"Mestre" Pastinha is a dry creole, short, restless, owner of an Academy of Capoeira de Angola. His fighting-style doesn't admit regionalism; it is pure, maybe to remember its forefathers. The room is located in a house in Pelourinho, decorated by himself with pictures explaining varios kicks, "drawn by your servant, yes sir"...
It all started when the slaves arrived, sudanese mostly - bausas and nagôs - who on their land where the liders. And in the bahian night the atabaque sounded the first candomblé, at the same time when a black rebel made a landlord fall with swings of his body, rabo-de-arraia and a headbutt - capoeira was born. Time passed and in the primitive lab, candomblé and capoeira met eachother in the strong and mysterios experience from samba.
Welcome, my father Oxossi! Today is Monday, Exu and Omolu day. Yansã won't descend to a bewitched mestizo, welcome!
Who hasn't see candomblé, doesn't know Bahia. In the shrine the iaôs dance, possessed by orixás. A strong and terrible "jurema"-drink runs faster than the legs. It closes the body - and runs and "demolishes", to calm down the fire of the atabaques and the agogô, hurting the ears like bellbirds. Candomblé in Bahia is this: it is the place where you celebrate a cerimony, the real cerimony. Continent and content. And there's no talk of macumba: candomblé is the name.
The history is long. In the times when Bahia and Pernambuco fought to see who produces more sugarcane, that kind of fire was already burning. The mill owners in the beginning closed their eyes: it was even good that Christ's commands, which were talking about the equality of the man, didn't reach the senzala. But the Church insisted, that the slaves would need to be converted and the situation changed, o candomblé started to be persecuted. The result was that the white saints appeared in the blacks' shrines.
There were two motives: first, the whites' orixá was gentle and merciful, generally as the opppsite to the landlord who worshipped it in the chapel attached to the big house; secondly, the whites' orixá had the power to protect the candomblé. The authorities - without perceiving that the black worshipped in Senhor do Bonfim Oxalá, the father of all the saints; in São Jorge Oxossi, the god of hunting; in Santo Antonio Ogum, in São Bartolomeu Oxunmarê and so on - did not dare to invest against their saints. Edson Carneiro, who is the authority in the matter, wrote: "The assimilation with catholic religion continues to be verified to these days and even in the big scale: it began as subterfuge to escape the police persecution and becomes by time the second nature. So we can encounter catholic altars in all the candomblés; all of the orixás have a corresponding one among the Church's saints; the Cross, Holy Bread, the Chalice, the episodes of Noa's Ark, the birth and the baptizing of the Christ are remembered in the songs, especially the ones sung in portuguese".
The Bahian candomblés are of multiple types and various rites. Although the most numerous are the ones of the yoruba-nagô nation. But they suffer from a lot of influences, to start with the catholic one, as told, and moving on to kardecist - being similar to cult - and including even the amerindian one, that reveals itself in the mestizo shrine. There are hundreds of shrines, by the looks of it - seven hundred, they say - some famous, others almost hidden; some for the turist to see and the turist doesn't have to be english, other pure ones, like in Engenho Velho, or in Gantois, or at the end of the Brotas line.
the temple is a hut
A wooden hut, poorly lit. The floor made of bare bricks. Little silk-paper flags on the beams of the ceiling. Like a shrine. The benches crowded with people. At times, women on on side, men on the other. Three atabaques in on corner, close to the curtins with patterns. Lined up like organ's pipes. Rum, the biggest atabaque, lê the smallest, rumpi in the middle. An agogô and a gourd receptacle. A complete orchestra, commanded by alabê. The important guy is there. Generally an influencing person. A public man, sometimes, or an artist. He is the ogã. He protects candomblé. He acts as a consultant. In some candomblés he is the first minister of the cabinet of twelve members, the obá. Jorge Amado is an obá. More important than ogã and obá is only the mother-of-saint, the babalorixá. There are also fathers-of-saint, but the feminine predominance is absolute. Candomblé is matriarchal.
There is now silence in the shrine. Someone wallops his irritated legs against the rough wood of the benches. For the time being nothing happens. Here. But in a separate room in a secret cerimony the mother-of-saint and the axogum, the sacrifier, cut off the heads of the cock, the pigeon and the sheep. Thick and hot blood runs over the orixás' stones. The animal heads are rolling on the floor. Dead and darkened eyes. Dead feathers. Dead skins. Still feathers of pigeons, cocks' angry feathers, ugly skins of sheep. Soaked in blood. There is no muscle, no flight, there is no wind that would make them vibrate.
