„PASTINHA: A GOOD OR BAD CAPOEIRISTA?“
11th April 1976
His students have no doubt when the talk about the mestre:
- He is the best capoeirista of Brazil. After Bimba died, only this generation of quarrelling "angoleiros" stayed: Bigode de Seda, Bugalho, Américo Ciência, Bezouro, Tibiriçá, Amorzinho, Três Pedaços, Doze Homens, Inimigos Sem Tripa, Zé do U, Sete Mortes, Chico Me Dá, Júlia Fogareira and Maria Homem.
The ethnologist Waldeloir Rego, 44 years old, authoer of "Capoeira Angola" - considered one of the most serious scholars about capoeira in Brazil - has convictions that are as firm, when he ironically affirms:
- He is a capoeirista like any other, with one difference: he is a real capoeira prince. He got the only pension paid by the government to a capoeirista, three minimum salaries monthly.
When he was in shape he had a lot of students and was very respected in capoeira. Jorge Amado, in "Bahia de Todos os Santos" wrote:
"He is a small mulatto, of astonishing agility, of uncommon stamina. When he starts to "play around", the onlookers' impression is that this poor old man, of white hair, will fall in two minutes, taken down by the young adversary or by running out of breath. But, uh! the merry and blind deception! none of this happens. The adversaries come one after another, one youngster, another, Pastinha's disciples or colleagues, he wins them all and gets never tires, never runs out of breath, not ever when he dances the samba de Angola."
The contradiction in the positions reveals the man: Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, 87 years old, ex-civil worker of the Navy, ex-wall painter, ex-bookie, ex-hooligan, ex-gambling den bouncer, ex-peddler and ex-most famous capoeirista of Brazil. He is the last capoeirista de Angola of Brazil, known all over the Country. He doesn't have successors or students: three years ago he lost his famous academy, the Sport Center of Angola, as a consequence of Pelourinho's works. Blind, wihtout strength and with a few students, survives pursuing the dream to get a new academy, to return to teach and "recuperate my prestige", in a stuffy and dirty room, that's infested with rats and fleas, in a colonial house on the Pelourinho square.
Even from the tourists who look for him mestre Pastinha doesn't hide his dream. But he doesn't talk about his misery:
- I was born predestined to a mission: to fight capoeira. I won hundreds of adversaries, formed more than 10 thousand students. Through my academy passed people from the colonel to the worker, from the soldier to the politician, from the writer to the servant, from the medic to the sick boy who needed practise to develop the joints. And I'm still here as a God's wish. He, I know, will not leave me to live like this forever. I can still fight.
VICENTE FERREIRA PASTINHA, or simply Pastinha, how he is called in the capoeira rodas, was born to 5th April 1889, in Salvador. He's not or ever was the best capoeirista of Bahia: only his well advanced age and his extreme devotion to capoeira have made it so that until recently he still practised the game, but nothing extraordinary. He played as any good capoeirista, only his age meant something out of ordinary. It was this what he became known for, even famous, mainly after the advent of the official tourism institution in Bahia" (From book "Capoeira Angola").
The people of Pelourinho - where everybody knows to point to the flat in house number 14 in which the mestre lives, next to the luxorious hotel and close to the house which was transformed to a luxorious restaurant of international category - don't hide their worries:
- The mestre was a victim of the fate. Will die poor, sick, but famous.
The tourists, who don't conform to see Pastinha "abandoned like that", resort to the legend that his name created to better understand what they feel or imagine to feel.
- I've heard say that he is the best capoeirista of Brazil, of all time - says one tourist.
One of the oldest companions of mestre Pastinha, Eliviano Diogo Sacramento, 78 years old, doesn't contain himself:
- The history of capoeira in Brazil will never be written before consulting Pastinha first. He is the biggest alive authority on the subject. This group of boys that live playing capoeira are a bunch of liers, who falsify capoeira: the real capoeira is Angola and who knows capoeira de Angola is Pastinha.
Intellectuals who like him talk enthusiastically about his style: Jorge Amado in his book "Bahia de Todos os Santos" says that Pastinha is "the best and the most perfect fighter of capoeira Angola of Bahia".
- Jorge Amado, once, said that I was unfair with Pastinha in my work "Capoeira Angola", but what could I do? Pastinha is really a common capoeirista and can never be compared with "Besouro", for example. "Besouro", yes, was an exceptional man - affirms Waldeloir Rego.
And he goes further: says that among Pastinha's students there are better capoeiristas than the mestre in his good time. One example: his "contramestre" (instructor) João Grande.
The capoeiristas of the regional fight - created by Bimba, who died in Goiânia after leaving Bahia "for the lack of incentives" - say that Pastinha "is nothing", that "he only knows how to dance". The capoeiristas de Angola reply: "Bimba was the subversive of the art, he made everything to descharacterize it. The people of regional only know how to talk, but they are nothing".
Maria Romélia, the mestre's wife, is not worried with none of this:
- You come here every day to film Pastinha's misery, to write, to take notes for the reports and books, but nobody remembers to make a list, to take out money and give it to him to rebuild his academy. The TV could make a good job and help the old man. What help is there to discuss if he is or not a great capoeirista? What is important is the contribution that Pastinha gave to Bahia, the image that he helped to create. And only this.
One thing is certain: the indifference is the only feeling that Pastinha doesn't arouse. And it was always like this.
- I am like a spider weaving its web to live. I don't have anything against anybody.
And he laughed as if he was remembering some funny thing. None of this, he only wants to talk against the transformation of capoeira into sport, the distancing from its roots. And starts to talk about the "zebra game", a feast which was organized in Angola, centuries ago, as a tribute to the virgins. Before, they were "operated" by the priests so that they would become like the married women. Afterwards, chosed by the winners of a violent fight - which would be capoeira's origin - engaged between the men, with many kicks and headbutts.
- I don't know if this is truth or myth. But I can guarantee: the today's capoeiristas liked the "zebra game" alot, even though they don't even remotely look like the ones from the past. Uh! Good times these were...
Pastinha doesn't like to talk about the past. - Not because I feel sad, seeing my trembling hands and the legs a little weak, that are no longer capable to draw lines in the air with sufficient agility to knock down adversaries. But due to the fear that they will use my memories to publish some book and I would not get anything.
- My memories I would give for free only to two ex-students and great friends of mine. Two people that I love: Jorge Amado and Wilson Lins, nobody else. Jorge Amado has never stopped to help me, not even in the times that I was a tough nut. His father always helped me. And Wilson Lins, when he was a parlament member, also didn't forget about me. He helps me until today.
It was Jorge Amado who interfered directly together with the ex-mayor Cleriston Andrade so that last year Pastinha could get an official pension.
Mestre's past as capoeirista started 71 years ago, when he learned to fight in the "canzua" of mestre Benedito on the Laranjeiras Street to stand up to a strong black boy with large hands, who lived to threaten him.
- It was a fast fight. He block my way and I still remember that his mother mocked my courage. I gave two leg kicks and a rabo-de-arraia. The fight was over right there, the strong black boy never wanted to quarrel with me. He even became my friend. There is also another version of the fight: beaten, the strong black boy stopped to come to Pelourinho and never crossed paths with the mestre.
"Angola, mother-capoeira. The slave's sorcery in longing for freedom; its beginning has no method; its end is inconceivable to the wisest capoeirista" (the old inscription from Pastinha's famous academy that he keeps in his unsteady and dirty room that he live in, in Pelourinho).