Blind, At 86 Years, the Master Gives Us All He Has: His History. Testimony to Gustavo Falcón * Photos Agliberto Correia (BEL)
Pastinha doesn't speak our language nor does he think as we do. He has his own philosophy.
I thought I shouldn't link this transformation where Bahia has dived, the economical-ecological-sociological transformation which is accentuated by our underdevelopment, to the figure of the Mestre. What I thought to do as a reporter, a student of a disciple of the Mestre as a humane person, was to recollect the fragments of a testimony which was difficult to get. But I was sure I could make it. And as someone who's good at capoeira, and as a journalist, I became enchanted with what the Mestre talked about.
Right, brother, the capoeira of Pastinha, who is blind, curved by time, is today more a mental capoeira, than the old one, the one of total agility of body and mind. The history of the past 86 years he has lived, has a viewpoint, very personal, documental, I would say. Maybe we wanted to tell a story of a time which is already lost in dust. But Pastinha doesn't owe me explanations, you get it? He is talking about the time as a whole, of everything that passes, in front of you. What has passed also.
Some years now the bahian reporters have a habit of pestering Pastinha. Things like: "And the town halls promise to give you a pension of three minimum salaries? Didn't that happen?"... Mestre Pastinha still without pension, news, compassion of the readers, cash for the newspaper boss! A situation which is much worse for a mulatto who introduced a fight which was very little seen in the bahian white society, living his old man's solitude in misery, misery indeed, without any pretentiousness from my part: a shabby housing, meal the same, without a right to a minimum reform to the architectural whole of the famous Pelourinho they demanded as a trumpcard the Mestre's Academy, an old tourist point. They robbed his instruments, everything.
Missing a better plate, the drama of Mestre Pastinha reached the press, as most trivial news, the favourite topic of all the "inspired" journalists and the one who oppose "an inhumane progress". Some materials of these journalists put the Mestre in opposition to the town hall, to the governor, etc, etc. Besause the Mestre tells the same. Promised, have to give. He still maintains all the moral formation of a bahian of some times ago, traditionalist, rigid to compromise. In other words, everything changed and he stayed there, so to say.
The result: the authorities who promised, avenged tying up the promised pensions, not giving back Mestre's Academy, in the end reacting as was to expect.
As norm, I placed my head in the following: I will talk humanely with the Mestre and from this something will come. I think it did, brother. Don't know if exactly for Ex. Only magic. A present for you. Béu, my brother, candomblé's ogan, thought the present very nice, with his modesty and authority. It was sufficient.
Right after the 30-s revolution, thanks to the Chief of Police of the Caretaker Governor Juracy Magalhães Júnior, the persecution of the candomblé shrines in Bahia ceased. Our system is an absurd one! The Chief of Police, sympathizer of candomblé, advised the holy fathers to register the shrines as recreation centres, something like that. The register in Diário Oficial was sufficient to end the police persecution to the negro cults, so far blocked by white, mulattos, golds and red.
This happened more than 35 years ago. The religious oppression stopped and the absorption of the system came about. So violent that if today exist 2 respectable shrines in Bahia, it's alot! 35 years were sufficient to extract all the moral force of a religion which was oppressed before. The holy fathers who were born after the persecution set up agencies in Rio, stuffed the pockets with dollars, accepted the white civilization in what it has the worst: the side of the money.
The demoralization process of candomblé was the answer that the system as a whole (official religion + racial prejudices + business interests of tourism, etc), encountered to impose its culture, which some called "brazilian culture", as if this existed.
Not too far from the decade of 30, a bahian sailor, a troublemaker, "rioter", mulatto, son of a spaniard who had a grocery store with an old black woman, show repairer, councelled by Wilson Lins (writer and politician) and maybe also by Jorge Amado, registered his capoeira academy as one of these sport centres which were allowed by law. It was sufficient for the police to stop the persecution, at least appearantly, of the capoeiristas.
