•  CAPOEIRA - A great controversy in the Bahia rodas 
    O Globo, Rio de Janeiro
    16th February 1982

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    O Globo, 16/Feb/1982


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      CAPOEIRA - A great controversy in the Bahia rodas

      After mestres Bimba and pastinha, what is and what is not authentic

      SALVADOR (O GLOBO) - Like berimbau, a crude instrument with only one string, that basically varies its tone with a sharper sound in contrast with the other, a deeper one, capoeira, despite all the changes it went through, continues in Bahia governed by two lineages: the one of "Angola", a more subtle, detail-oriented and meticulous and "regional", more open, vigorous and intrepid.

      Behind these styles like hidden guardians tow great names still habit the memory of countless academies, from the poorest, that run in the dark halls of old residences, to the richest, in modern sports-halls, the "fight-butiques" as these are called by the most radical. With their own names of the movements, dialects and behaviour.

      For them, a quiet "Iuna" - a berimbau rhythm that informs, welcoming, the presence of famous capoeiristas in their roda, watching the fight - looks to sound in constant homage. A respect that, nevertheless, doesn't inhibit their followers continue to create every day new sequencies in the basic and fixed alphabet of the fight.

      In a poor neighborhood in Itapoã, alternating his 74 well-lived years between beating the bricks of his everyday labor of stonemason and the vigorous stomps of the feet on the old clay-floor, lives the only one of the "old masters" still alive in Bahia. This is mestre "Cobrinha Verde", fearsome disciple of the renowned "Besouro" who, in the last century, amused and terrorized the Bahian Bay Area.

      Such as his mestre, "Cobrinha Verde" still frightens and surprises: in capoeira roda, playing with 20-year old boys, he is capable to "freeze the blood" of many people, making it appear between his toes during a fight a shiny and sharp razor-knife.

      Today mestre "Cobrinha Verde" is the patron of and, lets say, "professor" of "Association of Capoeira Três Amigos", which belongs to mestre "Mal" and is connected to the lineage of Angola. It is on Sundays that he appears, like a guru, in the headquarters of the Association, leaving the 30 students of the academy in extasy with an exhibition of capoeira with a straight-razor between his toes, a practise which is today extinct.

      To live, "Cobrinha Verde" is a stonemason, living in Itinha, a distant neighborhood of Salvador. In his spare time he makes sticks out of cipó caboclo, "specially for an exemplar beating". A thing that he didn't have to use, when, in the thirties was surrounded in Santo Amaro da Purificação, by a police squad led by chief Veloso - who according to him was the grandfather of Caetano and Betânia, and also got beaten up together with his soldeirs.

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      He remembers between laughs that in 1925 he was the target of 18 shots, but no bullet hit him, while he jumped and spinned every direction. But his doings did not stay restricted to the streetfights or exhibitions in capoeira rodas. In Bahia various people know about his participation in the gang of the fearsome colonel Horácio de Matos - who for many years dominated the whole of central-east of Bahia - and in the Constitutional Revolution of São Paulo.

      In my batallion there were 85 men - confirms "Cobrinha Verde" - and only I survived. Maybe it was because of the malícia.

      Mestre "Mal", Marcelino dos Santos, who evidently is proud of having on his side one of the oldest "angolistas" alive, affirms with conviction that his is the "only academy in Brazil and in the world, possibly, where the most authentic capoeira de Angola survives".

      Formed inicially by himself and mestres "Bom Cabrito" and "Mala", today the Association of Capoeira Três Amigos is made of mestre "Mal" and his two sons, with nicknames that reveal a lot: Edmilson "Encrenca" and Edmar "Esparro". "Encrenca", in addition to the academy, runs a famous folcloric show in one the restaurants of Salvador and despite his 18 years of age, surprises with his malícia and experience in capoeira, which he knows since eight years of age. One of the best capoeiristas named Gilberto José Ferreira,„Gigi“, works also in the academy.

      The academy of mestre "Mal" is not the only one the accumulate great knowledge about the lineage of Angola. Students of great masters, it is worth naming the nicknames of the most active masters of capoeira today.

      Originating from capoeira de Angola, the most important are, without a doubt „Cobrinha Verde“, „João Pequeno“, „João Grande“, „Bom Cabrito“, „Gato“, Waldemar, Marcelino, „Mala“, Virgílio, „Bobó Babosa“, „Canjiquinha“, „Curió“ and „Caiçara“.

