Pastinha the last capoeirista
Jornal do Brasil
Rio de Janeiro
15th February 1974
- I was born predestined to a mission: to fight capoeira. I won hundreds of adversaries, formed more than 10 thousand students. To my academy came people from soldier to colonel, from a worker to the writer, from medic to a sick boy who needed exercise to develop the joints. I'm still here by God's wish. And I know he's not going to leave me like this.
A contemporary of Bigode de Seda, Tibiriçá, Antonio Braço Grosso and Bezouro, names that today are real legends in Bahia, as good as any of them, Mestre Pastinha is now, with Bimba's death, the last of the capoeiristas of a generation that was early condemned to live only off the glory of books, newspapers and folk stories that ran from mouth to mouth in the four corners of Salvador.
At 85 years of age, blind, ill and without a place to establish a new Academy - which was taken by the government - Mestre Pastinha still has strenght to dance and fight capoeira better than any of the youngsters with tight adolescent muscles, as Jorge Amado says. But disillusioned with the friends and authorities that abandoned him, he dreams to use capoeira only to conquer the misery of a damp and suffocating flat in which he lives in the Pelourinho neighborhood, in a slum tenement where more that 100 people have been piled up and squeezed themselves in rooms full of rats, cockroaches and leaks.
Photo: 85 years of age, blind and without hope
Salvador – On the Laranjeiras Street, in Pelourinho, a black boy, strong, with rough and large hands, is ironic about the courage of a little skinny mulatto boy, who he had been beating up for years. There was no quarrel. The only person who sees all is the stronger boy's mother, who from the window of the house seeks to ridicule even more his son's adversary: "What a stupid boy, doesn't get tired of getting beaten up".
Five minutes were sufficient for the little mulatto to win the fight, using rabos-de-arraia, leg kicks and a vionent headbutt. From this day on the strong black boy didn't appear on the Laranjeiras street any more. The little mulatto went on to visit gambling houses, joined the Marines, got to know women, painted walls and paintings, became famous as a capoeirista.
Sitting on a bench descolored by time, green shirt and light blue pants that are too big for his small skinny body, the feet without shoes almost touching the cold cement with the tip of his toes. Vicente Ferreira, Pastinha, the last of the capoeiristas de Angola, preserves at 85 years of age an excellent memory and doesn't think to use any longer the kicks and cunning that he learned in the canzuá of Mestre Benedito to overcome strong men that used to laugh at his fragile and harmless looks. He simply wants to overcome the hunger.
Blind, ill and without a place to establish a new Academy since the state government requisitioned the floor which he occupied on the Pelourinho Square, Pastinha, besides hunger that many of his old students are trying to scare away with little offers of greens, milk and meat, is facing the forgetfulness of old friends and authorities that used to fawn over him. However he doesn't complain and prefers to speak little about the bad times to "keep the bad luck away", certain that Oxalá, his guide and protector, will illuminate again his path giving back his strength, the students and the Academy.
RATS, COCKROACHES AND COLD
We the Capoeiristas have a big soul
That grows with happiness
There are some who have a small soul
And live as waters in agony
At 85 years of age, Mestre Pastinha doesn't have many joys besides the cigarettes that he gets as presents or ask to buy with the small change that he manages to save from the Cr$ 300 of a pension paid by the town hall. He lives in a narrow room, full of holes in the wall, where besides the bed, the wardrobe and the only and rough bench he has room only for the old berimbau from which he sometimes pulls sharp and sad sounds.
He is used to spend entire days sitting on the porch of flat number 2, that he divides with his actual companion Dona Maria Romelia, rats, cockroaches and fleas. The room is in front of the old house of Pelourinho hillside, a little above the place where for many decades operated his Academy, today the building being reformed to give room to a hotel of an international category.
When I left there I didn't receive any compansation, because I had the governor's and mayor's promise that I would get it back when Pelourinho's recuperation works ended. But nothing! They didn't give me back the place and even took everything that I was keeping there: atabaques, berimbaus, medals, furniture and even the Academy register. If I were 20 years younger and weren't blind, I would open my Academy in anothe place in Pelourinho, that was always my world, and would resume to teach. But my body doesn't let me any more.
Capoeira de Angola is good
It's history continues
Pastinha maintains, shouts and echoes
Capoeirista doesn't deny his value
Pastinha was born on 5th April 1889. His father, José Sinó Pastinha, was a spaniard who sold dry and wet goods. His mother, Dona Maria, was a strong black woman, ex-slave, who liked to tell stories and didn't want to see the son get into trouble. "But I was never too attached to the family. Since little I lived getting into capoeira rodas. At 12 years of age I already taught the fight in the Marines, where I worked for some time as a civilian. With capoeira I freed myself from the chains that connected me to the family and the men who lived to persecute me only because I was short, brave and fast".
When 21 Pastinha had a gambling house, a few wonen, taught capoeira on the street, shined shoes, sold sweets, newspapers, painted paintings and was often forced to ask for help from Jorge Amado's family to escape the police because of the fights.
- Capoeirista never told anybody what he thought. He was an astute and cunning guy, as the fight itself, that disguised inside the dance to survive after it came from Angola. It was swell to see the strong guys go too far, full of talk, playing around and tease the folks in the parties, to be in a few minutes flat on the ground, trembling and calling for the police, who when they arrived also entered samba.
When he remembers the past, Pastinha seems to go back in time. The old man and the boy come mixed in one person and his speech becomes stronger, his body stiff and he still full of vigor jumps forward, drawing lines in the air with his hands, as if these were representing the kicks that in the past he knew how to apply. But the tiredness and the reality arrive in a few seconds and he sits down silently, with eyes closed and legs close together.
FEELING ONE'S WAY IN THE DARKNESS
Capoeira tears the vein of the beast
In the conviction of faith against the slavery
Sweet voice, your sons heroes
Capoeira love the abolition
A talker, thorough when he explains capoeira things, "with more than a thousand kicks, most of them deadly", becoming reserved when he talks about the family that doesn't even remember him, and about the authorities who have forgotten him. Pastinha has temperament that is almost always calm, but he can become enraged and turn himself into a bull if anybody tries to question his leadership.
- Stay here, you are also a capoeirista and can help me to remember many things. Don't leave just yet. Answer the guy all the wants to know, because I'm already tired and have to stop for a bit - says Pastinha to the old student who came to see him having heared a rumour about his death. "I haven't died yet and, because of this, everybody is my student", he asserts.
His leadership is and always was indisputable, although he autodefines himself as "a naive person with a stupid face". Jorge Amado is one of the only friends who haven't forgotten him and are always attentive to see if he needs medicine, a doctor or something to eat. It was him who had to interfere together with the mayor so that the Mestre wouldn't loose - with the recent extiction of the Tourism Bureau of Salvador - the pension of Cr$ 300 that he receives "for the services rendered to the tourism", his only source of support (from this money he pays Cr$ 120 for the rent of the flat and Cr$ 30 for light).
- When I was a boy - he says - before the blood congestion that left me blind, I was influencial: I had money and prestige. Now, I think I am part of the past, although many things still need my opinion, of my knowledge and my presence.
- What a funny life! The fame came to me as if I wasn't prepared. In the beginning, I felt a certain vanity and thought: great, everybody is talking about me, everybody needs me, a little mulatto boy, descendent of slaves. It's dreadful to find out that it's all false, that from everything the only real thing was capoeira.