The registration in hand, Mestre Pastinha, the sailor I was talking about, started to lection capoeira in Pelourinho. Thousands of people went through his academy on Pelourinho Square, where today is the Senac Hotel, luxury. Uncountable tourists, of every king. And his students, disciples, perpetuators of the dance which by then had already become less violent, full of songs in the roda, animated by the berimbaus.
Capoeira, now, didn't have any original relation with the forest clearing where the negros escaped to fight, to escape slavery and practise the fight. Other mestres and styles appeared. Pastinha stayed, all the same, loyal to angola, capoeira which was considered authentic. In the academy not everything was taught. And the cleverness of the fight was kept for the street fights, usually with policemen, on the fiests on the squares. Everything was conquered with a stick, fighting, even the proper academy of Mestre Pastinha.
1975: the old Mestre blind, with his academy taken by the tourism men, of the system, instruments lost, students dispersed and the proudness stuck in the throat, but it doesn't obstruct him to speak, to talk about as someone who tells stories to children, wounded and sickened by a world where "everything is business".
With Pastinha a testimony can't be made of lies.
After an afternoon full of talk, at first distrustful, later changed in a friendly chat, without agenda, without foresight, crazy, I had the chance to get to know the fifth woman of Mestre Pastinha. The first thing she did was to give me a curious look saying: "Are you recording? Uh, don't do this! This costs money. You are taking advantage of the blindness of the old man..."
I explained her that I had the authorization of the Mestre (I found it strange how she called him "old man" pejoratively, accentuating his blindness); that I had told him who I was; that I explained him what type of a newspaper was Ex. Tense, Mestre Pastinha confirmed everything I said. I didn't switch off the recorder. The woman looking steadily at me went back to talking about the money. She spoke of the misery of Pastinha, of the headaches that the reports have managed to give him talking against the governor, etc. I explained that I had no money and that I didn't use to "bribe" my sources so that the same wouldn't happen to me.
I told my name, tried to calm her down, but nothing. Finally, she asked to hear the tape to censure what Pastinha had said. Just a while ago the Mestre had told how they took his academy. Had told they didn't even forgive to the benches, instruments, berimbaus, atabaques, pandeiros and all the rest. The promise to return to the place, point of tourist caravans until 3 years ago, was forgotten.
I had to rewind the recorder. I gave the tape as asked by the Mestre. In a stretch were an authority was mentioned, the woman became wild, censured, yelled, and managed to provoke Pastinha. If he weren't blind, I sensed, I would have taken the biggest beating of my life. He became furious, rose unsteadily and his index finger brushed against my face. He told he didn't want to see this published. He spoke of evel against evel, and I promised him I wouldn't make a sensation out of the fact, which in the end, was so explored by bahian press.
He trusted me. I gave him the tape as a present, told him I was interested in his testimony and not in the sensational news. He was sympathetic. His woman at least didn't know that existed a first tape, a lot more interesting, far from the interest of the stomach and the business. Word to Mestre Pastinha:
Capoeira has a lot of things. Firstly: capoeira has it's dictionary, secondly, it has it's dictionary, thirdly, it has its dictionary and fourthly, it has its dictionary. In other words capoeira... You don't know, capoeira has many things. I will tell you this, when they are going to write, write it as someone would say: I already knew this! This is mine, it's me who's saying this. To tell the truth in front of someone who thinks, who has thoughts, know more or less that one thing combines with another, says this is it, that's correct. Doesn't leave a trace, right?
What is capoeira? Is it folklore? Lets say capoeira has its legendary, it has its background, capoeira is exactly what you say it is.
Don't say that capoeira is what it is not, nor tell what you heard nobody say, so don't tell what you cannot tell. It's not everybody who opens the mouth and says "I know capoeira, capoeira is this". Nor can all minds, nor all men open the mouth to tell what capoeira is not, because it stands out. The one who learned knows, she defends the guy on its own account, right?
