In Bahia, capoeira has its king
O Estado de S. Paulo
16th November 1969
Luiz Roberto de Sousa Queiróz
It's night in Salvador; on the old hillsides of Pelourinho people have already went to sleep, but there is still sound. The berimbaus are playing in one of the houses, the pandeiro too, an old man is drumming the atabaque giving rhythm. Light, from an oil-lamp only is lining the shadows that play rapidly capoeira, which with its kicks is making the large floor planks vibrate. For the old man, there is only this vibration, the sound. Pastinha, "capoeira Angola mestre, with the bahian warmth, the being of high civilization, a people's man with all his craftiness", as Jorge Amado described him, is playing the atabaque, that he doesn't see.
The eyes fixed to the front without seeing, for him there is only the floor's vibration. Pastinha, "the first is his art, an agile and brave gentleman, of loyalty and fatherly familiarity", is bling, but teaching capoeira still, in a room where the light only comes back with the payment, where, soon, the eviction order comes. It's a night in Pelourinho, but for the dull catharact eyes, for the biggest capoeira mestre, for "one of its famous, one of its chiefs", there's been a night for a long time already.
In the room that Pastinha doesn't see, his students are playing. It's mestre João Cobra Mansa [Tame Snake], the name indicating his speciality, he plays capoeira low, always slithering on the floor. With him fights the contra-mestre João Gavião [Hawk], who plays in the air, the legs whirling high, fast, in search of the crack in the guard for the "chapa-de-frente", for the rabo-de-arraia. Pastinha leaves the atabaque, it's time to smoke the cigar, time to tell the stories of such a long time, of 80 years he's lived already.
The old mestres
„I had many mestres, the old africans who taught me, I came from amongst them, I know that capoeira is from Africa, but evolved further in Brazil, today here is better. They were from Angola, the fight is from there, and they were very good people. At night, body resting from fighting, the people sat like now, the mestres were telling stories, now who tells them is me. They had a lot of sorrow, they were employed by the portuguese to work in Brazil, with payment, they said that only on board of ships they knew that were not employed, that were cheated, that were turning into slaves. We learned with them, felt the despise that they had for the portuguese, were sorry when a good mestre told about his family that he would not see any more, from Africa, about missing it".
I don't know about the eviction, I'm unaware of it. My part of the room, I only use at night, it's 30 new cruzeiros; the others were late, I paid, but now they don't want to receive it any more, don't gather any more and I don't pay, but I understand they can't put us on the street. Lights are the problem, they cut the power 3 months ago, the ones that rent with me don't have money to pay, the Company doesn't turn it back on, it's a pity. With the electricity light, not with the oil-lamp, I could even see the shadows of capoeiristas, like figures playing. With the oil-lamp I don't see anything. It's a pity, but it's God's will. Yes, the poor lives out of stubornness. The Town Hall gives me a pension, a minimum salary, it always helps, it was Jorge Amado that got it for me.
Children, I have only 3 of my blood, but have raised 15, I'm like this, an ofran and abandoned child is with me, if the governmetn let me raise them, I'd raise all the children in the world, pity I can't see them any more, also the 80 years is not too little and I had a vively life, now it's over.
But lets talk about capoeira. Today, she is breaking up, there's too many capoeiras, regional, stilized, the real one, according to my understanding, is only Angola. The tourism was the bad thing, everybody wants to see capoeira, so many mestres who don't know anything have appeared, they are not mestre, it's sad to see this.
The deadly fight
In the beginningit was good. Capoeira was a real fight, was a deadly fight. Because of this it can't be sport. Every kick kills, a "chapa-de-frente" in the chest stops the heart, it's not like judo, an arm-lock, can be, opened little-by-little. For the capoeirista to fight you have to kick with force, mortally. For this capoeira nowadays is played, the distance bigger that normal, but slower, for not to hit, for not to kill anybody.
Senzala and quilombo, the cradles of the fight
For Pastinha, capoeira owes a lot to the indians. The africans came with developed capoeira from Angola, but there was also some Congo, some Mozambique. Pastinha tells: "Yes, to see the history, you have become legendary. They say that the ginga is from there, the body game, but it it was of little use as defence, and only here they found how to turn everything into the fight, make the sequences". From the indians, in the Palmares quilombo, in contact with them on the sugarcane farms, capoeira gained new kicks, mainly defences, as the negativa, the backside fall, the defence with hands.
It stopped being only a fight of attacks, it gained defences, even the music changed.
