitioners for her dance company and also enroling as auxiliary teacher for her classes at Saint Louis University Eusébio Lobo, known as Mestre Pavão (now a professor at Unicamp). Her dance group, the Katherine Dunham Company, was developed and composed entirely by blacks specialized in this type of dance.

It is necessary to point out here that Katherine, beyond her professional invitation to the capoeirista and capoeira-teacher Eusébio, also accomplished a political gesture of incredible importance for Brazil. I’m talking about the public denunciation of racism which she did, in 1950, well before hiring Eusébio which only happened in the 60s. When travelling in Brazil she was prevented from taking a room at the Hotel Esplanada in São Paulo, which did not accept black guests. Conscious of her political role and her ethno-racial origins, the intended humiliation of the Tupiniquim (=Brazilian) racism did not manage to silence her because this episode became a national scandal, shaking the political, judicial and intelectual spheres. Gilberto Freyre, Afonso Arinos and other MPs initiated a great mobilisation to demonstrate the need to penalise cases like hers. In fact, Afonso Arinos managed to approve the first anti-racist law in Brazil which bears his name: the Afonso Arinos Law of 1951. Gilberto Freyre’s involvement in the case shook the political and cultural sectors and the project of the MP Afonso Arinos was approved by a large majority. Today, the Afonso Arinos law of 1951 has been revoked [translator’s note: and replaced by another legislation]. Hence Katherine Dunham made an involuntary contribution to the approval of the first law that attempted to punish racial discrimination in Brazil.

Returning to capoeira, how could we imagine capoeira would be registered as Brazilian intangible heritage in 2009? It was even less likely to predict the circulation of the category “intangible heritage” which is currently used in the field of anthropological and historical studies on Heritage. In the early 1980s, this was as unfeasible to imagine as the fall of the Berlin wall (1989). Today, solidly present in more than 150 countries (in some, even, as an integral part of official education policies), capoeira is booming, as did jazz, jiu-jitsu, judo, ballet and classical music, examples of great performances, both musical and corporal, which reached transnational expression.

Imagine that, at this very moment as we read through these words and lines, tens of thousands of the more than 200,000 capoeira practitioners all over the world, are singing a chula (a type of capoeira song), playing an instrument and playing a game in the capoeira circle (roda)! Can you still imagine that this game, with several centuries of history, whose players communicate through Brazilian Portuguese in this art form, won over the world, won over fans and expanded its practice without any interference from the Brazilian state for this to happen? The strength of the capoeira diaspora is witnessed by our diplomats and recognized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which reiterates the omnipresence, brilliance and vitality of this art form/game/fight and its important role in the dissemination of the Brazilian vernacular and body language.

We found that, in fact, capoeira is an intersectional performance/fight/game that is built as an art movement amidst a constellation of many other art forms. Certainly, it is in this complex web of connections that characterizes it – a body in motion, the music, song, poetry of its litanies (ladainhas, another type of capoeira song) and the craftsmanship of its instruments – that one finds the great power, magic, charm and mystery of capoeira. And so, magnetizing hundreds of thousands of practitioners, it multiplied across Europe, all states of the United States, the countries of South America, several countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, in addition to the Caribbean countries.

It is an art that experiences intersectionality. Capoeira is expressed and thematised in many other art forms such as literature (for example, in Jorge Amado’s work), and has a growing presence in cinema, soap operas, theatre, dance, visual arts and, more recently, even in video games. It has achieved full recognition of the extensive performative strength of Afro-Brazilian culture and of all the transnational effort of the capoeirista community.

It is accepted that capoeira provides an effective contribution to the development of multiple cognitive skills. This Brazilian heritage should therefore be integrated into school education, from childhood to university, as a traditional expression of the Afro-Brazilian practice of resistance and resilience, of extreme motor coordination, which integrates in harmony and asymmetry, an enduring combination of multiple intelligences. Incorporated into the cultural repertoire of national pedagogy, it becomes an updated post-colonial representation of resistance to domination and cognitive injustices. This fantastic expression of concealment becomes a true transnational epidemic, which enchants men and women, children and adolescents, adults and the elderly all around the world. At the same time, it promotes a permanent reinvention of movement, technical investigation and aesthetic sensibility in individual bodies that carry both a unique and global body memory.

