Mestre Onça Preta
27/Jan/1909 - 2006
1909 - Was born Cícero Navarro on the 27th January in Salvador.
1937 - On 14th January he participated in the roda of the II Afro-Brazilian Congress in Ribeira, Salvador.
1938 - On 18th September (Sunday) he participated in a roda in Itapagipe, Salvador, together with M Samuel Querido de Deus. See the photos of Ruth Landes below.
1941 - According to M Pastinha's manuscripts on 23rd February in Gengibirra Onça Preta was part of those who founded the CECA. One of the founders is also M Aberrê and in his turn M Samuel Querido de Deus doesn't appear there.
1942 - On 13th January was born in Salvador one of his two daugthers (with Julia Batista dos Santos) - Iraci dos Santos Navarro.
1943 - On 9th March his son Jurandir Navarro was born.
1948 - On 10th January in O Cruzeiro we read that: Onça Preta was Aberrê's student, who had „rodas of mandinga“ in Pau Miúdo and Alto das Pombas, places were the candomblés proliferated.
1955 - There's news about him in the newspaper Última Hora from 12th February: «Next Saturday [19th Feb] [..] an encounter between the capoeiras Artur Emídio and Onça Preta. Both bahian and excellent fighters.»
1959 - Moved to Rio de Janeiro.
1960 - On 21st July the group called Filhos de Angola was founded in Rio by the masters Mucungê, Dois de Ouro, Baleado, Onça Preta, Imagem do Cão and Roque.
1962 - There's news about M Onça Preta as a member of M Joel Lourenço do Espírito Santo's capoeira Angola group.
1963 - Participated on M Paraná's LP together with M Onça Preta (according to M Gegê).
1968 - W. Rego mentions him in his book.
1972 - On 10/11 of September O Dia published an article about him and M Roque (read below!). During that time he worked as a servant in the Child Care Hospital.
1982 - From 4th until 7th March participated in the Project Capoeira Dance in Circo Voador (Rio) together with Baleado, Leopoldina and the Senzala Group (M Camisa).
1985 - Moved to São Paulo (didn't teach capoeira any more there).
1989 - In the interview by him M Waldemar comments: «Onça Preta - he's in Rio, old, but alive».
2006 - Died in São Paulo.
We thank M Onça Preta's great-grandson Marcio Duarte and grand-daughter Zélia Navarro for sharing their photo collections and some important dates of the ABC.
Old M Onça Preta
Photo gallery of 1938
The photos below made by Ruth Landes on the 18th September of 1938 in Itapagipe, Salvador, are part of the Smithsonian Institution's collection in the US*. Landes writes in her book The City of Women (1947), that she participated in a feast in Cabaceiras da Ponte in Itapagipe (see the map below!). And continues to describe a capoeira roda that see watched there:
«We had arrived at the spot where the men were forming for capoeira. Watchers were crowded four deep around a wide circle, and there was not a woman or a priest among them. To one side of the innermost ring stood three tall Negros, each holding a berimbau with one end resting on the ground. Two more musicians soon came - one with a chocalho, or metal rattle, and the other with a pandeiro, or tambourine. Edison and the others helped me push front, and we were glad of the diversion.
Two capoeirists were squatting there facing the musicians. One was the champion Beloved of God, with the Christian name of Samuel. He was tall, black, middle-aged and muscular, a fisherman by trade. His challenger was The Black Leopard, a younger man, shorter and fatter. They were barefooted, wearing striped cotton jersey shirts, one with white trousers, the other with dark, one with a felt hat, the other with a cap which he later changed to a hard straw hat.»
So on the two photos we see a pair of men playing. M Querido de Deus is supposedly the one, that has the "striped cotton jersey shirt" and the other may not be Onça Preta, because doesn't have that shirt nor dark pants nor is he barefoot. It is probably the third capoeira, who pushed Onça Preta back to enter into the game.
* Ruth Landes had another series of photos from 23rd of October 1938 showing a capoeira roda, however she doesn't describe it in her book. And there isn't sufficient data on the Smithsonian Institution's collection to say who these capoeiras are.
Cabaceiras da Ponte
Newspaper O Dia, 1972
With its martyrs and heros CAPOEIRA BECOMES RELIGION
Rio de Janeiro
10/11 Sept. 1972
Short mulatto, skinny, his afro-hair covered with white, the legs full of deep scars, Cícero Navarro, Onça Preta, the name that in the past made brave guys and bullies run, named in the works of folklore and in the books of Jorge Amado, master in the secrets of the berimbau rhythms and in the capoeira music, is today one of many notable people in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, lost in the anonymity of the big city.