To say: I know how to play, I learned to play because she is from the mind, I have it in me, I can do this and it happens... Capoeira gives, denies and takes away. Gives, denies and takes away. The capoeira is here, happy. When a guy comes to speak to him he gets a slap without knowing how it happened.
I will tell you this positively: it has. You asked about one part. I will tell you the part what you asked about. It's the following: if there is a capoeira figthing, it can be with another capoeirista or not. Right? It can also be a student, it can be a teacher, right? Nobody knows. You know that he is a capoeirista.
So you ask: does he have capacity to manifest himself in the life of a friend or the other friend is more perfect than he is, more of a fighter than he is, can he save himself? Who can save himself there? Is there someone who can save him from the others clutch? Because the other could be not a capoeirista, but is a good fighter. He, as he knows, is less experienced in the fight. Can he be saved? He can. Right? I said he can. He can be saved. If he's with the orixas... With his guardian angels, isn't it? Whoever is his protector, defends him. So it's what you say, it's where you say: capoeira is a piece of candomblé. Capoeira is a piece of candomblé. Now what is the piece of candomblé? There's so many names that it could mean...
"All Can Learn. From a General to a Doctor."
Capoeira is one of the special teachers! And the speciality is the norm. You emphasize this name for me? So you will make your conclusions...
Eéééééééééé: as the heavy comes... Look, when the formality of a capoeirista came about, then capoeira was prohibited, you see? Capoeira was prohibited, the doctors you told about who learned capoeira, were the doctors who learned to play capoeira these late times when capoeira was prohibited.
But the doctores, some of them, needed to learn capoeira, they liked capoeira, learned to play capoeira under the sheet, you got it? Under the sheet. Capoeira always, in all of its time, capoeira was prohibited. And how we could learn to play capoeira? Played here, played there, learned in hiding and learned in public view too, learned and done, the police came, ruined everything.
When this happened in the time of Floriano Peixoto (1892-96), right? So they made a turn with the capoeiristas. The police rigorously repressed, right? It went here, there, to the war with Paraguai, isn't it? They threw some capoeiristas there, on the front lines to be eaten by the bullets. Right? Their plan...
The capoeiristas went. They got there and took care of the front line. They got the stick, the capoeiristas came back and they became capoeiristas who manifested all around, content and satisfied. It received that reprisal of a capoeirista practically, deliciously, gentle, with courage, but each one with his design on the lips, got it?
Then it went, it went, it went, it parked there, but capoeirista, all the time there was a fiest there was the capoeirista already present: it was the capoeirista with a morning suit, turncoat, top hat, fur hat, good clothes, right? A ring, a watch, a really formalized thing, capoeirista really decent, it wasn't only the disgusting capoeirista, got it? It was the decent capoeirista. So in this occasion it was like this, tap-dancing, as a norm.
"She is the Father and the Mother Of All The Figths In Brazil."
What can you do with these men? Will you ruin them all? It wasn't necessary: we ill-treat them nice and slow and so on, but keep them under the sheet, close the eyes to one and other because (changing the voice) there's white people also among them, right? White is also among them... They are governors, white, are making replisals against the black, isn't it? But there's also white people who like the blacks, right? For any reason: or for the insterest of work, or for the interest of capoeira, right? They like capoeiristas. And others too who protect capoeiristas, right? Capoeirista fought, when they got there, [they said] let the boy go because he's mine. It wasn't only patronage. It was for the comradeship, for proper friendship that kept them out of prison. I am giving you it like this, giving you details, different. In other words I'm putting things in a manner you could understand.
In the old days it was thought that capoeira is only for us. But today capoeira, I, I, Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, say here, to you, give this recording, for you to show them what capoeira is: it's piece of folklore, it's for the people, why is it from the people? Because all are born with capoeira judgement. All judge by capoeira.
Capoeira is the father and mother of all the fights. I, Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, who gives this word. They want to accept for real or not for real, but anyways it's the father and mother of all the fights, right?
