Pastinha's sad anniversary
24th April 1978
Blind, partially deaf and very sick, Pastinha, one of the greatest capoeira masters, reached 89 years in misery and without money to even by remedies
"I learned capoeira
it came from my well distant world
the people like it and I've not forgotten
it's a good example of brazilians for the other horizon
Capoeira rips the vein of beasts
in the conviction of faith against the slavery
sweet voice, your children were heros
capoeira loves the abolition
(Pastinha's capoeira song)
In the Terreiro de Jesus, in the center of Salvador, the rhythm of the berimbau and the agility of the men who dance and fight attract a crowd of passerbys and tourists to the capoeira rodas. Meanwhile, a few meters from Terreiro de Jesus, on the Alfredo de Brito street 14, Pelourinho, far from the short-lived glory of capoeiristas, poor, forgotten and solitary stays one of the main responsible ones for the survival and ascent of capoeira: mestre Vicente Ferreira "Pastinha".
Although some try to reduce capoeira - today freely practised on the squares, academies and gyms - to a simple folkloric manifestation, in reality the dance-fight was born out of the necessity of the african negros who were brought as slaves to Brazil: the fight against the repression from the mill owner; the lack of weapons; the maintaining of a community spirit and the connection to the roots. In Bahia, despite the divergences of style, Pastinha and Bimba - another famous mestre - were the main responsible ones for the new "status" of capoeira, which was before considered a thing of "negros and marginals". Pastinha, mainly, always tried to preserve the purity of the original capoeira, from Angola; while Bimba introduced various modifications and incorporated into it elements from oriental fights, creating the "capoeira reginal".
Glory and misery
The number 14 of Alfredo de Brito street, in Pelourinho (considered the most important architectural ensemble of the colonial period), is one of the old decadent housed of the area, which rooms are rented to people of different origins who have one thing in common: marginality and misery. "And here lives Mestre Pastinha?" The response is slow to come: "He's there, see him there". The dark and long corridor doesn't let you see straight. Another question and the same reponse, now impacient. In the beginning you can't see anything where the hand points, only a hunched up old man, lying on a small wooden bench. "It's him alright".
"Mestre Pastinha?" The old man rises up slowly feeling his way until he sits up on the bench. "Mestre Pastinha? Are you Mestre Pastinha?" "Yes" The answer is weak, without strength. After the explanations, the Mestre says very politely that he can't give interviews, since he doesn't want reports made. And explains:
Many people came here already, called reporter, to make reports for newspapers. After that a bunch of things are published that I did not say that end up hindering me. I say one little thing (he makes a gesture with the hand) and they publish a bunch of things.
Embittered, blind for 14 years, with a partial hearing loss, Mestre Pastinha lives today on a small pension given him by the Town Hall of Salvador and by the help of some friends. But this help, even from famous and successful friends - visual artists, writers, politicians, among them Jorge Amado, doesn't amount to give the old mestre better living conditions. At least more dignified for who so much gave of himself, as all are unanimous to admit.
And for all this, my son, I can't give you an interview. But you go there below, to number 18, and find my wife, Maria Romero [Romélia]. After I went blind she takes care of these things and if she talks to you and says I can, I give you the interview.
In the jard of the Senac Hotel, also in Pelourinho, dona Maria Romero sells acarajé, abará and other tidbits of bahian cuisine. "It's right, after 17 years working as a bookbinder, I'm selling acarajé for survival". She repeats the same things the mestre said and talks about the griefs with the newspapers that "distorted" Pastinha's words. For this, following the advice of some friends, she doesn't let Pastinha give interviews.
From the Academy, there's only a bench left
The capoeira academy of Mestre Pastinha had its days of glory in the distant times. Situated on the Pelourinho Square, through the academy passed many generations, but today the building houses the restaurant Sesc/-Senac and was totally restructured during a plan of recuperating the architectural ensemble of the area. Pastinha was stripped of all he had created; from the academy was left only a small wooden bench on which he passes afternoons lying down. To the contrary of the other inhabitants of the houses that were listed by the Instituto do Património Artístico e Histórico (IPAHN), Pastinha didn't receive any compensation or another place to continue the activities of the academy, which would have granted him a more relaxed old age.
Who believes the injustice doen against the old Mestre? Many, of course. Pastinha was used a lot by the tourist industry that made its first steps in Bahia in 1966, the year that he went to the first Black Arts Festival in Dacar in Africa, being invited by the Foreign Relations Ministry. The fame of Pelourinho, the attraction that he represented to the tourists and the increase in rent generated by the tourist activities owed Pastinha an important contribution - he traveled around all Brazil, marketing Bahia as a tourist Mecca - of which he did benefit.
Until today, however, the mestre waits a house that was promised by the State government as recognition for his work. Dorival Caymi, who obviously has much more resources than Pastinha, was decorated with a house in Rio Vermelho by the government. Helping Caymi certainly brings more political dividends than helping Pastinha, blind and impossible to perform due to old age.
- So, what did she say? - asks Pastinha. "She explained me the same things that you did, the deceptions and exploits that you have gone through". As predicted, a few minutes later comes dona Maria. Distrustful, but encouraged by the presence of an old friend Noronha, who just arrives. Pastinha starts to confess, slaps the wooden bench with force - the only thing left from the academy - and says emotionally: "Uh! If this bench could talk". Sincere and sensitive, Pastinha carries in his voice the emotion and the importance of not being able to fight back and fight as before. His survival depends of other people. He continues to repeat the phrase, while he slaps the bench with force: "Uh! If this bench could talk". From the eyes that don't see any more, tears run.
At 89 years of age, which he reached on tha last 5th, Pastinha preserves an impressive lucidity and reaffirms his authority when speaking about capoeira: "I wasn't just a capoeirista. I studied and a lot, I can talk for hours about this, everything, there's really many things." As a fact, in 1964 he published a little book, titled "Capoeira de Angola", where he talke and speculated about the origins of capoeira, sings, clothing. The experience and the knowledge of the mestre were many times usurped by people who used the pretext of an "interview" to collect ideas and later to convey these as being original, without citing the original source. The fame, and the recongnition don't interest any longer: Pastinha has already been filmed and the object for a report all over the world. In 1976, the italian television made an extensive documentary about him. What interests Pastinha today is to secure his survival.
Pastinha is tired, a constant cough interrupts his talking and confessing. It's when the situation of poverty of the old mestre becomes obvious. Revolted, dona Maria Romero opens the small room in which the live and takes a can of plums, which is the remedy to aliviate Pastinha's cough, and says:
The thing is, unfortunately, there's not always enough money to buy the plums.