Category: Biography

Anníbal Burlamaqui, customs officer and poet; Zuma, capoeira and boxeur (1898-1965)

By Ana Paula Höfling, University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

“Gymnástica Nacional (capoeiragem) methodisada e regrada”, Anníbal Burlamaqui, 1928.

On August 18, 1965, the Jornal do Brasil published a note where Mrs. Burlamaqui and family expressed their gratitude for the condolences received; Anníbal Z. M. Burlamaqui, the author of the influential 1928 capoeira manual Gymnástica Nacional (capoeiragem) methodisada e regrada, was dead at the age of sixty-seven.[1] Burlamaqui, whose booklet galvanized efforts to move capoeiragem from the police pages to the sports pages of Rio’s newspapers—to legitimize and de-stigmatize this Afro-Brazilian combat game— was among a growing number of enthusiasts of gymnástica nacional (national gymnastics), a strategic re-naming of a practice that was prohibited by law as capoeiragem.[2] It is unclear with whom Burlamaqui studied capoeiragem and for how long; what is clear is that in Rio de Janeiro in the 1920s there was no shortage of opportunities to study national gymnastics. Burlamaqui could have studied in formal learning spaces such as the Gymnástico Português, where physical education teacher Mario Aleixo taught national gymnastics since 1920, or he may have joined men practicing “capoeiragem exercises” in public spaces such as Rio de Janeiro’s plazas and squares.[3] Under the nickname Zuma, he competed in matches throughout the late 1910s and early 1920s using both his boxing and capoeiragem skills.[4]

Although we don’t know very much about Zuma—the sportsman, capoeira, and boxeur–beyond his influential 1928 publication, we do know bits and pieces about Burlamaqui’s life beyond capoeiragem: he worked as a customs enforcement officer (guarda da polícia aduaneira)[5] and was a member of the Niterói-based literary society Cenáculo Fluminense de História e Letras (Rio de Janeiro’s State Society of History and Letters), which he joined on March 8, 1930, occupying chair number 33.[6] In the 1950s, as part of the directorial board, he was a member of the committee on writing and peer review (redação e parecer) and he was elected president of the society twice. The Cenáculo hosted poetry readings and music recitals, and sponsored publications of books written by its members, such as Burlamaqui’s book of erotic poetry, O meu delírio: poêma do instinto (My delirium: a poem of instinct) published in 1939, a book that reveals Burlamaqui as a passionate man who dared express his lust and desire in writing.[7]

Zuma, unknown date, Burlamaqui’s family collection

As Zuma, the sportsman, and as Burlamaqui, the writer, Anníbal seemed like the perfect person to publish a book that would support the ongoing efforts of de-stigmatization of capoeiragem spearheaded by several other white, middle-class, well-educated carioca capoeira enthusiasts, such as journalist and cartoonist Raul Pederneiras. In a two-column article published in the Jornal do Brasil in the same year Zuma’s book was published, Pederneiras, signing as just Raul, mentions previous failed efforts of organizing and creating a method for “Brazilian gymnastics,” and praises Gymnástica Nacional as a much-awaited methodization of this practice:

“a work of great utility which should contribute to the adoption of this national sport in gymnasia with great probability of success. The sure proof of this success is the great demand for Zuma’s book, which makes a great contribution that allows us cultivate and appreciate, with efficacious results, that which is ours, which is very Brazilian.”[8]

It is clear that Zuma’s main goal in Gymnástica Nacional was to legitimize the practice—to remove the stigma from capoeiragem.[9] Dr. Mario Santos, who wrote the book’s preface and who also posed as Zuma’s opponent in the twenty photographs that illustrate the book, cites the legitimization of English boxing, French savate and Japanese jiu-jitsu as precedent and asks: “Why […] would capoeiragem, in Brazil, escape the evolutionary march or its sister forms? […] Why should we not create rules and regenerate capoeiragem?”[10]

Throughout the book, Zuma does just that. Drawing from two popular imported sports, boxing and “foot-ball” (soccer), Zuma prescribes the diameter of the circular playing field, the starting position of the contenders, the duration for each round (three minutes, with a rest of two minutes), and the criteria for establishing a winner for each match: a fighter would win either by incapacitating the opponent, or, if so agreed beforehand, points would be counted by a referee who would proclaim the fighter who caused the most falls as the winner.[11] With these rules, Zuma hopes to mainstream capoeiragem, turning it into a form of “self-defense, a sport like any other.”[12]

While many of Zuma’s rules—the presence of a referee, a point system, a match divided into timed rounds—clearly constitute borrowings from foreign sports, Zuma rearticulates street capoeiragem in hegemonic terms through these foreign borrowings. While much attention has been paid to Zuma’s rules for capoeira matches—his methodization—and the evolutionist language of “improvement” that permeates the text, the photographs provide ample evidence that Zuma’s practice was grounded in street capoeiragem. Both the rich movement descriptions and the photographs that illustrate Gymnástica Nacional attest to Zuma’s in-depth knowledge of the practice; it is likely that he had been training for at least a decade by the time he published the book.