The blood calls the orixás. And Exu? He too and there they are. Exus Mojubá, Barabô, Juá Maromba, Chefe Cunha, Maioral, pick one. It is necessary to lay him off. He is not bad. Bad-mannered, that's what he is. He can cause damage. He might want to fool around when it's no time to fool around. Exu is capable to exagerate. If in the docks a seaman lets a rude word go, if a fat black woman slips on a slope, you can be sure it's Exu's prank. A bottle of dendê, another of cachaça, a bowl of farinha. The contents of these are poured on the door of the shrine. Barabô is also a glutton. With this witchcraft he will not enter any more.
Rum, rumpi and lê are silent. But suddenly the iaôs, the daughters-of-saint, enter. With a rustle of rich skirts. With jingling necklaces. The atabaques break out. They are pacient, to a certain point. Now nothing holds them back. The iaôs dance and sing, three songs for each orixá, summoning them in the shrine. The crowd gets excited and claps hands, that crack loudly, marking the rhythm. The babalorixá shakes bells of sharp sound as if these were the conductor's batons. The cadence scrapes the skin of the head, explodes with agogô. It is an important and gloomy noise which fills the room leaving no gaps. The skirts fill with rhythm, lift the iaôs up. Everything revolves around waves of lace and panting breasts. Faces like turning-tops. Black arms like the masts of a fleet in a storm. One iaô turns eyes inside out in a bright lightning, lifts hands to her temples, staggers going out of rhythm. She trembles in the colvulsions. Now she is the horse of a black saint. An orixá descended and took the features of his daughter. But it's him, the saint, that dances and sings. One by one the orixás are descending. The shrine is no longer a poor hut decorated with little silk-paper flags. The gods meet stepping bare-feet on the bricks from Itapagipe pottery, with the majesty of millenniums spent in the beyond. Like the would be stepping on carpets - or clouds.
iaô dreams of orunkó
This is the first part of the ritual of candomblé. The taken iaôs are withdrawn from the shrine, each one by her ekedê, who is a kind of godmother, in charge of protecting her from accidents and dressing her with clothes that identify the orixá that the iaô represents. The iaô is a novice, or the one who is iniciated in the mysteries of candomblé. Only after a series of hardships of severe learning that last for six months, is she prepared to receive her saint. At sixteen years old, more-or-less, some girls start to show strange symptoms, that are no more than medium-like phenomenons. This does not escape the mothers-of-saint, who call for their presence and invite them to serve the saints. A refusal is very rare. Locked up, isolated from any contact with outside world, the girls have their hair shaved and the head bathed in blood of the animals and then painted blue and white. They bath in the dawn at a stream and later in the closed room of the shrine they learn the sons and dances and the nagô language, and listen to the lectures of the mother-of-saint which is so rigorous that the iaôs lose their mind, speak like children and have fits when they pull from their ankles the bell-bracelets (xacrô) that is the signal of subjection to candomblé.
But comes the day when the testing has an end. That is the orunkó, the famous feast where the iaó give the name to her orixá. Next morning, the daughters-of-saint will be at the Bonfim church, kneeling in from of the altar. Finally considered prepared, holy, ready to receive an orixá any time that the atabaque sounds in the shrine.
A celestial court of candomblé consist of a considerable number of saints, or gods, or mystical heroes, all of them led by Oxalá, who in the bahian syncretism is indentified as Senhor do Bonfim, or more rarely as the Holy Spirit. The father of all the saints, when he comes down to a shrine the iaô dresses herself in white. Usually he presents himself in two ways: as Oxalufã, a bent and tired old man, supported by a staff or Oxaguinha, young happy boy who carries in this hands a metal mortar. Behind him
the the big ones of his court, of his ingenuous and terrible Olympos. Like Xangô, the god of storms, lightning and thunder. A curious and ambivalent (macho and female) wears trouses under his skirt. Demanding in what he eats, he is served only sheep, rooster, turtle and omalá, a special caruru.