Born in Salvador, in 1909, son of a poor family, being a famous capoeirista, he remembers with nostalgia the old time of capoeira, authentic and dangerous, for the sole use of malandros and delinquents, condemned in the first penal code of Brazil, the Criminal Code of the Empire (1890).
It's him who talks about the beauty of the spontaneous exhibitions, usually on Sundays, at the ports of the bars; about the relentless combats against the fighters by Pedrito, the Police Chief of Bahia, who came to office in 1920, which resulted in the massacre of great masters; about the deadly fight for the love of a woman and about many other stories that he heard or was present at in his youth. And it's him who, still, complains about the course capoeira has taken nowadays, becoming sophisticated, to transform into a rich folks' sport or as he says: - Becoming commodity, that is sold to rich peoples' children.
The masters of the past
When Onça Preta was a boy, the name of Samuel Querido de Deus, capoeirista and fisherman, was already going from mouth to mouth on the streets of Salvador. On his side, Vicente Pastinha, a short mulatto of astonishing speed, Zé Doú, Sessenta, Vitor Agaú [also H. U. - velhosmestres.com] and many others. It was easy to find them. Usually, on Sundays, at the ports of the bars, when, between a roda and another, to animate the game, the masters activated their muscles with a mouthful of cachaça.
- It was pretty to see. The women, attracted by the sound of the berimbau, by songs and handclapping, came to join the roda, with colorful skirts, hair-dos, smiling to those that jumped around, taking care of those who fell.
- The great rodas formed in Luzia. Periperi in Boca do Mato an Luzia. Peri-Peri, in Boca do Mato and in the Port quays. These started pretty early, when one capoeirista came with his berimbau and played the first chords. Hours later it was impossible to see it from close up, such was the crowd that surrounded it. The boys - such as me - for the want of not to miss out on the spectacle, would watch between the legs of the adults.
- It was like this that I learned to «play around». I had not one, but many mestres. Still a boy, I «jumped» with Samuel, with Pastinha, Besourinho, Vitor Agaú, Gasolina, Aberrê (a strong black guy, who only fought in his white suit and had a red scarf around his neck) and many others, who today are deceased. Few of natural death. Most were murdered.
- I remember well when Aberrê died. It was in a lively roda, in Lower City. In the center, where there's the Estrela de Salomão. Aberrê was dominating the adversary. Suddenly, without anybody expecting, he fell. The other waited him to get up, because in the real capoeira fight, you don't kick a guy who's down on the ground. But Aberrê didn't get up. Only then we understood: he was dead. It was a heart attack. For weeks, nobody played capoeira in Bahia. Everybody understood that we had lost a great master, an excellent friend.
- Another great loss that was commented alot on was of Zé Barroada. He died in a roda with Manoel de Andreza, in Cachoeira, in the interior of Bahia, for the love of a woman, a mulatto woman, a neat woman, who with her cheerfulness put away two men. It was a knife-fight, as any serious fight. Zé Barroada didn't take enough care and fell. Manoel was taken to prison. Once again Bahia was mourning.
A prohibited game
Despite the antiquity and of the constant practice through time, capoeira was prohibited during the slavery. It's comeback was in 1937, with the officialization of the first Academy, the one of Mestre Bimba, by the Ministry of the Education of Bahia. According to what's said the concession was obtained after a presentation in the State's Palace, asked by the then Federal Inspector Juracy Montenegro Magalhães.
The first official prohibition appears in the Criminal Code of the Empire, of 1830, in its chapter IV, article 29b, without it being referred to directly, putting it between vagrancy and begging. Only in the Penal Code of the Republic, instituted on 11th October of 1890, in chapter XIII, titled «About vagrants and capoeira», the veto appears clearly, with the penalty of two to six months to the offenders. The biggest repression comes in the Code of 1893, which authorizes the Government to construct a correctional colony in Fazenda da Boa Vista (Paraíba do Sul), or where it looks better to them, meant for the vagrants and capoeiristas, a law that was confirmed by the Consolidation of the Penal Laws, in its article 46.
Yet, the phase of great repression, which didn't stay only on paper, although was based on them, dates to 1920, when Pedro de Azevedo Gordilho, the legendary Pedrito, became the Chief of Police of Bahia. Having under his commands the famous Cavalry Squad, he undertook a real massacre amoung the old masters of the game, but not in the open combat, face to face. Generally he killed them after capture and the body would turn up days later, shot in the forest, the back open with knife cuts. Among the ones who perished like this, Onça Preta remembers:
- Besourinho, Doze Homens, Mãozinha, Antônio Galindéu, Geraldo Chapeleiro, Finado Manteiga, Nagé, Paulo César de Moura, Gasolinha, Juvelino and many other.
With the death of these men, one stage in the history of capoeira ended in Bahia. With the cost of a lot of blood, a new generation rises, that was until then silent. Comes the time of Onça Preta, Mestre Bimba, Dois de Ouro, Juvenal, Valdemar, Valdemiro (who till today jumps in shoes and white suit, as did Aberrê), etc.
- But same as me - emphasizes Onça Preta - all approaching sixty years of age. All jump fine, but it's already time to give space to the younger ones.
The fair share of Onça Preta
On the side of Onça Preta, Mestre Roque. A short man, skinny, of undefined color, between mulatto and mestizo, 39 years old [34, since he was born in 1938], a calm person, thoughtful. Becoming conceited with the praise from Onça Preta, whom he got to know by fame when he was a boy. An personally when teenager. He doesn't remember much about Pedrito's time [who ran away from Bahia in 1930]. Only the stories told by his father, also a capoeirista, known as Bernardinho [Chico Preto, from other interview], killed in 1956, in a fight with fishing buddies.
- Eight men to kill the old guy...
He also remembers the details, that for the lack of memory of voluntary forgetting, Onça Preta left out:
- Onça Preta also received this share of persecution by Pedrito. It was in Julião's roda, in the Lower City of Salvador. It was a custom then, at a distance, a capoeirista to stay on alert, keeping an eye for the police arriving. If this was the case, he played a «cavalry rhythm» on the berimbau. All knew it. A fast rhythm, imitating the stamping of feet of the horses. That afternoon the watcher wasn't careful enough. When the players saw them, the soldiers were in the middle of the roda.
- Onça Preta got confused. There was no time to run and he fell between the horses. He had his legs massacred, opened in deep wounds. It took him fifteen years to treat himself. He didn't go to the doctors, fearing to lose the legs. He cured then with herbs, prayers and sorcery. Today he has scars there, and he, as I'm a witness, still jumps very well. Enough to put me on the ground.
The old master hangs his head, shakes from side to side, whispers something silently, an undecipherable sorrow. In his eyes there's no revolt nor anger. Only remembrance and a lot of sorrow.
- What I learned - continues mestre Roque in his story - capoeira came to Bahia with the slaves of Angola, in the XVI century, and was mainly used when a slave who was running away wanted to free himself of his pursuer: the forest captain.
- Today there's two capoeiras: regional, made by Mestre Bimba, in 1918, to which enter kicks from judo, free-fight, catch and others, and angolana, which most of the masters are following, basically of attack and defense, where the feet and the head have the biggest importance and the hands stay on a second plane.
Onça Preta makes an aside to the commentary about Mestre Bimba's Regional:
- Where have you seen capoeira in which you grab the adversary and the men are glued together? Bimba can forgive me... But the real capoeira, for me, is only Angola.
Mestre Roque smiles and rises his head as a sign of approval and contines:
- Capoeira is playes in a roda. Who jumps out or falls, loses. There the men, always doing ginga, to the music and handclaps, are trying out their kicks: rabo-de-arraia, cabeçada, rasteira, meia-lua, aú, armada, pulo do macaco, jogo de dentro, cocorinha and others, a total of 21, with variations from capoeirista to capoeirista. It depends of the swing of each one.
- All around the companions are waiting their turn, playing berimbau, reco-reco, pandeiro and atabaque, playing one of the known rhythms. If the game is fast, the rhythm is São Bento Grande; if samba de capoeira, São Bento Pequeno; if jogo de dentro with a knife, Banguela; if a slow game, Santa Maria; if a middle game, Amazonas; if a low game, Iúna, and so on. There are various rhythms, always led by the berimbau.
- And for each rhythm there are songs, that are chanted by the ones who are making up the roda. Before entering it. «Ai, ai Aidé/Play nicely as I want to learn». While two capoeiras go to play the first song is sang. It's as a challenge. For example: the singing starts: to the center of the roda and the game starts.
- Onça Preta was one of the pioneers of the «samba de capoeira». He had a song that was sang in the Cultural Radio of Bahia, by the vocal group «Cancioneiros do Norte». It was made of five people, playing violin, triangle, drum, pandeiro and gourd. It started with a capoeira quatrain and had a berimbau solo*.
Menino quem foi seu mestre
Meu mestre foi Salomão
Me ensinou a capoeira
Com a palmatória na mão
At last, a master
Mestre Roque today has an academy on the Tiradentes Square, 69, 2nd floor, and 16 students, and the only condition to join it is to be more than 7 years old. The gender doesn't matter. This is his only means of income, but to get there, he had to sweat a lot, as he tells:
- I came here in 1951 [1956, as in other interviews], serving in the Marines. I had it all. Money, food, a house and clean clothes. Three years later I was discharged. It was then that I felt I had to come aroung to make a living, to have a place in a big city.
- I was a peddler for six years, selling what I could buy. The most varied assembly of trinkets. During that time, I wanted to find capoeira, I wanted to play around a little, but I didn't find anyone. I missed it. After all, I learned to play when I was seven years old, with Mestre Paizinho and it was an effort. Hiding from my mother, I had to make money walking or getting a lift on a tram, having less to eat.
- I was growing and participating in great rodas. I jumped with Pastinha, Caiçara, Vitor Agaú, Onça Preta and many other masters of my time. The only one I didn't play with was Bimba, who didn't waste time with children.
- One day, here in Rio, tired of the isolation, I improvised a berimbau with a broomstick and when to Copacabana. I played a little and the adversaries came right away. But to my luck, I can say today, a soldier arrested me. He took me to the Fortress of São João. I thought I «was fried». Moreso when the colonel summoned me. He was a serious man, with an angry face. He asked me right away: «Are you good at capoeira or just a bully?» I told he would have to see. He then called Captain Abelardo, teacher of the Physical Education, a big and muscular guy, a master of many fights, including mine.
- We jumped together and I came our well. I put the captain on the ground. The colonel began to laugh and told them to give me food - and I was so damn hungry - and let me go. And my luck didn't run out there. The captain contracted me to teach capoeira to his children, for good money. I became a master.
- It was like this, from classes at home, I moved to an academy. The first one was on Mauá Square. Later, in 1962, I moved to the Sacadura Cabral Street, 62. After that to a Petrobrás Club, on Conceição Street. Until I got upset and stopped with capoeira. I returned to the life of the peddler and was later an electrician's help.
- Months later, the loneliness returned. I missed the game and opened an academy. This time on Pavãozinho Hill, having participated, with my team, in the Golden Berimbau of the Providência Fair. But there they only gave me the second place, alleging there was something missing. The folks of the commission knew nothing about the subject. They wanted to dress up stuff, make a sophisticated game that, even if beautiful, was far from being capoeira.
- With this I was making fame and name. I participated in TV shows, in movie parts. I worked with Jéce Valadão, Leonardo Villar and Nélson Rodrigues. I was the first Bahian capoeirista to make a capoeira and maculelé spectacle in Rio.
- It was on General Caldas, where I took the «Nights in Bahia». On Sundays, the rodas where heavy. Both residents of Rio and bahians entered there. But if you weren't good, you got hurt, as happened many times. We exchanged. They said it was the «Death Squad». It was in fashion that time.
- With that show I got from Fine Arts Institute a taxidermied chicken. I put the animal at the door and, as there were people who left alms, there were days when, from coins only, I made close to Cr$ 130,00.
- For four months I've been on the Tiradentes Square. From here I only leave to my own academy, which wouldn't be a rented building. That day, then, I will take Onça Preta with me. He would stop to be a servant in the Child Care Hospital and would start to work with me. With a name that he has, we will have more students than the State colledge...
Onça Preta, having been silent for some time, listening his friend's stories, comes to manifest himself again. A staunch talk and a serious face, a touch of indignation:
- But only if the academy will have authentic capoeira. Not inventing colorful clothing, looking like a fairytale. Not creating moves only to make the thing difficult. Not wanting to impress with a lot of coreography and little efficiency. This thing to disfigure capoeira to make a business doesn't go well with me. For me, it is a religion. You need to have respect and love. I think a lot of people haven't understood it. When I came here, 13 years ago, there were a few academies here. Two or three, such as yours and Artur Emídio's and Mário Santos's, and the authentic ones.
- Today there's more than 30. Each one with novelties that didn't exist. To make a business, they dress up the goods. It like this guy who opens up a candomblé and starts to ask money for a consultation, as if charity had a price.
Mestre Roque agrees to everything. After all he knows that capoeira is a part of folk tradition, of folklore. If one day it was persecuted as a weapon of double-dealing, today it is taught as physical education is schools and Armed Forces. It is present in the cinema, in music, visual arts, literature and theatre stages. It is part of Brazil. Its songs provide elements to study Brazilian life, telling the story of all the epic times of our ancestors since slavery.
- And with such part if History, it can't be sullied. Anything that you do that is not a try to reproduce it in all its authenticity, is the same as trying to destroy it, out of free and spontaneous will, a precious work of art - as emphasizes one student of folklore.