      On the other branch - "regional" - almost all direct students of the legendary "Bimba" - stand out „Itapuã“, „Vinte e Nove“, „Braz Amansa Brabo“, „Vermelho 27“, „Medicina“, „Banduê“, Capazans, Ezequiel and Hélio „Xaréu“, who is contracted by School of Physical Education of the Federal University of Bahia, where he works with more than 400 students.

      In a more developed lineage, mixing capoeira with rudiments of oriental martial arts, could be named „Boa Gente“, „Nêgo Elísio“, „La Bamba“, Giovani, „Bocanha“, Sena and Aristides.

      Bringing in his roots an antagonism - a fight and a dance - and during years seen as a "black and poor people's" thing, capoeira today after being

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      On the second photo, from right, the academy of mestre Mal, from angola lineage; well accompanied by pandeiro and berimbau; on the first photo, students of mestre Boa Gente; mixture of capoeira with oriental fight

      broken with these schematic visions, is divided by a new question: the one of "authentic" and the "non-authentic".

      This discussion, can look out of step after the advent of mestre Bimba (who with intrepidness from decade 40 started to put to the universe of capoeira, until then predominantly of Angola, different kicks and proceedings of other fights), resurged after his death and the one of "Pastinha".

      While they were alive, the discussion was born and died between them, such was the respect that they inspired and the leadership the exersized. "Pastinha", with calm gestures and soft voice, despite his subtle criticism towards the people of capoeira regional, foretold that the two lineages diverged, but were sisters: "two souls of one body". "Bimba", grandiloquent and smiling, thought the same way, despite insinuating that "regional" was more demolishing.

      The myths and guides of capoeira and "when the master dies, the vassals are woken up", interprets Jota Bamberg, a learned man in the topic, who in capoeira is known as "Jota Angolinha".

      According to him it cannot be said that capoeira is dying: what is happening is a dangerous and irreversible headlessness of capoeira, the level of natural leaderships and, with time, an enormous necessity to conduct a process of organization of the activity, taking care to preserve the fight in its essence.

      In the opinion of Bamberg, in most of the academies there is no more "ginga" or malícia, "there is only gross beating". The capoeiristas prepared in some associations don't know the rhythms of the berimbau "determined by the dynamics and the different situations of the combat". Today, the berimbau, the atabaque and the pandeiro only mark the rhythm. The traditional songs which are giving hints to the contenders, are also these days little known.

      These criticisms of Jota Bamberg, in fact, can be seen in diverse academies, both "regional" lineage and the one of "Angola". It can be seen easily that a lot of practitioners of "regional" don't know that the rhythm "São Bento Grande", on a berimbau, suggests a hard game; that the "Idalina"-beat or the "Amazonas" determine a balanced, half-demonstrative game.

      Until 1950, approximately, to play capoeira was a community activity, practised in the meeting on Sundays, in the markets, mainly. Sunday on a capoeirista was, invariably, made of missa, where he went early. This was followed by a cock-fight, with a few mouthfuls, and a capoeira roda, where a practitioner entered with a hat, white jacket, with pointy shoes and glasses, if any. After lunch a game of domino and a roda was formed again.

      The capoeira roda, that was born spontaniously, not known exactly when and where, was succeeded by the academies, which from the start maintained the original characteristics of the game. "Later it was started to treat capoeira as folclore, between quotation marks" - complains Jota Bamberg, citing the proliferation of folcloric groups, "formed for the presentations in palaces and on travels to foreign countries".

      In this context, the attendance of mestre "Bimba" and mestre "Pastinha" had an accented importance, like guardians of the principles and the essence of more authentic capoeira. "Pastinha", for having brought to the academies the universe that existed in the ancient rodas, and "Bimba", for having been the reorganizer and systemizer of capoeira that went on to be called "regional", creating seven basic sequencies and introducing kicks from jiu-jitsu, freefight, box and Greco-Roman wresting.

      Many saw in this "Bimba's" "opening" the start of the disruptions in capoeira. Nothing could be more wrong. As there is nothing more wrong to imagine that capoeira is agonizing in Bahia. Even with these "accidents of the road", you can still see its malícia spread to the four corners of Salvador.

      Few people knew so well about this like the proper mestre "Pastinha". Being blind, ousted by the government from his academy and experiencing hunger, he told that until there are two black guys, two mulattoes, "all in all two bahians", capoeira will not die.

      - You cut the head, another one rises. Dies a mestre, another one is born.

      Mestre Cobrinha Verde makes a demonstration - today not used - of capoeira with a razor-knife between his toes, which reminds of times when capoeira was used as a defence fight

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