Zuma instructs the reader on the proper stance for the guarda: “one brings the body upright, in a natural alignment, in a noble and erect attitude, twisting to the right or the left.”[13] However, in more than half of the photos in the book the players appear crouched low and bearing weight on the hands, contradicting this upright, “noble” and erect stance.

Zuma and Santos demonstrate a technique that demanded movement close to the ground, either by ducking under a kick or initiating a kick from below. The erect stance of the guarda, which Zuma further describes as “the first position, noble and loyal,” remains almost entirely rhetorical, invoking nobility as part of his effort to remove the stigma that marred the practice of capoeira in the early twentieth century.[14]

The bulk of Zuma’s attacks and defenses are based on leg sweeps and kicks rather than punches or strikes with the hands, precisely because the hands are instead used for supporting the weight of the body. Freeing the feet to attack by placing the palms of hands on the floor, Zuma’s capoeiragem demands that players constantly shift weight from feet to hands and from hands to feet. Zuma’s technique has been interpreted as a stiff, upright version of capoeiragem where movements do not flow from one another. However, a reader following Zuma’s descriptions and instructions would constantly rise, fall, dive, duck and jump. The text provides ample evidence of sustained interaction, and in fact Zuma instructs his readers to initiate an attack from a defensive move, in the same way that strikes and evasive maneuvers flow from each other in present-day capoeira. A move Zuma calls pentear (to comb) or peneirar (to sift) not only gives further evidence of the game’s flow, but also embodies tapeação (trickery), the element of deception central to capoeira and capoeiragem. Zuma instructs: “One throws the arms and the body in every direction in a ginga, in order to disturb the attention of the adversary and better prepare for the decisive attack.”[15] Contrary to today’s understanding of the ginga in capoeira practice as a basic connecting step, Zuma’s peneirar has the express intention to confuse and deceive, a tactical maneuver in preparation for an attack. Deception, trickery and unpredictability, the same tactics consider foundational to capoeira today, run through Zuma’s Gymnástica Nacional.

Descriptions of capoeiragem that precede the publication of Gymnástica Nacional point to several continuities between Zuma’s national gymnastics and nineteenth-century street capoeiragem. In one of the earliest detailed movement descriptions of capoeiragem, included in Brazilian folklorist Alexandre Mello Moraes Filho’s 1893 Festas e tradições populares do Brasil, we find accounts of several moves almost identical to the ones included in Zuma’s Gymnástica Nacional. More than half of the strikes mentioned by Mello Moraes are also found in Zuma’s book: the rabo de arraia, cabeçada, rasteira, escorão (straight kick to the adversary’s stomach), and tombo da ladeira (tripping a jumping adversary).[16] Likewise, descriptions by Plácido de Abreu (1886), Raul Pederneiras (1921;1926) and Henrique Coelho Netto (1928) attest to a capoeiragem not dissimilar to Zuma’s national gymnastics. Zuma did take credit for inventing three new moves listed in the book: the queixada (kick to the chin), the passo da cegonha (lit. stork’s step, where the defending player grabs the attacker’s raised leg while sweeping his standing leg) and the espada (lit. sword, a kick aimed at disarming the opponent).[17]

While Zuma undoubtedly sought to “improve” capoeiragem through codification, he also championed its intrinsic value: capoeiragem “encompasses, albeit still a little confused and ill-defined, all the elements for a perfect physical culture.”[18]  In fact, he proposed capoeiragem as a tool of self-improvement for young “family” men; cultivating the body through capoeiragem, Brazilian men would become “strong, feared, brave and daring.”[19] If all young men learned capoeiragem, Zuma predicted, the Brazilian citizen of the future would be “respected, feared [and] strong.”[20] Although he proposes to “improve” capoeiragem, Zuma imagines a Brazilian “citizen of the future” improved through an Afro-diasporic practice that already encompassed all the elements for a perfect physical culture. Cultivating both body and body politic through an Afro-diasporic game turned eugenicist thought on its head, allowing Africanity to be viewed as a source of “regeneration” rather than degeneration, and as a source of strength and national pride.

https://www.hfsbooks.com/books/staging-brazil-hofling/

Works cited:

Rio de Janeiro newspapers consulted at the newspaper database (hemeroteca) of the Biblioteca Nacional:

Jornal do Brasil

Correio da Manhã

O Jornal

Abreu, Plácido de. Os capoeiras. Rio de Janeiro: Typ. da Escola de Serafim José Alves, 1886.

Burlamaqui, Anníbal. Gymnastica nacional (capoeiragem) methodisada e regrada. Rio de Janeiro: n.p., 1928.

__________. O meu delírio: poêma do instinto. N.p.: Cenáculo Fluminese de História e Letras, 1939.

Burlamaqui, Ulysses Petronio. Personal communication. June 19, 2020.