Check out the author’s book; Dança de Guerra

There is one aspect that needs to be pointed out that is of great relevance in this process of expanding capoeira’s borders. Yes, we can say that capoeira expanded the frontiers of national culture because it broke the provincial view that was tied to the idea that Brazilian​​culture is framed by specific locations in Brazil in contrast to an external culture. Suddenly, capoeiristas believed that they could expand Brazil’s borders by taking a culture from deep inside to the outside world. In this process the culture from the inside was indeed taken to the outside world. And look! Capoeira and other cultures from within shared this invasion of the outside world, and puxada de rede, samba de roda, maracatu, maculelê, jongo, expanded all in conjunction with capoeira, in public demonstrations, belonging to a markedly Afro-Brazilian diasporic cultural network around the world.

This fact and factor signal the making of capoeira leadership, represented by the masters (mestres), which need to be better appreciated today. By spearheading this movement across the world through a wide network of ‘Made in Brazil’ cultures with an Afro-Brazilian brand and matrix, capoeira has created a leadership, which although not self-reflective is still manifesting itself. A true cultural enterprise has been established, with challenging times for many of the founding heroes, who left without knowing what they were sowing. Some failed to see the creation of this globalizing landmark or the strength of what has been created with capoeira around the world. And who is managing this powerful machine of bodily knowledge and who really dominates it in the most profitable environments? The Afro-Brazilians? Why or why not? That is a question that needs to be asked in order to reveal the explicit role of politics in capoeira’s transnational practice.

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Mestre Leopoldina – part 2

By Nestor Capoeira

Master

Quinzinho (approx.1925-1950) was a dreaded and well-known young outcast in his day. Drauzio Varela, the doctor from the Carandiru Penitentiary who wrote a highly successful book which later became a film, mentions Quinzinho in his Estação Carandiru (SP, Cia. Das Letras, 1999, p. 270):

Mr Valdomiro is a mulatto with a creased face and gray patches on his frizzy hair… Seventy years and countless prison stories alongside legendary bandits such as Meneguetti, Quinzinho, Sete Dedos, Luz Vermelha, e Promessinha made Mr Valdo a respected man in the prison.

Leopoldina recounted (in a testimony to Nestor Capoeira, included in the film Mestre Leopoldina, the last good trickster (2005) how he met his first master, Joaquim Felix, or Quinzinho, around 1950; Leopoldina was about 18 years old and Quinzinho was maybe 23 years old.

Leopoldina: “I would look at him [Quinzinho], look at the guys around, and he would scream at me ‘Flip!’. When I prepared to attack, he would do these things with his body. I thought: ‘I’m going to kill him!’ Inside the Central Train Station, hidden under the tracks, I had an 8 inch knife that I used to hide there. At dawn I would take the knife and fall back into the night. So I left Quinzinho and went to Central Station to get that knife. At that moment, a newsboy I had never seen before, I think he is dead now, called Rosa Branca, asked me: ‘what is going on?’. He saw me very agitated and asked: ‘what is going on?’. I said, ‘Quinzinho stole my hat and I’ll give him a facada conversada’ (a stab in conversation)

Leopoldina explained what the facada conversada was:

The facada conversada is this: I’d have to wait for the moment when he was drinking, approach from behind, and tap his shoulder for him to turn around. When he turned I would stab him from the front, not the back. Because if I was arrested later this is how I would be thought of in jail: ‘This is a rascal, he gave the guy a facada conversada’. But if I stabbed him in the back, they would say, ‘Coward,’ and they would beat me.

Luckily for Leopoldina, White Rose calmed him down and he didn’t go looking for Quinzinho. Shortly after, Leopoldina was at a bus stop and found Quinzinho once again:

Leopoldina: “Mineiro Bate Pau, another guy named Peão, Testa de Ferro they also got off the bus, and then, Quinzinho. When I saw Quinzinho, I froze and thought, ‘This is it!’ But no one there knew what happened between us and they started talking to me. Quinzinho, seeing that I was respected and a friend of the rogues, approached me and said: ‘I don’t want trouble with you, because you’re also a trickster’. He was holding a cuíca and passed it to one of the guys. He went through his cuica and suddenly gave me a geral (searching someone for weapons)! Just imagine. He said, ‘I don’t want trouble with you because you’re a rascal, etcetera and all,’ and then gave me a geral! ”

The weeks go by and Leopoldina, who is eager to learn capoeira, is slowly working up to approaching Quinzinho:

Leopoldina: “I said, ‘Quinzinho, I want to ask you a favor’. ‘What?’ He replied suspiciously. ‘I want you to teach me capoeira’. ‘Then go to Morro da Favela tomorrow’. Gosh, I wouldn’t be so happy if someone gave me a million reais. That first day, I went back to Morro do São Carlos and went to sleep on a mat. The next day I could not get up. My whole body was hurting. And at the same time, I was worried that he wouldn’t want to teach me anymore. ‘How will I go?’ And in the Favela I still had to climb over a hundred steps. So I went the next day and said to Quinzinho: ‘I couldn’t come because I was hurt’. And he, without giving me any trouble said: “It’s okay, it’s okay”. And he started to teach me: ‘do it like this …. do it like that.’

Then one day Juvenil appeared. He said hello, looked at me and said: ‘Let’s play?’ I looked at Quinzinho and as he said nothing, I said: ‘Let’s go’. Juvenil took off his hat, vest, tie, and stood naked from the waist up, and we started to play. But as soon as we started playing, he gave me a kick that grazed me on the head. Quinzinho was sitting with a 7.65 tucked into his waist. He was in shorts. At that time (approx. 1955) we wore football shorts and not the swimwear of today. Everyone wore shorts. And he had a handkerchief in his lap, hiding the pistol. When the Juvenil shot that kick, Quinzinho stood up and pointed the pistol in Juvenil’s face: ‘Don’t do that! Don’t do that, or he’ll become a coward!’

Elegance in dress and care in berimbau: Mestre Leopoldina. Photo collection André Lacé.

The outcast and the master

I find this story, told by Leopoldina, amazing. You see, Quinzinho was a dangerous young outcast, a gang leader. When the then young Leopoldina met him, around 1950, Quinzinho already had some deaths on his conscience and had already served time in the penal colony. We could think of Quinzinho as a kind of heir to the violent capoeira practiced by the carioca gangs in the 1800s.

Quinzinho didn’t really have a structured teaching method; as this method already existed in Bahia, with Mestre Bimba, since 1930; or with Sinhozinho, in Rio, in the same period. Leopoldina explained how Quinzinho taught: he was playing with the apprentice and saying, “Do it like this … Do it like this.” However, when he embodied the “capoeira master”, Quinzinho had an impeccable work ethic. Even more impeccable, because at that time, in Rio in the 1950s, students learned capoeira taking beatings to “get smart”. And even today, even if the teacher doesn’t hit apprentices (some do), it is common for more experienced (and / or stronger) students to beat beginners (and / or weaker ones).

I see this story as something very emblematic of the complexity of the capoeira world, with its bizarre paradoxes, which, in fact, do not seem so strange to those who have the body and the head shaped by the foundations of capoeira malice.

Artur Emídio teaching method

Mestre Leopoldina told me that Artur Emidio’s teaching method was based on sequences similar to those of Bimba, but performed to the sound of berimbau played at a fast pace.

At first, according to Leopoldina, it was Mestre Paraná who played the berimbau at Artur’s academy, another Bahian who became well-known in Rio and was the teacher of, among others, Mestre Mintirinha. Artur only started playing berimbau later on.

Artur, like every Mestre, worried about the continuation of his style. Around 1963, Leopoldina began to attend an informal circle of angoleiros, estevedores of the docks in the harbour, which was held in their backyards in the suburbs of Rio. Arhur complained that Leopoldina was getting “very slow,” letting himself be influenced by Angola when, according to Artur, Leopoldina should “impose his capoeira.”

To see more

The documentary Mestre Leopoldina – o último bom malandro brings an interview Leopoldina gave to Nestor Capoeira. You can see here the second part:

 

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Mestre Paulo Gomes

Paulo Gomes. Source: Machado, 1998.

By Marcelo Cardoso da Costa

Lecturer in Sociology (IFRJ – Campus Duque de Caxias) PhD Student specializing in Social Memory UNIRIO/PPGMS) E-mail: marcelosociologo@yahoo.com.br https://unirio.academia.edu/MarceloCosta

Paulo Gomes da Cruz was born on January 25th, 1941 in Itabuna, southern Bahia – a cocoa region and native home of writer Jorge Amado. He moved to Rio de Janeiro like many other Bahians who, according to Iphan (BRASIL, 2007), came looking for better life opportunities.