His insignia: a hammer with wings. Colours: white and red. Oxôsse is the god of hunting, represented in the shrines by the image of São Jorge. His feast is on the day of Corpus Cristi. Vain the the way he dresses, uses vivid blue, green and red pieces, a long robe over his shoulders and sometimes a leather hat. Ogum, the god of war, is identified also as Santo Antônio, who in Bahia is the captain of National Army, and always appears with a sword, duelling when dancing. The patron of martial arts, he wears dark blue. Olòlu is the god of smallpox and the doctor of the blacks, very popular among the believers. With his feast on 16th August, when he comes down he obliges some to use a long hood of straw over their shoulders. Irôko, "a black gameleira-tree", which is pretty difficult to appear, is at once recognized by the way it dances: on the knees and is covered by straw; identified (not always) with S. Francisco de Assis. Oxunmarê, "the rainbow" is S. Bartolomeu for the blacks, with feast on 24th August. Raised by Xangô, he takes the form a serpent for the believers. His clothes are white with gold seashells carrying a trident in his hand.
The feminine orixás are known as viabás. Nanã, Senhora de Santana, is the oldest of water-mothers and dances always as though having a child in her arms, with sky-blue and white clothing; has a feast on 26th July. Yemanjá, the more popular, in her compete the african, european and amerindian cults. She uses blue and red clothes with decoration of sea-beads, a sword and fan (abébé) with a cut-out mermaid in the center. Yansã is the women of Xangô, restless, enterprising, adored among women. Her symbols: a copper sword and an ox's tail; has the feast on 4th December. Oxúm, an adolescent god, resembles Senhora das Candeias, sucks on sugar-cane and her seat is always full of toys. Her feast is on the 2nd February (already had samba) and appears also as Oxún-Apará, with a fan and a sword, being also considered an Oxun that lives on the road accompanied by Ogún. Wears in any occasion golden gold. Ossãe, the lady of the leaves, was nationalized and fused herself with brazilian Caipora. Her clothes are of cotton with pink and green colours, smokes, drinks honey and cachaça. Obá, a warrior, has a remote resemblance with Joan of Arc. She is missing one of her ears, that she cooked to conquer Xangô's love. It is not known if it gave a result. She carries a sword and a shield and commonly hides with it the cut off left ear.
rum, rumpi, lê with a word
When the iaôs return to the shrine, dressed in proper clothes and shaking the symbols of orixás, everything becomes as earlier. The gods dance among the people, some greet the ones present. One sees a child in mother's lap. He expends the hands, grabs her. Looks deeply in the little face which shows no fear. Gives her back to the mother, who says thanks, relieved. There are some who smile, being condescending to the saints. And there are some who jump from their benches to start dancing. Like a girl who is sitting close to us. Throws her into the storm, into the loud noise, to the shouts, eyes inside-out. Like iaôs. Later calms down on the floor. Palms folded.
The rhythm calms down. Without people even noticing. Songs that are more dragged. Handclap styles that have more spacing. The shrine dampens. Becomes a hut again. The daughters of saint restore themselves, exhausted, dripping with sweat. As if they were waking up. The atabaques stammer, their voices die in rough throats. The orixás are permitting the candomblé to end. And it ends. The crowd leaves. Some still stay after the babalorixá and are invited to participate in the meal that is seasoned with the blood of the sacrificed animals, vatapá, caruru, chicken ragout. Or have access to peji, the sanctuary of candomblé, to pray at the feet of the gods' statues. The babalorixá smokes her cigar. Eyes full of smoke. In the end, stays alone. Everybody retires and we too, in a file to the hot night.
„i don't believe in witches, but...“
There is always this question: reality or mystification? Roger Bastide, a serious researcher and huge expert in Bahia's matters, says that "the trance of the dauthers-of-saint is, in fact, real. Everything that is done or said in the course of the fit is forgotten when woken up". Etnologist Vivaldo Costa Lima adds that "in the cycle of feasts of Xangô, in the shrine of São Gonçalo, there is an impressive cerimony, that takes place only there, where the daugthers of Xangô, possessed, dance with a pot that contains some material in flames on their heads. The fire does not sting them nor does it burn their hands with which they hold the boiling pot. Afterwards, still dancing, they swallow lit tufts of cotton soaked with oil. These proofs seen by everybody show that the trance that takes hold of them - and so that saint they have - is not simulated."