Coelho Netto, Henrique. “Nosso jogo.” In Bazar. Rio de Janeiro: Livraria Chardron, de Lello e Irmão, Ltda Editores, 1928.

Höfling, Ana Paula. Staging Brazil: choreographies of capoeira. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2019.

Lopes, André Luiz Lacé. A capoeiragem no Rio de Janeiro: primeiro ensaio, Sinhozinho e Rudolf Hermanny. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Europa, 2002.

Mello Moraes Filho, Alexandre José de. Festas e tradições populares do Brasil. Third edition. Rio de Janeiro: F. Briguiet, 1946 [1893].

Silva, Elton and Eduardo Corrêa, Muito antes do MMA: O legado dos precursores do Vale Tudo no Brasil e no mundo. Kindle edition, 2020.

[1] André Luis Lacé Lopes reports Burlamaqui’s birthdate as November 25th, 1898. A capoeiragem no Rio de Janeiro: primeiro ensaio, Sinhozinho e Rudolf Hermanny. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Europa, 2002, 88.

[2] In the mid 1910s, a few reports of matches of capoeiragem began appearing in the sports pages of the Jornal do Brasil, although at this time news of capoeiragem still appeared primarily in the “complaints” column of this newspaper and in its police pages, where it was associated with stabbings and murders.

[3] Newspapers report regular daily practice of capoeiragem in public spaces in the 1910s and 20s in Rio de Janeiro, often in a public complaints column (such as the “Queixas do povo” column in the Jornal do Brasil). “Exercises of capoeiragem” took place at various plazas in the city, such as Praça Quinze de Novembro and Praça Onze de Junho, as well as train stations, residential street corners, and various locations in the suburbs (Engenho de Dentro, Cascadura, and Rocha).

[4] In a note in the sports page of the Correio da Manhã on April 20th, 1920, and in a note in O Jornal on April 19th, 1920, Zuma is referred to as “capoeira and boxeur.” Zuma explains that his nickname was derived from his second name, which Silva and Corrêa report as Zumalacaraguhi. Anníbal Burlamaqui, Gymnastica Nacional (capoeiragem) methodizada e regrada (Rio de Janeiro: n.p., 1928), 15. Elton Silva and Eduardo Corrêa, Muito antes do MMA: O legado dos precursores do Vale Tudo no Brasil e no mundo (Np: Kindle edition, 2020), no page number.

[5] He is referred to as a “guarda da polícia aduaneira” in a newspaper article recounting a tricky situation where the male officers had to find a creative solution to be able to search a woman suspected of carrying contraband under her skirt. “Um contrabando complicado e engraçado,” Correio da Manhã, June 15th, 1924; Silva and Corrêa claim that Burlamaqui rose through the ranks and, from customs officer, reached the position of internal tax auditor (fiscal de impostos internos) at the Ministry of Commerce (Ministério da Fazenda). Silva and Corrêa, Muito antes do MMA, no page number.

[6] “Posse do novo acadêmico,” Jornal do Brasil, March 2, 1930.

[7] The book received a mixed review in the Jornal do Brasil, and a scathing review in the Correio da Manhã. “Registro Literário,” Jornal do Brasil, April 14, 1939; Álvaro Lins, “Critica Literária—Poesia,” Correio da Manhã, November 16, 1940.

[8] Raul Pederneiras, “A Gymnastica Nacional,” Jornal do Brasil, April 22, 1928.

[9] For a close reading of Zuma’s Gymnástica nacional, see Ana Paula Höfling, Staging Brazil: choreographies of capoeira. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2019.

[10] Burlamaqui, Gymnastica nacional, 4.

[11] Burlamaqui, Gymnastica nacional, 18-19.

[12] Ibid., 15.

[13] Ibid., 23.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Burlamaqui, Gymnastica nacional, 42.

[16] Alexandre José de Mello Moraes Filho, Festas e tradições populares do Brasil. (Rio de Janeiro: F. Briguiet, 1946 [1893]), 448.

[17] Burlamaqui, Gymnastica Nacional, 21

[18] Ibid, 13.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., 15.

MESTRE ZÉ PEDRO

Por: Jorge Felipe Columá, PhD in Physical Education and Culture

Thiago de Paula dos Anjos de Souza, BA in Physical Education

Rômulo Reis, PhD in Sports Sciences

 

Zé Pedro and Paulinho Castro. Photo: Acervo André Lacé. 

Capoeira as a socio-cultural phenomenon had a singular shape in Rio de Janeiro and was normally linked to survival and malandragem (vagrancy or rogueness). Repressed by the government during the nineteenth century, the Cariocan capoeira resisted, adapted itself like a chameleon, obeying good sense and ramifying in many lineages of groups, masters and students. Among these, one capoeira master stands out, a Vale-Tudo (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter, and a jiu-jitsu black belt, who distinguished himself with ginga, kicks and hard game in the capoeira rodas and those of life: the grand master Zé Pedro, leader of the legendary roda in Bonsucesso in the 1970s.