In the carioca capital, he learned capoeira from Mestre Arthur Emídio, who was also from Itabuna and who had a capoeira academy in Bonsucesso, a suburb north of the city centre. There, he trained and graduated as a Master along with other important names such as Leopoldina, Celso do Engenho da Rainha and Djalma Bandeira. It was at this academy that he came to be respected and known as Mestre Paulo Gomes, his capoeira baptismal name. His genealogy in capoeira is as follows: “Son” of Mestre Artur Emídio (1930-2011), “Grandson” of Mestre Paizinho (Teodoro Ramos) and “Great-grandson” of Mestre Neném (MACHADO, 1998).

In the 1960s, Mestre Paulo Gomes moved to the Baixada Fluminense, or more specifically to São João de Meriti, in the Coelho da Rocha neighborhood. It was in this district that he began to teach capoeira and to instruct capoeiristas, among them Mestres Valdir Sales (1942-2019) and Josias da Silva, who became his main disciples and established important academies in the Baixada, respectively the Capoeira Association Valdir Sales, in the municipality of São João de Meriti, and the Capoeira Josias da Silva Association, in the municipalities of Nova Iguaçu and Duque de Caxias.

Mestre Paulo Gomes and his wife, Aureliana, in his academy in São Paulo. Source: Machado, 1998.

In another chapter of his life, Mestre Paulo Gomes went to live in São Paulo and there, just as in the Baixada Fluminense, he was one of the founders of a capoeira community, where he created the Capoeira Centre Ilha de Maré and, in 1985, the Capoeira Association of Brazil (ABRACAP). Mestre Paulo Gomes was also an advisor to the former governor of São Paulo Mário Covas, helping to establish the State Law nº 4.649 on August 7th 1985, which defined August 3rd as a “Capoeirista Day” in the State of São Paulo.

Mestre Paulo Gomes met a tragic death in 1998. He was murdered at age 57 in São Paulo inside his capoeira academy Ilha da Maré. The motive for the murder had been a debt the master owed to a car rental company (Folha de São Paulo, 1998). According to the testimony by Mestre Ribas Machado (1998):

It was at night, when the class had just ended and many students were changing in the locker room, when a bailiff, accompanied by another man, for reasons that only those who were there know and can speak of for certain, unloaded his weapon at the Mestre who, after a while, was taken to hospital, but he did not survive… During the tragic occurrence, two other capoeiristas were lightly wounded while trying to appease the situation, and they are Mestre Fernandão (ABRACAP leader at the time and traditional capoeirista at the Praça da República Roda in São Paulo) and Cristhiano, a capoeira graduate.

Mestre Paulo Gomes’ wake was held in the academy hall, full of homages from fellow capoeira masters, who gave speeches and held a roda in honour of the Mestre. Again according toMestre Ribas Machado:

Then we all went to the São Pedro cemetery (located at Francisco Falconi Avenue, 837 – Vila Alpina – São Paulo) and there, in the presence of more Mestres and capoeiristas (who had been gathering since the wake), the body was buried to the sound of cries, capoeira songs, [chulas], prayers and berimbaus …

Mestre Paulo Gomes is greatly missed in the world of capoeira, with acknowledgments and contributions given by his disciples for the memory of capoeira, such as the 1982 book “Capoeira: Brazilian Martial Art” and the CD “Roda de Capoeira da Ilha de Maré”.

Paulo Gomes da Cruz, 1941-1998

To learn more:

MACHADO, Ribas. A Capoeira de São Paulo (e do Brasil) perde Mestre Paulo Gomes. Consultado em 21/10/2019. 1998. Avaiable on: http://www.fontedogravata.org/1998/09/capoeira-de-sao-paulo-e-do-brasil-perde.html

FOLHA DE SÃO PAULO. Oficial de Justiça mata assessor de Cova. In: cotidiano. Consultado em 21/10/2019. Avaiable on: https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/fsp/cotidian/ff24099832.htm

BRASIL. Ministério da Cultura. Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional. Inventário para registro e salvaguarda da capoeira como patrimônio cultural do Brasil. Brasília: MEC, 2007.

OLIVEIRA, J. P.; LEAL, L. A. P. Capoeira, identidade e gênero: ensaios sobre a história social da capoeira no Brasil. Salvador: EDUFBA, 2009

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