A negro boy, with berimbau is his hand, a lively smile in the corner of his mouth, points the tourists to the old man huddling on the bench, two hands on the head to protect it from the hard wood:
„THIS IS MESTRE PASTINHA“
Jornal do Brasil
17th April 1978
Antônio Jorge Moura
Photo by Artur Ikssima
Salvador: „Guardian of capoeira de Angola", as the writer Jorge Amado calls him, "the conservative element and the prop of the genuine dance-fight of the slaves", according to the observation of the visual artist Caribé, or simply a character from the historical hillsides and life of suffering of Maciel and Pelourinho, Mestre Pastinha - Vicente Ferreira Pastinha - on Wednesday (5th April) became 89 years old and 81 of these dedicated to capoeira.
Pastinha is blind already for 15 years and 10 without a capoeira academy. The body is stooped by old age, but preserves lucid memories, expresses legitimate values which he inherited from the blacks through capoeira and he holds bitter complaints with the directors and organs which are responsible for the valorization and preservation of the cultural patrimony on Bahia.
The house where his capoeira Angola academy operated, shelters today the Senac's restaurant of typical foods. On the straight hillside of Pelourinho, in another house in a dark corridor, which smells of mould, on the path the collective bathroom of the inhabitants of the house (number 14), an old man is stretched out on a wooden bench, having a nap his mouth open, remembered by the young boys who show him to get some money from the visitors, is the guardian of capoeira, the preservative prop of the blacks' inheritance and a character of life suffered on the slippery hillsides, of the decadent houses that belonged to the sugarmill owners.
EI maió é Deus/Ei maió é Deus/Pequeno sou eu/O que eu tenho/Foi Deus quem deu/Na roda de capoeira ha-ha/grande-pequeno sou eu/Grande-pequeno sou eu.
The sound of the berimbau, accompanied by the rhythm of the "mouth of the bench" pandeiro, and the choir of a few friends that came to embrance him made the emotional the small-big old man, small by physique, but big in the capoeira roda. Pastinha was born in 1889 and learned capoeira with Benedito, a free black, his neighbor, at eight years of age. These were the times of groups of vagabonds, of police persecution of the blacks' manifestations. "There were no mestres or teachers in capoeira. There were groups that liked to play around", remembers Mestre Pastinha.
The house number 14 in Pelourinho - where the slaves were beaten - is packed with more than a dozen families, separated in their private lives by fragile and untrustworthy wooden hardboards. In the entrance operates a sandal-maker's store. In front there's staircase and to the left is the corridor. In two flats under the staircase, with less than 10 square metres for each, live Mestre Pastinha, his wife, Maria Romélia Costa Oliveira - dona Nice - three daughters - Riamunda, 20 years old; Angélica, 17; and Cristina, seven, and three grandchildren - Cristino, six; Antônio Raimundo, three; and Anne, of one year and eight months.
Mestre Pastinha was among the first to be relocated, in 1967 [1977?], due to the start of the recuperation of Pelourinho. The house was emptied by the town hall of Salvador and Senac to give space to the restaurant. The academy, which he preserved despite the blindness, was finished. All the capoeira objects - 14 wooden benches, berimbaus, atabaques, agogôs, reco-recos, oil paintings by him, books and academy registries, letters, foreign correspondecies, flags, the coat of arm of the academy, jacarandá furniture - disappeared, despite being left under the watch of the responsibles for the expropriation. According to his assertion, he was the only occupant of the building who didn't receive compensation for the eviction.
- Mestre Pastinha deserves an exceptional situation in Bahia. He is a great master of our pop culture and should be supported by the public powers and by the population, so that he could live with dignity. All the culture of Bahia, all of its importance, is forged by his connection with the folk and Pastinha, besides being a grea master of this culture, is an invaluable guardian of what is capoeira de Angola - asserts the writer Jorge Amado.
Pastinha was also a sailor. He went to the Marines of War, where all the mischievous boy went - "Boy, you'll go to the Marines to straighten you out". He spent eight years learning the art of war. He left in 1910, and was then a tailor, joiner, mason, carpenter and above all, capoeirista. He painted oil paintings, one of which is kept by the visual artist Caribé - Vicente Pastinha, his Academy, in 1958. [..] He established the academy in 1942 [in Brotas – velhosmestres.com], after taking care of many capoeira rodas.
- The secret of capoeira dies with me and many others. Some thing stays alive. Capoeira isn't mine, it comes from the africans. God gave it to them. From the africans there were some things left for me. I inherited some things. I'm the heir of the africans' art. But capoeira is brazilian, it's national, national patrimony. The sorcery of the slaves is african-brazilian, because it's from the africans in Brazil - he says slowly.
MESTRE Pastinha preserves the standards od capoeira de Angola and affirms it to be the legitimate. Another great capoeirista, Mestre Bimba, dead by now, created capoeira regional, introducing to it elements of other fights and variations to the rhythm of berimbau music. "I don't know what regional is. I know what is Angola. The angoleiros' only one. There are hundreds of kicks. All are kicks of Angola. Considering all the fighting styles, all have kicks of Angola. Box has sequencies, football has capoeira exercises, the greco-roman wrestling has kicks of Angola. So to describe all the fighting styles, capoeira is the father and mother of all of them. It says it all".
This preserving of values and genuine elements of capoeira de Angola that Mestre Pastinha defends, become a hard if not impossible task, with the intesification of the tourism industry. The folkloric groups organized by the academies themselves stylize the turns, the ginga, the sorcery, with elements of modern dance and ballet. Capoeira Angola "is a beautiful dance, the only musical fight. In the songs a little of Bahian and Brazilian history", observes Caribé the artist.