We start our narrative with an interview with Mestre Zé Pedro in the afternoon heat of the Olaria suburb of Rio de Janeiro. Born in the city of Santa Rita, in the Northeastern state of Paraíba, Mestre Zé Pedro arrived in Rio de Janeiro aged six, after losing his father. Destitute, he still managed to become literate aged eight, and got on with his life without never abandoning his studies, and always guided by the strength of his will to follow his path forwards. He enlisted in the Brazilian Navy as a sailor, having to lie about his age to be accepted, a way he found to survive.

He passed an examination to enter the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro (PMERJ) where he served as a soldier. He took a degree in Law after he reached the age of thirty, and specialised in combat, including a course at the Jungle War Instruction Centre (CIG) in Manaus, Amazonas state. In his military career he ended up promoted to Commander (Major), and was one of the founders of the special unit BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Especiais) of the PMERJ, a unit that became legendary and a reference for many.

M Zé Pedro claims that he never received any help from others through patronage or clientelism during his entire career, but developed thanks to his own struggle and merit. He nevertheless had a great friend at his side in the rodas of capoeira and of life, Paulo Sérgio da Silva, Master Paulão Muzenza, who always told him “we are not born to be soldiers, we have to move upwards”.

Assisted by his training in other combat modalities, M Zé Pedro participated in some Vale Tudo (precursor to Mixed Martial Arts) contests.  The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) master Hélio Gracie awarded him with a black belt and said that he considered him a “golden boy”. According to Zé Pedro’s own account, he remained unbeaten in these MMA contests: “I never lost a fight in Vale Tudo”.

His initial contact with capoeira happened when he saw a group of capoeiristas practice at Mestre Valdo Santana’s academy, the brother of the famous fighter from Bahia, Waldemar Santana, trained in boxing, luta livre (free-style), jiu-jitsu and capoeira. Waldemar helped to disseminate combat sports in Brazil and is known for the longest fight in the history of Vale Tudo, with his former teacher Hélio Gracie.

He started training capoeira kicks and movements, later entering the academy of Mestre Mário Buscapé (Mario dos Santos), with whom he trained for three years, and learned, according to his teacher, capoeira with great facility, given his interest in sports.

Paulão and Zé Pedro. Source: M Paulão Muzenza collection

In the academy of Mario Buscapé he met various well-known masters, such as Mestres Paulão Muzenz and Mintirinha. In this breeding-ground of tough guys, M Zé Pedro developed his skills with the berimbau, an instrument he is proud to play ver well – and became a singer with a profound knowledge of chulas and other capoeira songs. Zé Pedro pursued this path further, until becoming one of the main exponents of the “hard style” capoeira in Rio de Janeiro.

“When a guy tried to provoke, we made him fall a little bit”.

Mestre Zé Pedro opened his first own academy in the Rua Cândido Benício, in the Jacarepaguá neighbourhood, a space which he shared for some time with Mestre Mintirinha. It is here that he founded his first school, the group Pequenos Libertadores (Little freedom fighters), a name that brought him some trouble, as he had, in this period of military dictatorship, to explain to Secret Service (in this case the DOI-CODI), if the name was linked to some opposition or “resistance” to the military regime.  His story in the Bonsucesso neighbourhood began in the early 1970s when he started to teach capoeira in a venue located at the first floor (sobreloja) of the Rua Uranos, nº 497.Teaching initially was for the group called Filhos de Amaralina,  and included the realisation of rodas and shows.

The group changed his name to Guaiamus and Nagoas, in homage to two rival capoeira gangs that formerly existed in Rio de Janeiro. In this period Zé Pedro revealed that he enjoyed access to other capoeira groups, attended rodas all over the city, made friends, taught his students and supervised many rodas at this academy.

“I took over the academy, assuming all responsibilities, and organized the big rodas”.

And so the legendary roda of Mestre Zé Pedro in Bonsucesso was born. According to the master, the roda was attended by many good capoeiristas of the time and only tough guys managed to play. Asked about some game or special moment of the roda, the master replied: “The rodas, my friend, were excellent. I can’t enumerate them all. Like saying this one was best”.  However, he confirmed the attendance of capoeira masters such as Arthur Emídio, Leopoldina, Mintirinha, Paulão, Camisa (Camisa Roxa), Camisinha (Camisa), Touro, Dentinho, Gato, Paulinho Godoi, Celso, Peixinho, Itamar, Anzol, Silas, Corvinho, Amarelinho, and Garrinchinha.

“My academy became known because we had a contract with RioTour (official Tourism Board of Rio de Janeiro), so the name of my academy figured on the tourism events calendar  for the whole world”.

Hence the roda and academy of Zé Pedro became a core reference, and the capoeiristas from Brasília, São Paulo e Bahia came there to play. The venue at times also hosted them and became a reference for meeting friends.

