Photos by Raimundo Silva
SALVADOR (O GLOBO) - To those that ask him to define capoeira, he reponds tersely and quickly as with a precise kick: "Capoeira is malice, it's the black guy's sourcery, it's craft". Another thing, however, Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, or, as all the Bahis knows him and calls, wiht repect and afection, Mestre Pastinha, could stress from his collection of fight definitions: Capoeira is the art of rebirth. Because it can't be faced any other way, that which happened a few days ago in Salvador: the legendary Mestre Pastinha, 90 years old, blind from both eyes, managed to open again his capoeira academy, which for decades was the most famous in Bahia. With this, he managed to win the first stage of a fight he has been fighting for eight years [so since 1971], when, with the start of the restauration of the Pelourinho's architectural ensemble, he lost the old loft where he had his academy.
From these times, already blind, Pastinha was forced to live from the help of the few friends and of the daily work of his wife, Dona Alice, who, selling acarajés, became responsible for the breadwinning of the house.
So then, the first stage was won. But this does not mean that the fight is over. The newspapers that in the old days filled pages with praise to the old master and and reviews of international exhibitions - "Pastinha went to Africa", yes sir, "he went there to show Brazilian capoeira" - only made small remarks about the relaunch of the academy.
Pastinha credits this small advertisement to the number of students that until now looked for the old house in Pelourinho, to hear the teachings of the "mestre of mestres" of capoeira. Yes, mainly to hear, because mestre Pastinha, despite his surprising speed for a body of a 90 year old, only rarely does a ginga on the old floor of the academy.
The practical teachings are given by his students - João Pequeno, João Grande and Ângelo [Romano] - who make the kicks that they learned with the mestre with rigor. Sigging on an old bench, he commands everything and is capable of perceiving the smallest of errors of the fighter only by hearing the sound of his fall on the floor.
His capoeira, today - he says with a wry smile - is mainly the "head capoeira":
Crestfallen and with eyes closed, hearing his wife, dona Alice, speak about the new capoeira academy, mestre Pastinha gives a first impression that he's sleeping sitting or that, in his 90 years, without seeing, doesn't take part in what's happening in the outside world.
It turns out, however, that the first impression is lying. A small guy, copper-colored, almost without teath, body spent "by the extravagancies of the life", as he himself says, still mestre Pastinha makes gestures and speaks firmly, when they ask him about the past: "A lot of suffering, but, to compensate, also a lot of joy."
And the vigor that, for the surprise of the interviewer, he reveals when speaking, also transmits to the legs, for the biggest amazement. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, from four o'clock in the afternoon onwards, Pastinha traverses the hundred meters that separate his small apartment he lives in, on Alfredo Brito Street, from the house where the new academy is located, on the Gregório Mato Street, to, together with his "gratudated ones" João Pequeno, João Grande and Ângelo, give lessons to the new students. It's not always, but mestre Pastinha says he can still "ginga the catimba-dance [not letting the opponent develop his game]" that was brought by his african ancestors.
Pastinha was thought to die without being able to open again his capoeira angola academy.
But somebody took interest and I returned - says the mestre.
The new academy, open for a few days, is located on the Gregório de Mator Street 51, in a recently restorated blue building of the Artistic and Cultural Patrimony Foundation of Bahia, which first floor was given to the capoeirista for three years, with the condition that the academy would operate there.
- In every cocktail party that I met the Patrimony's director I spoke to him, begged him - tells Dona Alice - to arrange a place for the academy. It's obvious, we need to ask from who can do more, don't we? He didn't promise anything, but said that when he would have something he would tell us. This year he called me.
People connected to the cultural life of Bahia were also sought for by Pastinha and Dona Alice. They never lost hope to see the academy open again, Jorge Amado and his son João Jorge, Mário Cravo, Carybé and Carlos Bastos were some of the "godfathers" of the idea.
In March his year, finally, the Patrimony Foundation, through it's director, Mário Mendonça de Oliveira, signed a contract with Mestre Pastinha, giving him rights to use the room in the old building, a place of 43 square meters, with bathrooms, on the first floor.
Perhaps for the little advertisement the re-opening of the academy, until today no students appeared in the academy, this is, students who would be interested to pay - to help Pastinha's survival - for the course that, in two years, forms the capoeirista.
The classes on Tuesdays, Thursday and Sundays are only visited by free-of-charge students, another requirement of the Foundation, that would benefit the guys matriculated in its professional schools. The instruction is varied: the students learn, besides capoeira angola, to play instruments such as berimbau, pandeiro, reco-reco, agogô and atabaque, which make part of the style.
In the academy, Mestre Pastinha and his students that today teach have already refused many candidates to the course, thinking they were "delinquents and wanted to know kicks to practise violence":
- Here with me this won't pass, no - says the mestre. To kill, to do violence, we don't teach.
Despite this, it's the mestre who says, "capoeira is for everyone, man, woman or child". He himself started to learn the art being six years old:
- Everybody is capoeirista by birth. I am now speaking to a capoeirista so that other capoeiristas would hear, and justifying my truth.
Mestre Pastinha defines plainly what is capoeira, and destroys the theories of those who distinguish capoeira angola from what is called "capoeira regional":
Capoeira is all one. They took capoeira that came from Angola, brought by the slaves, and added some kicks from "catch", the american fight. But capoeira is witchcraft of the black guy. From Angola.
Born free, a year after the Golden Law was signed, the little Pastinha didn't imagine that his name would become legend and that there would be people interested, 90 years later, to publish his biography - The history of a life full of ups and downs as the city of Salvador itself, where he was born on the Laranjeiras street, on the 5th April. Dona Alice tells that proposals from three people to write about the life of Mestre Pastinha were already refused. He doesn't remember the names, but one came from São Paulo, another from Rio, "and the third was an italian".
But Mestre Pastinha steps in: he doesn't give up on an idea that his autobiography would be written by Jorge Amado:
- I'm making an inquiry that he would write it. I already spoke to him about it and he told me that he's waiting for the opportunity, since he is very occupied with other works. I'll wait.
Some thing, however, his good memory lets him antecipate Jorge's report. Capoeira, he says that he learned for the necessity.
- I learned due to a rivalry. When I was six, on the Laranjeira street, there was a boy who would always beat me up. He was bigger and older. One day, I was sitting on the window of my house and a black guy, Uncle Benedito, called me: My "son", you can't fight with this boy, he is more streetwise that you. The time you are spending to fly the kite, you come to my "cazuá" and I'll teach you to be cunning.
A short while later, Uncle Benedito said he was "ready". From then on, the Pastinha-boy became invincible, on the tortuous streets, as a righteous guy and defender of whom, as himself, didn't have a defence "against the harm-doers". With his travels came the fame and, with this, the contradictions: for some, he was as a god, the savior, to others, "a wild animal", a problem for the police authorities. There was a pause in the restlessness only when he entered the Marines.
But it all started again, right after he left the army. He continued to teach capoeira and "bring justice". One day the "Diário de Notícias" opened a headline: "- A gang of crooks do street riots run by an ex-marine".
Despite being a business for Pastinha, capoeira never brought him a peaceful life financially. There were publications "in piles" about him, and a recording studio already made an LP with his capoeira sound. An edition, a plan that Dona Alice tries to take forward when she can, "when there's mony to pay for the bus ride to Rio".
Photo caption 1: Pastinha, mestre of mestres: "Capoeira is cunningness"
Photo caption 2: With a grandson; the distancing from the outside world is not real