In Brazil, what was the first fight that entered Brazil? In Brazil there was already a fight, they already fought, you hear me? In Brazil they already fought. Now who were they? If there was nobody to fight in Brazil? The people? The indians? The indians fought, they had their system of fighting.
Right? The first fight that came to Brazil came from Africa. The africans didn't bring capoeira here, no. They came in body and spirit here. To defend, to work, get their money and send word to get the woman in Africa, to bring the woman.
Either they stayed there, or came here. Right? Now, I won't tell everything, for the grace of capoeira, which I don't want to surpass, I don't want to surpass. Otherwise I would say more and you would get more details, capoeira is supreme because it has. But if they are really making it worse with the interest: to play capoeira for 2 months wanting to become a mestre, wanting to be a teacher, right?
Look: I started to play, being 8 years old I learned capoeira, being 8.
Lets say being 8 years, 9 years old I started to be capoeirista. I learned with a mestre, Benedito, not a bahian, an african. With him I went from here to there (I lived this time on the Laranjeiras Street). Well, so I went to the Marines, in 1902. I stayed there and so on and in 1910 I spurted out and asked for a leave, right? I stayed 8 years in Marines. In 1910 I got Raimundo Aberrei. He was the first student that I had then when I asked for a leave. Raimundo, Zeca, João Fortunato, João Moleque, all of them, Virício. I made many of them. I taught them on Santa Isabel street.
"I, Pastinha, Put Capoeira In The Society."
All the students were workers. Well. I put it there. From then on I went, I went, started to teach here, had one, two, 3, 4 student houses, here on Cruzeiro Square. Men who came to Salvador to get an education in the Bahian faculty, right? Medical students, all corporations. My academy was already on Cruzeiro de São Francisco, on the street, in the middle of the Terreiro. This was in 1910, 12, 13, right? Later I became a worker at the Santa Casa de Misericórdia. I started to work, stayed silent with capoeira.
Later, in 1941, I started to take care of a capoeira in Liberdade (a workers' neighborhood of Salvador), right? Pay attention: in 1941 I was called to Liberdade to take care of this capoeira. So I told them there,
CAPOEIRA IS CANDOMBLÉ
see this, that I didn't want to, but in any case you fixed me an so on, I will stay here with you. From that day on it became the Capoeira Angola Sports Centre and not a group of capoeiristas any more. Will, I told them that I would put capoeira into the society. I will put capoeira into the society.
There was no capoeirista here to express himseld. I, Pastinha, put capoeira into the society. I spoke to mister Wilson Lins, right? Called him. He helped, and accompanies me until today. Jorge Amado also until today accompanies me. You see mister? You are looking my respect, my consideration, and the implications piece by piece. Take from there, put here. Wilson and Jorge couldn't help but to learn capoeira. Their children also learned. You got it?
Now you see today me being here and people coming to me wanting me to let go of capoeira... A comrade here, some years ago, turned to me to repeat this word: "Mister Pastinha, I want to give you a thing, but you sir don't want to distance from capoeira..."
"Put Him In The Marines. You Hear Me? Put Him In The Marines."
You said a thing that moved me: you said that learned, that studied, wasn't it? You know that I did a beautiful work? Not a beautiful work! In other words, beautiful for me, in the school.
There was a professor who knew my uncle, right? So my uncle complained and so on that the boy was a troublemaker, didn't want anything, doesn't pay attention, didn't want to study, and so on, there is no chance for this boy. The answer he gave to my uncle: put him in the Marines. You hear me? Put his in the Marines. So I was there frightened by his answer. Put him in the Marines, I stayed looking like this at him and giving a laughter. When he left I didn't bother.
So time passed, passed, came a time, 1902, when I had an instinct and I went to the Marines, to serve time, to employ myself as destitute. Right?