The roda was usually led by one berimbau and happened on Sundas. The playing styles were very diverse, as the master always argued that “capoeira is capoeira”. There were games that were more flexible and malleable, or very quick, and those for kicking hard (“Pancada”), closer to his own style, the hard game, the close combat. The capoeiristas of the Bonsucesso roda played with malice and naturally rivalries emerged, for example, the one always mentioned between Mestres Paulão and Camisa. However, despite these hard games, M Zé Pedro points out, nobody became ennemy of the other, they were capoeiristas of the soul, and after the roda there always were the moments of confraternization.

M Zé Pedro had the capoeiristas Paulinho Guaiamum, Alfredo, Célio, Élcio, Valmir, Murilo and Luiz Peito Queimado as advanced students. In 1979, he followed a “call from life” and stopped teaching capoeira to study and pursue his career as a sergeant. But his legacy for capoeira remained in the annals of the history of Rio de Janeiro, and his contribution to capoeira is always remembered by the elder ones, who refer to his roda as a capoeira place of pure capoeira, technical, dexterity, agility, power and malice, a symbol of a generation of masters and practitioners from the Cariocan capoeira.

References:

Based on an interview with M Zé Pedro by the authors and M Paulão Muzenza, 17 October 2018.

To see More:

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

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:

…………………………………………………………………………………

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:

 

……………………………………………………………………….

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

…………………………………………………………………

Master Leopoldina – Part 1

By Nestor Capoeira

I was in my first year of UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) School of Engineering, in the distant (in relation to Copacabana, where I lived with my parents and brothers) Ilha do Fundão. One day, I was in the schoolyard talking to some friends when I saw a man on the road pedalling at full speed.

As I approached, I began to notice the details of the figure’s clothing: a short-brimmed hoodie worn by sambistas; a red vest with white polka dots, completely open over his bare chest, which swayed in the wind like a bird’s wings; striped pistachio green and gray bell-bottoms and a wide black leather belt with a huge buckle at the waist; 3-cm-high platform soles, studded with silver stars.

He entered the courtyard at full speed and then skid, spinning, ended up standing beside a pillar, where he calmly left the bicycle after jumping. Then I noticed something even stranger: he was carrying, between his lips, a kind of twig painted black, red and white, about 30 or 40 centimetres long. Suddenly, the twig began to move and wrapped itself around the strange person’s neck: Leopoldina raised snakes at home, and this one – a milk snake – was one of his favourites.

I asked a friend, “Wow, who is this guy?” He replied: “It’s Master Leopoldina. He teaches capoeira in Athletics”- which was the sporting part of the student directories. “He comes by bicycle from Cidade de Deus to Fundão Island. It’s far…”- completed this friend of mine.

Childhood and youth

Demerval Lopes de Lacerda (1933-2007), the master Leopoldina, was born in Rio de Janeiro on a carnival Saturday. He was raised by his mother, and later by aunts and other ladies who took him in. When he was still a child, he ran away from home to sell bullets to other kids who dominated the railway lines of the Central Railway of Brazil, which joins the city centre with the more distant suburbs of Rio. It was in Central Brazil that he graduated and made after degree in trickster, approximately in 1950.

As a teenager, and in a time of great poverty, he went of his own accord to SAM (Serviço de Assistência ao Menor) – a dreaded Child Care Service. Leopoldina had no complaints from his time there; on the contrary, as a young street rogue, he soon joined the “directors” team. He learned to swim, among other things, regularly circling the island where the institution was located, which left him in excellent physical shape.

When he left SAM, already eighteen years old in 1951, and too old to sell candy and peanuts on trains, he began selling newspapers and soon set up a team. For the first time, he began earning money, dressing in expensive clothing and visiting the Zona do Mangue brothels, where he encountered fame due to the size of his penis. Leopoldina frequented prostitutes, often more than once per day, without wearing any protection, and somehow never contracted any venereal disease.

Mestre Leopoldina, joyous on a parade day at the Rio de Janeiro Sambadrome. Photo Collection André Lacé.

CAPOEIRA

It was at this time that he met Quinzinho, or Joaquim Felix, a dangerous young delinquent and gang leader, who had already served time in the Penal Colony and had a few deaths on his conscience. Quinzinho was a capoeirista and was Leopoldina’s first master in the art of “tiririca”, the capoeira without berimbau of the carioca reprobates, descended from the capoeira of gangs of the 1800s.

A few years later, Quinzinho was once again arrested and this time murdered in prison. Leopoldina disappeared from the area due to fear of reprisals from delinquent enemies. When he returned to the streets, he met Artur Emídio, recently arrived from Itabuna, Bahia. He became Artur’s student around 1954, knowing then the Bahian capoeira was played to the berimbau.

Later, Leopoldina went to work at Cais do Porto and eventually managed to join Resistência, one of the dock branches. He retired early – before the age of forty-five, due to a work accident (which fortunately left no consequences) and lived the life of a capoeirista and high-spirited trickster more intensely.