Eu estava lá em casa/ Sem pensá sem maginá/ E vieram me buscá/ pra ajudá a vencer/ a Guerra do Paraguá ha-ha.
Under a bread-fruit tree, on the corner that has little movement, attentive to the trot of the cavalry, in the shrine at the back of the house, the groups of stonemasons, dockers, the malandragem, businessmen, doctors - "under a cloth or out in the open", workers of all colors reunite on Saturdays and Sundays to dance capoeira. "The philosophy was to play in white clothes and not to dirty yourself. Some used a straw hat, light, but didn't let it fall. There're even kicks of Angola with the hat. What sorcery! It was art, personal rules. They used morning suits, top hats, fur hats."
- They described the double-dealing: "Only the crooks play capoeira". The same thing happened with candomblé. Capoeira was hated by the police, by the governors, ministers and lots of other high-up people. But I've sustained the truth until today, with the help of my buddys who played capoeira and the folks that accompanied. When I went to minister a roda, I said to the boys: "I'll set you up in the society". This in front of more than 50 students.
- Capoeira is loving, capoeira is not perverse as many people think and do - says Pastinha - Capoeira is a custom as any other. A polite custom that we created among our spirits. The negro's dance, a vagrant thing of Saturdays and Sundays, but one which we liked.
Pastinha stops and says he will tell a story, "to show them that capoeira is not a deadly thing to be used to break your friends are or even kill".
- There was a capoeirista called Velocidade, ve-lo-ci-da-de [Speed]. Do you know what a capoeirista called Velocidade is like? Very well. We were in a roda in Bigode. We jumped here and there, and I got hit on the side of my face. I went to sleep. When I woke up, he said: "Forgive me Pastinha". I fell asleep again. I got up and he did not want to play any more. I said: No, lets play for five more minutes. We played and suddenly he was stretched out on the ground, my foot touching his face. The guys were saying: "Hold him tight, Pastinha". I left him with wide eyes, did nothing. I'm a mestre, I've taken a fall in capoeira, but have injured a friend.
- And capoeira as negro's weapon of defence?
- I prefer to stay silent about this. In my time, if I had the need to use it, I did. But these people don't know what this is. Some have it as folklore, some as a vagabond amusement and others have capoeira as a value as it was preserved. It's a secret that comes from the very soul of the negro. But they are doing acrobacy. Everything that has a beginning, has an end. It's the slave's sorcery. Capoeira is the nickname and the slave's sorcery dies with the slaves.
In the corridor of house number 14, Mestre Pastinha, lying down, is huddling on the only wooden bench, that he saved from the academy. Dona Nice makes the food and the dough of the acarajé. She sells it in the Pelourinho hotel - "we live where today is the hotel, a guest house of the high-up" - in Farol da Barra or in Fonte Nova during the football days. The negro boy, berimbau in his hand, a lively smile in the corner of his mouth, enters and points to the huddling old man, both hands behind his head to protect it from the hard wood: "This is Mestre Pastinha".
Dona Nice, untrusting, shuffles the blackend pans and cleans the stove which is in the same room with the bed. A young girl comes closer and says: "Mestre Pastinha, I am Chiquinha from Rio de Janeiro. I learned that you were here. The folk thought you were dead". Pastinha opens his toothless mouth with a smile. "Of course, they think that I died, because I am old and have nothing more to give", a the voice scrapes with sorrow the rough throat.
To Jorge Amado, Pastinha is the victim of "countless crooks, that want to exploit his name". Caribé and the director of the Patrimony Foundation of Pelourinho, Mário Mendonça, see in dona Nice a fundamental factor in Pastinha's life. She doesn't let them study him. When she can, she gives it to him. But the Mestre is always mocking her vigilance - "The spider lifes off the web" - shrewd. "Lying here, sitting, lying, sitting, eating, drinking, hearing the talk of who want to know capoeira and write books about capoeira".
Eeeeeuu tenho dois menino/que se chama joão/ Eeeeeuu tenho dois menino/Que se chama joão/Um é cobra mansa/Outro gavião/Um enrosca pelo ar/ E o outro pelo chão/ Camará.
- How many men want to write a book, a romance about the world. It will not take them 50 or 100 years to make a good book about capoeira. One says one thing, the other contradicts and it becomes a mess, a lie, a bedlam among them. Nobody gets what's right, because I don't tell everything. I say half, other capoeiristas say the opposite what I say. Many guys to capitulate capoeira go from here to São Felix, Maragogipe, Santo Amaro da Purificação, to all the places there's capoeiristas. But some say the opposite of others and this won't put things straight.
AT 89 years of age, Pastinha receives only a pension of three minimum salaries (Cr$ 2 thousand 400) from the town hall of Salvador. It's the only support of the old capoeirista, mestre of Angola, heir to the slaves' sorcery. The director of the Pelourinho Foundation, Mário Mendonça, says that Mestre Pastinha is interested in the institution "as the people of the Maciel. We have turned to other people in the area, who are being relocated to recuperate the house".
„Pastinha, of everything that was, an immense respect remains. I know that his situation is the worst possible, the same as most of the people of Maciel and Pelourinho." A plan exists in the heads of the technicians and sociologists of the Foundation: to reorganize the Angola Academy of Mestre Pastinha. The best way to reopen it, says Mário Mendonça, is to officialize it, so that half of the revenue from students would go to Pastinha. According to Jorge Amado this would keep away "the opportunists and would let Pastinha to live with dignity and not as a animal".
The idea is feasible, according to Mário Mendonça, but depends on the space, that after the recuperation of the Solar do Ferrão, in Maciel, the Foundation is goin to arrange in other buildings. "Who knows, Mestre Pastinha might commemorate the 90 years is his new academy?", he asks.