City of Salvador – CAPOEIRA. Who doesn’t fight, dances
9th January 1982
Text Reynivaldo Brito * Photos Tadeu Lubambo
There’s been more than 20 years that nobody managed to reunite in a same roda the six biggest names of Bahian capoeira. Manchete made this deed happen
Among the martial arts that were brought by African slaves to Brazil, the most beautiful, and without a doubt the most complete, is capoeira. Having the highest level of bodily expression, the mixture of fight, dance and sport, capoeira was assimilated by the brazilians (mainly in Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco), who imposed to it unavoidable transformations which resulted in a different culture. Like all traditional arts that don’t have written rules, capoeira transmitted from masters to students, in a succession which origin, according to the researchers, is found in the fighting styles of Angola.
But, during many years, the practice of capoeira was prohibited by the white colonizers who saw in it, same as in candomblé, a dangerous resistance of the black culture and civilization to the portuguese rule. Besides these difficulties of the police order, occurred also rivalries between different schools, or to be more exact, between different mestres. The biggest capoeiristas od Bahia always ended up upsetting one another, and this hostility passed on to respective students.
The capoeiristas of the group Bahia Total seek to explore mainly the folkloric side of this traditional figth, exhibiting preferredly the more spectacular kicks and the gestures that show the perfect control over their own body, in the defence as well as in the attck.
During the slavery in Brazil, the police authorities always took caution to prohibit the practice of capoeira. In its depths, it was a fight technique (attack and defense) where the negros showed their superiority with clarity. The capoeira fighter was considered a dangerous marginal, a delinquent. The criminal code of the Empire (1930) had specific punishments for this type of delinquency, and even after the proclamation of the Republic a special decree was issued against „the Vadios and Capoeiras“ that forsaw prison of two months to the meer practitioners, and double the punishment for the mestres. In Bahia, the Police chied, Pedro de Azevedo Gordilho (Pedrito), became famous for the rigour with what he persecuted candomblé and capoeira. In 1937 one of the biggest capoeiristas of all the history of Brazil, Manuel dos Reis Machado, the famous Mestre Bimba, now deceased, managed to register a capoeira academy in the Office of the State’s Education, one day, the governor Juracy Magalhães sent a summons to Mestre Bimba to make an appearance in the Palace. The professor warned the students to stay attentive: if he didn’t return during some time it would be a sign that he was prisoned. For his great surprise, the governor invited him warmly to set up some capoeira exhibitions, with his best students, in front of the high authorities who were at an official visit to Bahia. From then on capoeira came out of the half-underground where it lived, conquered the schools and the gyms, and ended up transforming into one of the most beautiful manifestations of afro-brazilian folklore. A good capoeira roda is a spectacle that leaves the foreign spectators astonished. And as a form of fight, capoeira was officially adopted even among certain groups of the elite, such as Marines. It is worth accompaning the researches about the ups and downs of capoeira in Brazil.
Coming out form hiding, capoeira has won the colleges and academies all over the country
Mestre Waldemar makes his living painting gourds for making berimbaus. The two great bahian capoeiristas, João Grande and João Pequeno, make a demonstration on the Mooring Quays of the Modelo Market, in Salvador.
In mestre Vermelho 27’s group, Jim (in the foreground) is the highlight. The other photo shows the historic encounter of six great bahian masters promoted by MANCHETE: Waldemar, Cobrinha Verde, João Grande, Gato, Canjiquinha snf João Pequeno, who from now on forget their rivalries.
Despite appearant differences, the researchers guarantee that capoeira has a single origin
Nowadays some researchers distinguish four principal modalities of capoeira: folklore-show, sport, regional and de Angola. When it comes to the folkloric show, the art of capoeira is a manifestation of bodily abilities and dexterity, that is manifested by its own rhythm, with appropriate music and coreography. The Bahia Total group, formed by Maurício Vermelho, an ancient economy student who dedicated to capoeira, already performed in different capitals of Brazil, Europe, Africa and United States, always with enormous success. And even the famous samba schools of carnival of Rio de Janeiro also organized their capoeira groups for exhibitions. As sport, the practice of capoeira was, in a certain form, perfected by professor Aristides, whose academy receives mostly children. The two last modalities are considered strong. Capoeira regional was developed by Mestre Bimba, an old capoeirista de Angola who wanted to integrate to the traditional fight some new kicks of judo, mainly leg-throws. There are also some who add the use of some specific weapons such as the razor. Mestre Cobrinha Verde (Rafael Alves França), for example, is one of the few capoeiristas who knows how to play capoeira with a straight-razor stuck between his toes. If a leg kick without the razor is already, mostly, decicive, you can imagine the efficiency that the weapon will add to the kick. The innovations of Mestre Bimba were not too well received by the adepts of the school of Mestre Pastinha (Vicente Ferreira, who died last month 92 years old), who is considered the biggest capoeirista of all times. Mestre Pastinha continued to defend the absolute purity of what is called capoeira de Angola, and the discussions ended with deep disagreement which lasted more than twenty years, and to which this reportage by Manchete could put an stop to. Despite these little differences, the specialists, among whose highlightes the bahian folklore etnologist Waldeloir Rego, guarantee that capoeira is one, although it is difficult to indicate one well-defined origin. In reality, the fundamental elements are permanent: berimbau music, leg-kicks, gingas, art, and mainly a lot of craftiness. From there on, the capoeiristas of any school give in to the luxury of improvising. Exactly as in football. It is the question of the temperament of the fighter. What are called the waist or connected launches, used in regional, are also explored by the practitioners of Angola. The fighters start the game after the ladainha has ended, with all capoeiristas squatting in cocorinha, as they call it. After they cross themselves, the two adversaries shake hands, and start to ginga from one side to other. One of the fighters distances from the adversary, falling back into a negativa, while trying to drag a foot with other’s help, knocking him down. From then on the kicks start: tesoura, morcego, rasteira, benção, martelo, cabeçada ou rabo-de-arraia. The berimbau will be playing São Bento Grande, Banguela, Iúna, Cavalaria, são Bento Pequeno, or São Bento Grande de Angola, with eye-catching flourishes of leg-kicks which appear unoffecive, but are incredibly violent. For its beauty and efficiency, capoeira is already part of the biggest brazilian folkloric manifestations.
Today 78 [74 – velhosmestres.com] years old, Mestre Cobrinha Verde is certainly the oldest active capoeirista in Brazil.
Mestre Gato [blue shirt, with berimbau] in an exhibition in front of his students. At 52 of age, he is considered as one of the most agile capoeiristas of Bahia and he improvises, brandishing unedited kicks during the game.