The Mangueira

Another important aspect of Leopoldina’s life was his relationship with samba. He went out with Mangueira for the first time at the 1961 Carnival at the age of twenty-eight. Mangueira was the first samba school to include capoeira in its parades, which gave capoeira great visibility. Leopoldina even organized a group of sixty capoeiristas to demonstrate the artform in the V.C. Entende wing, the show hall of Mangueira. He kept his partnership going with Mangueira until about 1974.

I myself paraded several times in Mangueira when I was still a capoeira novice, at the invitation of Leopoldina, around 1968/1970.

To see more:

The documentary ‘Mestre Leopoldina – The Last Good Trickster’ brings an interview Leoopoldina gave to Nestor Capoeira. You can see here the first part:

TOURINHO OF TAVARES BASTOS: BIRTH OF A CAPOEIRISTA

By Katya Welowski (Camarão)

Manda salta ai, capoeirista!

Obligingly, Tourinho launched his short, muscular body forward on the steep, cobblestoned slope of Pedro América.  A round-off cartwheel into a back handspring, flip-flops somehow staying on his feet.  My heart skipped a beat as I worried that this time his arms would fail and land him on his head.  The men seated on plastic stools outside the botequim cheered and raised their beer glasses.  Tourinho grinned at me, demanding praise.  At the bottom of Pedro América we cut through the alleyway that connects to Tavares Bastos and there, parted ways: Tourinho turning left for a short downhill walk home, and I turning right for a longer walk home uphill.

From 2001 to 2004, while conducting ethnographic research on capoeira in Rio de Janeiro for my Ph.D. in anthropology, I lived at the top of Rua Tavares Bastos in Catete.  I had chosen this neighborhood for its historic buildings, mixed demographics and geographic location: I could easily reach Humaitá where I trained with Mestre Camisa three nights a week, and could also catch a bus or metro out to the Zona Norte where I maintained connections with various capoeira groups.  Before graduate school and becoming an anthropologist, I had begun travelling to Rio de Janeiro as a capoeirista with my first teacher, Mestre Beiçola, who had introduced me to his extensive capoeira network in the Zona Norte.  By the time I came to live in Rio for three years to conduct fieldwork, I had transitioned to ABADÁ-CAPOEIRA, training first with Mestra Edna in New York City, and then with Mestre Camisa in the CIEP do Humaitá.

I discovered many stylistic, pedagogical and social differences between Zona Sul and Zona Norte capoeira.  However, consistent across my research was the role capoeira played in the lives of underprivileged youth from diverse areas of the city.  My experience with these youth, and in particular Tourinho whose story I tell here, taught me about the transformative power of capoeira.  As mestres and instructors often told me, it was not in the private nursery and elementary schools or health gyms where many of them taught capoeira, but in poor communities that “capoeiristas are made.”  Tourinho’s birth as a capoeirista is marked in my field notes by the transition of my use of his real name, Matheus, to his apelido:  Tourinho captured his “little bull” strength and stubbornness and symbolized his new identity and inclusion in the capoeira world.

I met Matheus on Rua Tavares Bastos, a cobblestone street that snakes a mile up a hill that marks the back boundary of Catete.  Like the rest of Catete, Tavares Bastos was constructed in the 18th and 19th century when growing commerce pushed Rio out from the ports and inner bay towards the sea.  Tavares Bastos and adjacent Pedro América were carved out from the hills that were once quarries supplying stones for the Igreja da Glória and other Rio churches.  In the 19th century the quarry owners and members of the merchant class built large sobrados decorated with blue and white Portuguese tijolas and bungalow row-houses along Tavares Bastos where they lived side-by-side with their workers.  At the top of the hill the land owners maintained a chácara for cultivating food and escaping the heat and chaos of the streets below.  After World War II, as Rio’s population swelled, the hilltop area developed into a small favela.

Tavares Bastos’ architectural mix, now also punctuated with 20th century high rise apartment buildings, reflects a persistent socio-economically mixed demographic.  Today, in a microcosm of the larger city, middle class and poor families, artists, tourists and expat foreigners live side-by-side up and down Tavares Bastos.  I lived at the top of the hill, just below the entrance to the favela in a subdivided 19th century sobrado.  At the bottom, at the last curve before the cobblestones of Tavares Bastos meet the asphalt of Rua Bento Lisboa, is one of Rio’s last standing 19th century cortiços (beehive) boarding houses.  The narrow façade of the two-storey house, squeezed between another more modern and well-maintained house and a rock wall, is deceptive.  Pass through the dilapidated doors on the right and you will discover a third, subterranean level and a long walkway flanked by one-room apartments leading to an outdoor courtyard and communal toilet.  In this dim, decaying interior lived several dozen families, among them Matheus and his constant companions, his best friend Erick and Eric’s cousin Debora.