The reader can draw his own conclusions. We repeat a spanish saying: "I don't believe in the witches, but if they are there, they are there".
capoeira was for a fight
Capoeira was a real fight. Although cunning and subtle, camuflaged as dance and game. The negroes played Angola, as it was said, in front of the masters. These smiled. What a beatiful spectacle: a ballet out of program. The slaves smiled also, but this was a different smile, because the white didn't perceive that the playing can turn into a serious thing.
And it did. Sometimes it was a negro's defence against the superiority of the patron; more often it was the malandro's weapon. So far as it did please to see people's scare - then it wasn't a time for smiles any more - when a confusion started and the capoei
[framed] main candomblés
In Salvador thare are numerous (and a lot of them unknown) candomblés. The most famous is the one of Engenho Velho, in some way a forerunner of all others, being the first to take place regularly. It was founded more or less in 1830 by three negro slave women and adopted the primitive name of the Casa de Mãe Nassô. These times the white master didn't step in candomblés that were surrounded by mysteries, like being the living-quarters of the Devil or the black sourcerer's thing. But time passed, came the freeing of slaves, came other candomblés and today when one of them starts to play drums the feast all around.
Below follows a list of the main candomblés of Salvador. It should be remembered though that these are places of respect and represent for the believers the same that for you represents your church. And when you are going to take pictures ask for permission before from the owner of the shrine: many times this is prohibited because it disturbs the works. One more detail: the candomblés are not in session on concrete days, usually. That's why consult beforehand the information regarding your visit in the Department of Turism, in the lookout point on Praça da Sé.
[list of candomblés]
ras entered in action. The police had bad bites: all quarrels they had and there were rasteiras, rabo-de-arraias, to settle with the soldeirs. Capoeira was prohibited severely. But nothing came of this. It camuflaged itself once again. It looked for the help of music to show it was nothing. It went back to being dance and game. This way it survived and conquered many whites, that practiced it like today japonese fighting is practiced, for sport. A capoeira adept was even the Baron of Rio Branco, that out of all the whites that joined the game of the negroes, was without a doubt the most illustrious.
Although it sometimes acquired regional nature, which includes it's singing and dancing, authentic capoeira can still be found in Salvador. One which was brought with slaves from Africa. Among the many who had knowledge of this (and were convinced that capoeira is a dangerous fighter) were the giant north-american soldeirs that during the war appeared in Bahia. They didn't make much of mal-nourished creoles, with thin legs and were extended on the hillsides of Salvador with broken heads. Many died in action on the streets of Bahia and to this day the families of the extinct ignore (luckily) what really happened...
"Mestre" Pastinha is a dry creole, short, restless, owner of an Academy of Capoeira de Angola. His fighting-style doesn't admit regionalism; it is pure, maybe to remember its forefathers. The room is located in a house in Pelourinho, decorated by himself with pictures explaining varios kicks, "drawn by your servant, yes sir"... As mestre Pastinha explains the topic:
- Who told that a capoeirista doesn't run? He does. He is before anything a lively fighter; when the situation gets rough, he retreats to later atack again. And when running (the other behind him), he stops suddenly with a had extended; a knife in his hand. Later he will say to the police chief that he did not kill anybody: the other was running too fast and sticked himself...
- Mestre, tell us how many kicks there are in capoeira.
Pastinha does a ginga, gives a turn, stoops and suddenly: - Boy, it is not possible to say, there is no number. For every kick we give there are two defences already prepared; and for these two defences four more kicks. We improvise and think when fighting. Who doesn't think what could happen, ends up on the floor. Many times I ask a student to repeat a kick that he gave and he doesn't know any more: it was the improvisation of the moment...
- And when someone manages to grab a capoeirista, what happens?
- Grab me, boy, I'll show you. - We grabbed the master tightly and he appeared all soft, sliding, doesn't give a point to hold on. In an instant is out of the hold and gives a rasteira which if wasn't fake, we would the settled...
- Did you see how? - says he with a laugh. I don't have to tell the rest.
[framed] places of capoeira
Now a tourist attraction, capoeira has proper presentation places where you can see it. Usually they collect around Cr$ 200 for a person for a beautiful spectacle which doesn't only limit to watching; look for the leader of the group, ask for explanations, since they will feel satisfied to see that you are interested in the game.