„In Africa berimbau was a bow in the form of an S, with a plant fibre string, without the resonance box. Here, it adopted the indian bow, the steel wire, the resonance box made of gourd, it became the Belly-Berimbau, it gained the caxixi which is a rattle, it also became a weapon.
Capoeirisat uses a small scythe in his pocket. When it's the "Cavalaria rhythm" time, which is the signal of the police arriving, made by berimbau, the player takes the instrument appart, uses the wire as a launching handle and the scythe is put to the end, but all this was in the old days, when the police broke any berimbau that appeared on the street. Capeoeirista was a fighter, troublemaker. Today it's not like this anymore".
„It's been a long time, it was in 1941. Capoeirista was persecuted, the fight was prohibited, I was called to form a group, to organize everything in the right way, to make capoeira moral. It was me who created the Sport Centre of Capoeira Angola, I started to teach in the right way, as game and as fight, but with philosophy, capoeirista shouldn't look for a street fight, only to defend himself if needed. I had a lot to teach, I myself started 10 years old, I'm still living and learning".
„I registered capoeira, formed the statute, baptized, put a president in the Centre, he today is the president of the Assembly, organized. But if this was good, it was bad also, the tourism got interested, capoeira today is talked about too much, everybody wants to understand and understands nothing. Now tell me, if capoeira was born in Bahia, the source is from here, how is it that the other states take it, organize it, and it's lost here? It's wrong".
„But there are good mestres, we could, with help, organize a Federation, a contest, only the ones who pass it would become new mestres. There's Antonio de Maré, Levino Diogo, Noronha Daniel, Eulâmpio, Domingos de Magalhães, not me, I don't see any more, but these mestres could make a good work".
„Today, I only have a small book [..] and they left us a lot, but what I wrote, the africans [..] when our time to leave comes, what are the today's old men leave behind? Our students are only for tourist and what is not the real capoeira?".
Pastinha stops for a while, waits for someone to light his cigar. Later, he continues: "Today, capoeira has changed. I pulled it from the low, from the middle of the street, when the only thing important was not to touch the ground because it got all dirty. Today still you don't lean on it, only use hands and feet, but you don't have to. Capoeira is in the rooms, it entered the society, it went up the stairs. There are so many good people today, playing, and there is help. If someone would offend you, if an impostor would enter your home, your wife, your son, all could fight and defend your integrity. It was me, Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, who managed this, with a lot of help, but it was me. And we could have a beautiful thing, well organized, which could even be exported".
Blind only from eyes, Pastinha has faith
There's been 2 years that Pastinha doesn't see. He also talks about the bad things. About my sight, I can only say: "beneath God, the men of good will". If there was a man, a doctor that would truly believe in his profession, he would operate me, save a sight that could, the left is better, but I don't have resources: the world's name today is money. Yes, I already looked for a doctor, but at the same time they have a change of heart, they look and say that there is no way, and send me away.
But I have faith, tomorrow maybe my sight comes back, which would allow me to sign my name, to make our daily bread, without others putting it in my mouth. Who believes in God, believes in himself. See I had an attack of nerves, the leg stopped, but I believed and today I walk.
Pastinha stands up slowly, is guided by one of his sons to the middle of the room and plays capoeira alone to show that the leg is good. His 55 kilos whirl in the middle of the room, the feet looking for an adversary that is not there.
Fear of the congress
Now, there was a Capoeira "Symposium" in Rio, supported by the Boxing Federation of Rio de Janeiro. Pastinha was invited, but didn't want to go. He had to record the voice for the Museum of Image and Sound, but didn't like it. He thought that the new capoeiristas wouldn't want to have dialogue, wouldn't want to reunite capoeira, would continue the division to "Angola", "Regional", "Stilized" and many other. With the blindness, he believed he would be overpowered.
Pastinha stops to talk. The cigar has died out. A student takes him again to the place of the atabaque, that he embraces with this legs. The hands start to beat the rhythm, slowly. In his party, squatting, sweatting, two students bless themselves after touching the ground. The listen to the muisc in silence and after that the legs are rising, the head protected between the arms, the only support, the bodys attack eachother slowly, later faster. A capoeirista jumps, goes into handstand, the other falls to a negativa, the berimbaus play faster, the game is violent.
The rhythm of the atabaque is for the violent, for the fastest possible game. The choir sings "uai / uai / when he kicks / I want to see him fall" - Pastinha hits hard on the atabaque, the eyes are looking to see and don't manage. Only the feet, touching the ground, feel the vibration of the floor planks, which indicate that there are bodies fighting, falling, jumping, what show to the great mestre that in the night of Pelourinho capoeira has not stopped yet.