Six when I met him, Matheus was physically small yet mature for his age:  the lingering baby fat of his cheeks and belly contrasted sharply with his muscular strength and brash independence.  Erick was Matheus’ opposite in every respect.  A year older, he was tall and lean, his skin tanned and hair bleached from hours spent with Debora and Matheus at the nearby Praia do Flamengo.  While Matheus was a bundle of energy, unruly and disdainful of adult authority or affection, Erick was quiet and contemplative, ready to tuck his hand into mine as we walked down the street.  Debora was seventeen years old and despite a somewhat sour expression and badly cared-for teeth, possessed a lanky beauty.  She had dropped out of high school and, unemployed, spent her days looking after her younger siblings as well as Erick, whose mother was sick, and Matheus, whose single mother was burdened with nine young children.

On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, Matheus, Debora, Erick and I would cut over to Pedro América and walk up to the casarão, at the entrance to Santo Amaro, a slightly larger favela that sits at the top of a street with the same name and just below Santa Teresa.  Naldo, a graduado in ABADÁ at the time, had recently begun teaching classes for kids and teens from the community.  That Naldo had grown up and continued to live with his wife, young daughter, mother and grandmother in the community won the trust of local parents.  The growing popularity of his classes was measured by the expanding pile of multi-sized flip-flops abandoned in the doorway of the small community center during training.  There were as many if not more girls, anomalous for the early 2000s, but indicative of the growing acceptance of females in capoeira (and of Naldo’s good looks and charm which also kept the young mothers hanging around to watch class).

Matheus was Naldo’s most talented student.  His stocky strength and fearlessness – which quickly earned him his nickname – gave Tourinho a remarkably facility for mastering even the most difficult floreios.  Naldo could demonstrate an acrobatic move once and after a few attempts, pink tongue poking through his lips in concentration, Tourinho got it – shouting out “Look, I’m Naldo!”   It was not just Naldo’s capoeira game that Tourinho imitated, but also the posture and attitude of an older capoeirista.  He would swagger to class, shirt tucked into the top of his abadá, proudly displaying on his bare chest the beaded necklace I had given him from my trip to Angola, telling anyone who asked that it was from the “ancestral home” of capoeira.   He boasted of his rowdy, boyish exploits in the street, and (with Debora’s encouragement) of his many little girlfriends.

Naldo started taking Tourinho to Mestre Camisa’s monthly aulão which brings together all of Rio’s ABADÁ instructors and students to train together.  Everyone enjoyed watching and playing with Tourinho, and soon he was accepting invitations to batizados and performances around town; a pint-sized capoeirista with such skill in the roda was always a crowd-pleaser.  Tourinho would proudly show off the t-shirts he was given at these events, provide blow-by-blow accounts of the games and, like a baseball card collector reciting the stats of famous players, teach the other kids at the casarão the names and characteristics of his favorite capoeiristas.

For months before their first batizado – that important ceremony that would mark their formal induction into ABADÁ and the larger capoeira world – Naldo’s students speculated with great excitement as to which instructors would “baptize” them.   On the morning of the batizado, Erick and Tourinho waited impatiently for me outside their house, freshly bathed, abadá rolled and tightly bound with their corda crua, soon to be replaced with new student cords dyed yellow at the tips.  They ran ahead to the CIEP in Glória, where dozens of ABADÁ instructors and students (capoeiristas easily outnumbering audience members) were gathering.  The ceremony lasted several hours and included the presentation of cords and maculelê, puxa de rede and samba de roda performances which Naldo’s students had been practicing for weeks in advance.  For Tourinho, Erick and many of the young capoeiristas present, the batizado was the most important event of their short lives thus far.

Not all of Naldo’s students were as physically talented as Tourinho.  Erick, not as daring, struggled with the acrobatic movements.  I worried about him, always in Tourinho’s shadow and never achieving that air-borne sensation of the body in flight that so many young capoeiristas crave and delight in.  As one student told me, “capoeira is flying to the moon.”   But getting to the moon on capoeira can take many forms.  One day coming down Tavares Bastos I heard the melodic strains of a high-pitched berimbau.  Rounding the last curve, I saw Erick standing in front of his house, face raised to the sun, playing his heart out on a small berimbau.  Dente, a skilled capoeirista and instrument maker, had seen that Erick was drawn to the music – often hanging around after class to learn rhythms on the drum or awkwardly handle Naldo’s berimbau.  So, Dente had made Erick a child-size instrument.  Every day Erick practiced his berimbau, becoming more skilled and finding his own place in capoeira.

Debora also quietly developed as a capoeirista alongside her two male charges.  She was reluctant at first to train as she was much older and taller than the other students at the casarão.  But I eventually convinced her to try and she doggedly stuck with it, improving over time and shifting from her caretaker role to a capoeirista in her own right.  Debora’s mother had worried at first: “My daughter is already a brigona!” she told me.  It was true that Debora often displayed bruises and scratches, the telltale signs of fights with her brothers and other kids on the street.  But capoeira in the casarão did not incite aggression.   Rather, it provided the youth an alternative way to express with their bodies.  Often, I was impressed that rasteiras or martelos that met their mark  – something that in the street would have sparked a fight – were amicably accepted in the kids’ rodas.