Mestre Pastinha – Largo do Pelourinho, 19. Exhibitions on Tuesdays and Fridays from 7 in the evening; Sundays from 3 in the afternoon. The master is only ready to teach every tourist the main kicks of the game in lessons of one hour. Price Cr$ 2.000 for class and is worth it.
Canjiquinha – Department of Tourism, Belvedere da Sé. Exhibitions on Wednesdays from 8 in the evening; Sundays, from 3 in the afternoon.
Valdemar – Cortar Braço, neighborhood of Liberdade. Timetable of exhibitions: Thursdays, from 7 in the evening; Sundays from 3 in the afternoon.
Mestre Bimba (capoeira regional) – Alto do Nordeste; exhibitions on Sundays mornings.
berimbau is the greek choir
Good capoeiras played always in white. They flew through the air, crawled, rose into space, leaving Newton scratching his head, fell, spinned around. At the end of the exhibition, which could last for hours, they are impeccable, trousers and the shirt immaculate, as when they started. The rule is this: the body cannot touch the ground. There are more: the players cannot support themselves on the floor with hands and feet at the same time.
And the music is not missing. It is the greek choir of the spectacle, as a rule the verses are short, with a fast rhythm. Associating singing to the movement of the fight, the berimbau is the most important, acting as the maestro in the command of the kicks. And so when São Bento Grande plays the game is eye-catching, ample and fast, Banguela calls for a game to train kicks with a knife; Santa Maria gives notice to a low, crawling game with advances and retreats; São Bento Pequeno is the samba of capoeira; Ave Maria is the slow game; Iuna is a crawling game and Amazonas a medium-paced game. The berimbau acts also as an alarm, remembering of the times when the police prohibited capoeira. Then it plays Cavalaria, announcing the approaching of strangers.
The berimbau was played on the mouth and today it's played on the belly. A taut arc with a painted gourd on one end. The creoles hit the well-straightened cord with a copper-coin, moving the gourd closer to the stomach or removing it, which functions as resonant. The pandeiros and reco-recos are also present. Sometimes even a violin enters into play.
The kicks are many, like Pastinha says. How many, is hard to say. Raimundo Magalhães Júnior transcribes in his book „Deodoro, the sword against the Empire“, on the page of Coelho Neto something which is useful to remmember. Here it goes: "The great leaders of the gangs - guiamuns and nagôs - were proud of their fast and decisive kicks and these were, in the slang of the time: cocada, that will dislocate the comrade's mouth or when hit on the stomach, will leave him unconciously in the middle of the street with his mouth open and eyes white; grampeamento, a prick of the index finger to the eye and ending with forquilha [little fork] which made the buddy see the stars; cotovêlo em aríete [an elbow ram] to the chest or to the side; a knee-kick; a rabo-de-arraia, a kick with which
Ciríaco defeated fast, leaving him clueless, a famous japonese jiu-jitsu champion; and there were rasteiras, from the one called arranque, or tesoura, to the baixa or baiana; the canelas and ponta-pés of which some were so quick that reached the antagonist's chin with the square tip of the boot; and also bolachas; from tapa-ôlho [eye-slap] that stroke down, to the beiço arriba [lip-recuperation] that sketch the mouth to show disgust".
...and samba was born
Some (but genious) sourcerer mixed capoeira's movements, batuque of candomblé, waited a few years for this to ferment and samba was born. Uncertain, imprecise, the negroes - the inventors - didn't know exactly what it was. But the rhythm was pleasing, the creoles shaked the hips and some day, in a capoeira roda, the brigadiers stopped tired and suddenly someone who was taking the atabaque to the shrine, stopped and looked around. To animate the crown, he put his hand on the streched-out skin; the roda opened up, an excited mulatto-woman jumped to the center imitando capoeiristas and moving by her turn. The group around her liked it, threw in the hand-claps joining the hip-shaking and another, being intelligent, started a verse that the group repeated, and the mulata moved even more. And ready it was. Every day was like this: after capoeira came the roda, mulata, the atabaque, and the nice rhythm, that was addictive, was the style of the blacks, the whites, left Bahia and acquired another form, harmonized itself, becoming even more pleasing. And when it returned again to the roda that was still happening, with claps and plates that the most enthusiastic ones had invented (to give more rhythm). Some little verses had become classic: the lyrics short and the choir responding the tirade for a long time, like this:
„My cow called Laranjinha,
Your calf wants milk – bellowed!“
And the choir responds:
„Wants milk - bellowed!
Wants milk - oh, bellowed!“
Others were given strange names like partido-alto, partido-baixo, corta-jaca etc. But the new samba excited and the poor roda was relegated to second plane, being even called a child's play and appearing only at the folk-feasts and family-parties, with all of its "pure-bahian" flavor.
Then appeared Dorival Caymmi - but the correct last name should be Caimi, because Doravil has an italian great-grandfather - and the samba had its conclusion, the last and perfect beat, refined and simple at the same time. In Bahia the thing started and in a certain way also ended, because it's pretty difficult to imagine anything better than Caymmi. And to him the city of Salvador owes a lot for its popularity, because the man left there telling stories of his land, and told so well that today there are people who love Bahia without ever having been there. Dorival used to walk around in the dawn, up and down the hillsides, smelling the seabreeze, listening the creaking of the sailing boat masts. Everything inspired a song, for someone who had breathing space. And he had. So he asked: Have you been to Bahia already? No? Then go... So many things will you encounter... From 365 churches to the Abaeté lake, "the bypass of the white sand". From still water, Caymmi fell into the sea of Itapoã, close to the coconut trees that leave a yearning, disturbed by wind that throws flowers at dark-skinned girls' laps. And he saw that there are rafts that return alone, since in the end it is sweet to die on the sea, despite the lamentations of Rosinha. And when there is a raft that returns alone, there is another that goes to sea, to bring a good fish. Caymmi is a poet and also a journalist, the author of an unsurpassable musical reportage. With Dorival Caymmi Bahia deals the cards of samba. But it does not stop there, it enters the sophisticated domains of bossa-nova and surges with João Gilberto who is a master of the new beat, a Bahian gem. On the other hand, who is not bahian, feels grief and seeks forgiveness and ends up singing to Bahia, like Arí Barroso. It is one of his most fitting and famous samba, Na Baixa do Sapateiro, that entered on a Walt Disney's tape, was interpreted even by Bing Crosby, travelled aroung the world - and left many people around there dreaming with "smart dark-skinned girls".
the carnival has arrived
And the end of all this history is the bahian carnival, where the rhythms fuse, samba becomes a march and even the candomblés go to the streets in enthusiastic groups: Bahia transforms and rivals in liveliness the one in Rio de Janeiro. The thing starts with a huge feast in Rio Vermelho, the yell of the Bahia's carnival. In this occasion the groups and the first costumes already appear. Later it gets really hot. And on Saturday, at 9 in the morning leaves the first parade of groups, batucadas, afoxés (blocks of umbanda shrines), processions of big and small clubs, samba schools and music floats, in a contest for the prize of the town hall. On Praça da Sé (where the judging take place) the batucada takes people over. There are some who start to dance, mixing in with the parade-dancers. Others bring their chairs and leave these on the street where nobody bothers them. Until the dawn of the Ash Wednesday.
The first music float appeared many years ago. It so happened that in the middle of the merriment, appeared a truck with three people, one of them playing madly on an electric guitar a commercial samba. The crowd saw, liked, the music was captivating and the group joined, shaking themselves to the shrill sound of the guitar. On other days the same repeated. It was a success. In the next carnival various truck went to the street with the same number of musicians and the catching electric guitar. The people en mass accepted the innovation that from then on gained the name "trio-elétrico" (reference to the guitar). Today the success continues, although there are no more trios and full groups of packed and decorated trucks that increase by many degrees the overall happiness. And in the end of the merriment, when the Sun of the Wednesday start to shine, the trios leave the crowd. They enter via Chile street with hundreds of revellers jumping after them, bellowing a famous samba and grabbing by the legs the carnival that is escaping, until a corner turn where the truck moves on and the people stay saying goodby, when another truck comes that also withdraws and the people start the effusive samba again. This repetition that is each time more happy proceeds until all the trios have dissappeared and the devout-women appear in little jumps on the streets sprinkled with confetti, on a road to the first missa of the ashes.
[caption] Bahian carnival rivals with the one of Rio de Janeiro