Mestre Pastinha loses to Bruce Lee
República Esporte, 2nd January 1980
The only brazilian martial art loses ground to karate and other imported novelties
PAOLO MARCONI, from Salvador
At 91 years, blind due to glaucoma and cataract, hospitalized as a favor in the Hospital of Public Servants of the Town Hall of Salvador since the 12th November, he is the image itself of capoeira in Brazil. He is Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, the most chimed bahian capoeirista by literature which, in the recent years, has been selling the image of a magical Bahia, full of mysteries to be descovered by the avid turists.
Behind the personal drama of mestre Pastinha - which happened in 1973, when his academy was dumped, by the government, from the Pelourinho Square to give place to the Restaurant of Senac - the bahian capoeiristas are committed in a deaf fight against the so-called oriental martial arts, such as kung-fu, taekwon-do, judo, karate, aikido and kendo. If this fight were to be locked to a stage, maybe capoeira still had chances to win. But, as the stage is the Brazilian Boxing Confederation, capoeira - the only truly national [fight] - is constantly beaten and continues without perspectives to win the same spotlight as the imported fights.
During the slavery it managed to survive. It also survived the fierce police persecution of the beginning years of the Republic, when the capoeiristas were indentified as declassed and troublemakers.
Contradictory, it started to lose ground when it was accepted by the white society: it became, then, descharacterized by the turistic interests, which came to predominate in Bahia in the last 10 years. And, finally, it ended up in a total decadence thanks to the neglect of the National Sports Councel, which till today hasn't regulated it, despite having it recognized as sport.
Talking today with Pastinha, a negro who's been celebrated alot in Jorge Amado's books, where he is described as being "agile as a cat", is extremely painful; not so much due to his blindness, or for the extreme poverty he lives in, but for what he says. "I got a beating like a dog in my 91 years of life", he says, "got beaten alot to play capoeira and today, what do I have?". His name still being exploited by the turism, as the repository of true capoeira angola, he was constantly searched by turists and researchers of the black culture in the dark and gloomy flat he lived in Pelourinho. He doesn't know what happens today to capoeira. For him, his personal situation is more dramatic: despite receiving a monthly pension of 5 thousand cruzeiros from Salvador's Town Hall, this is, really, a "favor" that they make him. Sickened, he complains: "Today nobody wants nothing more from me, only to talk to".
Pastinha is not the first nor the last capoeira mestre to be in this situation of abandonment. Another famous capoeirista, mestre Bimba (the creator of capoeira regional, having added kicks from other fights to the traditional capoeira angola brought by the slaves), died in 1974, in Goiania, where he went to better his opportunities. He died poor, in a three by four metres flat. Mestre Totonho Maré died poor same as Pastinha.
But Bimba's, Pastinha's and the deceased Totonho Maré's situation is more the effect than the cause of the lamentable state where capoeira has arrived. Carlos Senna, 48, capoeira mestre and ex-student of Bimba, plays since 1949, and for more than ten years has been writing to the presidents of the Republic and the ministers of Education and Culture, asking them to do something for the only brazilian martial art. The maximum he managed was that the CND recognize it as sport, subordinating it to the Brazilian Boxing Confederation.
It is worse, according to him, because earlier who cared for capoeira were either the people with little culture or then again "some few who had some culture, but who didn't want to take any advantage, not financial nor of the status". Unfortunately, he says angered, "the government still hasn't removed the sport's ass-kissers, men who are in this office for more than twenty years and who only want to take personal advantage from the sport, such as is the case of colonel Saguas, the president of the Boxing Confederation, who lives in São Paulo and leads the entity in Rio de Janeiro".
These "ass-kissers", as Senna explains, only help the oriental martial arts. As an example, he remembers whenever there is a karate championship, the delegations receive eleven plane tickets. For capoeira on the other hand, the number lowers by half, and even then you travel by bus. Carlos Senna, the owner of Senavox, the academy that is located in the centre of Salvador and becomes 25 year old this year, is pessimistic when it comes to the future of capoeira; going to the extreme by affirming that if the situation doesn't change it will dissapear in three years. Ironically, one floor above from his academy there is another, of aikido, which works with all classes full. At the same time, his capoeira academy only has thirty students, who pay 400 cruzeiros for four hours weekly.
On the side he encounters another difficulty: the fight technique that the paulistas and cariocas, mainly, want to incorporate to the championship regulations. "I'm already tired of saying that capoeira is a fight, it's to knock down the adversary. For technical deficiency they don't want to accept that what we propose as the basis of the regulation: loses the one who's been knocked down. You can listen to the music - 'the good capoeira doesn't fall'. But no, what they want is that the quality of capoeira be assessed as in the samba schools."
This tendency to transform capoeira more into a dance than into a fight started to outline in the beginning of this decade, with the groups of tourists that Bahia came to receive. The author of Capoeira Angola, a Socio-Etnographical Study, Waldeloir Rego has a theory about the subject: "Salvador wanted to become the Mecca of tourism. With the visitors they docked the tourism offices and with these the notorious folkloric groups. In this symbiosis the problem of tourists, the agencies and the owners of folkloric groups who wanted to make easy money was resolved." And capoeira? "Indeed, only the culture's problem was not resolved, culture's that was being teared to pieces, and with it capoeira, which is being devoured by the consumer society". Capoeira, he remembers, nostalgically, happens spontaneously on the streets, having a taste of playfulness. Today, who wants to watch capoeira has two options: to go to a theatre or a typical restaurant or go and cross the city and head for the working class neighborhoods of the periphery that are not treaded by tourist agents and where the fever of the oriental martial arts has not yet arrived.