Tourinho’s “I am Naldo!” verbalized a poignant desire I witnessed in many of the young capoeiristas I meet in favelas: the desire to become someone with skill and recognition.  As an older capoeirista who grew up on Rua Santo Amaro told me in an interview:

I practically lived in the streets. I was never home. One day I saw a street roda in the market in Glória and what made the biggest impression on me was seeing all these boys my size playing.  And I thought, I’ve got to do this.  Because someone arrives and you don’t know who he is, he’s nobody.  And then he jumps in the roda and starts to play and you see him in a totally different light – you know then that he is respected.  And I wanted that as well – respect where I lived.  My neighborhood has a lot of poverty and crime.  And a lot of adolescents chose a path of crime.  Capoeira gave me a different direction.

Naldo was very aware not only of Tourinho’s potential, but of his own responsibility towards the young capoeirista:  “He wants to be just like me so I have to be careful about how I behave.  Sometimes he tells people I’m his dad and I go along with it because I want to be involved in his life, not just in capoeira.”  When Naldo discovered Tourinho was acting out in school, he showed up in his classroom one day, much to Tourinho’s astonishment, to talk to his teacher; later Naldo rewarded his protégé for improved behavior with new school supplies.

But Naldo also noted, not without some pride, that Tourinho had something within him that made him a capoeirista no matter what: “Tourinho is the essence of capoeira.  Capoeira is in his blood.  Even if he stops training tomorrow, he will always be a capoeirista.”   While seeming to naturalize Tourinho’s knack for capoeira, Naldo also astutely recognized that it is the environment that children like Tourinho grow up in that make them into capoeiristas: “kids in the community have no limits.  They are always having to overcome barriers and adapt to new circumstances.  So, if you give them a little reassurance, they learn quickly.”  Ironically, having “no limits” comes from growing up in an environment with limited resources.  When the only playgrounds are the streets where soccer is played barefoot and kites flown from rooftops, kids develop daring and physical dexterity.  When resources are scarce – sometimes no more than a kite or a sense of self-worth – kids develop daring and creativity (and at times malandragem and aggression) to hold on to what is theirs.  These activities foster resourcefulness and self-reliance, necessary survival skills in precarious life conditions.  Capoeira also cultivates these attributes, but with a sense of grace, beauty, freedom and camaraderie.

In the end, perhaps capoeira came too easily for Tourinho.  He may have identified with it, but he never developed compromisso, that important next step in a capoeirista’s journey.  In 2015 I sadly learned via Facebook that Tourinho had died.  Apparently, capoeira had not been a strong enough force in his young life.  As a teenager, he felt the pull of drug trafficking.  Naldo, still teaching and respected in Santo Amaro, approached the traffickers in the community and asked them to prohibit Tourinho from getting involved.  He had potential as a capoeirista.  They obliged.  But when Tourinho moved with his family to another community, where perhaps once again he felt like a “nobody,” there was no one stopping him.  Eventually he was arrested and sent to prison where, under uncertain circumstance, he died.

What was it about Tourinho that prevented him from committing to capoeira?  Why didn’t he pursue his childhood dream, as he often told me, of one day becoming an instructor “just like Naldo”?  Was Tourinho too much “the essence of capoeira”?  Too rebellious?  Or did capoeira fail to challenge him enough to keep reaching for the next goal.  Perhaps he learned too young to fly too high, and like Icarus who flew too close to the sun with his waxed wings, fell too soon.

 

Matheus Bernardo (07/13/1995 – 05/04/2015) Rest in Peace.

 

 

Author’s Bio: Katya Wesolowski (Camarão) is a lecturing fellow in Cultural Anthropology and Dance at Duke University in the United States.  She is currently working on an ethnographic memoir of more than twenty years playing, researching and now teaching capoeira.  Her previous publications include “Professionalizing Capoeira: The Politics of Play in Twenty-first-Century Brazil.” (Latin American Perspectives. Volume 39, Issue 2, 2012); “From ‘Moral Disease’ to ‘National Sport’: Race, Nation and Capoeira in Brazil.” (In Sports Culture in Latin American History, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015).  And forthcoming, “Imagining Brazil in Africa: capoeira’s transatlantic roots and routes” (In Capoeira and Globalization: Interdisciplinary Studies of an Afro-Brazilian Cultural Form. Cambridge University Press) and “Baile Funk and Kuduro: (dis)articulations of national belonging in Brazil and Angola” (In Dancing the African Diaspora: Theories of Black Performance in Motion. Duke University Press).  This piece draws from her dissertation, “Hard Play: capoeira and the politics of inequality in Rio de Janeiro” (Columbia University, 2007), research for which was supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation.