TO MESTRE PASTINHA, WITH LOVE - SÃO PAULO'S CAPOEIRISTAS PAY TRIBUTE TO THE PROFESSOR
O Globo, Rio de Janeiro
Blind, more than 80 years old, almost in poverty, he is one of the treasures of our folk-culture: he's Mestre Pastinha, the greatest capoeirista of Bahia, who on the 20th will be paid tribute to in São Paulo. There, Vicente Ferreira Pastinha will be received with honour by the new Federation of Capoeira Academies.
Photo: Mestre Pastinha in his house of mud. Old age and blindness haven't defeated him.
On the 5th April of 1889, the Spanish Pastiña, living on the Tijolo Street, in Salvador, was happy: his wife had a son to whom he gave the name of Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, making the last name Portuguese to evade problems during the register.
Boy full of surprises, as the mother and the neighbours said, Vicentinho started early to take notice of the human conflicts and to think - in his manner - about the paradoxes of the force and weakness: Honorato, a lot bigger boy, didn't loose a chance to give him a beating every time he went to the grocery store to shop. Until one day, Pastinha set himself on a mission that would be of his life: to show - the words are his - that "weak is who carrying a weapon and wants to hurt others".
Payment for injustice
It was the mestre's turn, the turn of the african Benedito, who, seeing the injustice the boy was a victim of, asked if he wanted to learn capoeira. Pastinha wanted, and started to frequent the old man's house. Until Benedito, one day, said him: "Today you will go to the grocery store, and will not have fear." It was beautiful. Honorato lost as he deserved.
At night, the big boy's father knocks on Spaniard Pastiña's door to complain about what had happened. But he didn't loose composure, and limited himself only to councel the other to put his son also to learn capoeira. The complainer didn't believe him, and it was necessary to organize a demonstration, in which Vicentinho liquidated Honorato in the beginning, with a memoravel rabo-de-arraia. The result: the two "old men" became friends, and the two boys never fought again.
In 1902, the future Mestre Pastinha entered to the School of Naval Apprenticeship, where he stayed until 1910 and learned the painter's profession. In 1911 he managed to realize his dream: he opened a capoeira academy, in Pelourinho. And until today the academy is there, in the same address - Pelourinho, 19 [M Pastinha actually opened his academy there only in 1955 - velhosmestres.com].
Today, Pastinha doesn't fight any more. He is poor, old, suffered a coronary four years ago. But the light and paradoxical spirit of capoeira has other ways except the mere physical, to express himself. It's not a thing - only - of arms and legs, but a certain quality that adheres to the man and changes his life.
Moreover it's a way to see the life, that the eye-blindness doesn't destroy, and that expresses itself also in the blazing aforisms like a fast kick. For example: "Man's weapons are the arms and legs that God gave him. Mostly legs, that also serve to run"; or yet: "The important is not to be where your adversary hits you."
The philosophy that commonly only has the way to manifest itself verbally, and that was always Pastinha's thing, or better, was always Pastinha himself. By it can be explained how a man who had such an irregular life (four wives, because "he always needed someone to look after his clothes") would at the same time be so domestic, so loving, with his many children and inumeral grandchildren, to whon he seeks to transmit some of his art.
It so that to Pastinha, as well as Mestre Bimba and to other great capoeiristas, the value of life isn't in the institutions or rigid forms of relationships, doesn't resides in the theorical and abstract, but does in the eternal newness of the moment in which the body moves itself in the middle of things. Pastinha wouldn't know how to make this frase; he makes more - he lives it, and seeks, old and blind as he is, to teach others to live it.
Where does capoeira come from, nobody knows for sure. For some, such as Cámara Cascudo, this form of fighting had been introduced in Brazil by the Angolan slaves; others sugest that it came over the sea in a type of a dance, and was only here adapted for the martial means. What one can't deny is that capoeira is truly a brazilian thing, the only sport that is indeed brazilian.
The social structure of the colonial Brazil, rigidly divided to slaves and free men, was without a doubt a factor in the technical formation of capoeira, characterized by a continuos dodging, by the recusal of body-to-body: against the armed opressor, the most urgent thing was to evade the kick, to get low and to ginga, before reacting.
Since the beginning of the 19th century, there are references to capoeira, mostly in its spreading centers - Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and Recife. Already then it had penetrated in the higher classes - there were even friars-capoeiristas -, and it had become the marginals' activity. The capoeira gangs, mostly in Rio, were a public threat.
Silvio Romero qualifies, in the second half of the past century, this art as "cancer", informing that its practitioners "use razors as weapons and know how a game of jumps, kicks and headbutts". This type of criminal capoeira, characterized by [..] was made practically extinct by the Police chief Sampaio Ferraz, who, during the year of 1890, took his forces to war, seizing capoeiristas, rich and poor, white and black, criminal or not.
In Bahia, capoeira kept a more sportive or ritualistic character, without loosing its efficiency as a fight. Only there would you encounter a union of music with the bodily game, one of the more emphasized originalities of capoeira, among other martial arts of various peoples. Only there are conserved or developed the elements that make capoeira an excellent method - still as a potential - of physical education, in the broader sense of the expression.
But the bahian capoeira, despite the effor of some people, who seek with difficulty to take it back to Rio and spread it all over Brazil, is in peril. It so that the official support is almost nil, and that the sportive attitude of the youngsters of judo, karate and what not other imported art is in fashion.
Such situation is grave, because a thing such as capoeira isn't born again once it dies: she resides in the mind and the body of the mestres, such as Pastinha and Bimba, and not in any theory that could be transmitted by words or even by cinema. [..]
Photo: Pastinha teaches the boy – maybe one of his grandsons - his startling agility.