I got there, asked the guard: my friend, I wanted to talk here with a friend. With whom could I come to an understanding here? He said: what do you want? Want to serve time? I said yes. So he called the corporal of the guard, the corporal came. Came, said, is this the guy who wants to serve time. The guard corporal asked me to enter, took me to the official of the day, right? He took me to see the commandant and so on, getting there the commandant told that I wasn't good enough, right? Because I was too little. He said: you need to eat 4 more sacks of flour to enter here. The rifle is bigger than you!
"I Knew Cordão De Ouro. He Died Like This:"
So I stayed like this, sad, right? So I said him: I don't have anywhere to stay. He said: where do you live? I say, I was employed, he was like this, was, said: let him sleep here. He will be growing here. The name of the official was lieutenant Olivo. So I stayed there. They made me the corporal of the cleaners. Later came the health inspection and so on. I managed to enter the school. And order came: Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, number 110, I said here! I got the uniform. Me and 16 more boys.
So the teacher who sent me to the Marines before, my uncle's friend, was the said teacher of that school, in the Marines. I saw him in front of me and said: oh! He told the ones who don't know how to read to step out. He looked at me, looked at the others who didn't step and said to me to step: so I stepped. He said to read. I said, I can't. He said to read, read, read. He took a bundle of paper, right, wrote ABC, said take, sit.
Look: let me say this right away. None of the capoeiristas like the sea, got it? The ones who like the sea are the ones who are already on the sea and who see the rolling of the sea, so the accustom with the rolling of the sea, they like it and think that this is also one of the great teachers. I traveled alot from port to port. Gave the exercise, instruction, right?
I met Besouro (Cordão de Ouro). The art of Besouro, Besouro was a soldier in the army, you hear? He was there and so on making his feats. He got a job, went to Maracangalha. Stayed and later got a job on the land. In the farm of a name called Sovera. He stayed working there. So he always fought with the police and he didn't like the police, the police didn't like him either.
The police never liked capoeiristas, right? And he made his feats and so on. I never went out with him. Never went on a binge together. He died like this: a frient cheated him, it was a work thing, of the master, the friend killed him with a ticum knife, a razor-sharp piece of wood. He did a little young.
In Besouro's time there were other good capoeiristas in Bahia: Doze Home and many more. Today good at capoeira in Bahia are João Grande, João Pequeno and other boys (the 2 are Pastinha's disciples). Why are my best students black? Because the climate suits them. Capoeira is their thing, was meant for them...
I am an only son, I am an only son. My father was the owner of a grocery store on Tijolo Street. His name was José Siñor Pastinha, a Spanish descendant. My mother was from Santo Amaro, her name was Raimunda [Raimunda dos Santos]. So I was an only son from the Spanish part, my father's part. From my mother's part I was the second son. My mother worked in house as show repairer.
Now let me explain to you. I tell you like this one thing but people might want to tell you another thing to fill it up because it's needed. So it becomes a bedlam, people become liers. Look: in 1910, when I took the leave, I was a worker, in my first job, that I found in the press, in Diário da Bahia (this newspaper doesn't exist for some time). I worked there as the carrier. You know what for? To take the gazette to post office, signature. I made 1.600 réis. Got it? Then I left, got a job at the post office, in the business, also as a carrier. So I worked for my share, you see? I was single and didn't marry, see?
Later I did everything: packer, mason, all the odd jobs.
"Don't You Think That All This is Business?"
I will tell one thing to you: this you did for what? Don't you think it's all business, no? What would you be if you didn't do this for business, aiming for the money, you wouldn't sell newspapers. But other sell photographies, sell everything. For them everything is business, has to be business. Although some don't want to make business, but they need to make a business out of this. And we who don't have anything for business, have only history, something that happened to us, this case is recorded as history.
So you make an advertising, enter in the market, when you enter in the market, the thing becomes business, this business extends itself, and this business is what it prevailing everywhere. I am saying you this because I am a little sickened, let me tell you. There are hundreds and thousands of people who come here, you understand? They come here. This is not my house, no. They took my academy and my house is not here. I am here to attend you. I took this room here, found it and support myself, understand? When they (the journalists) publish these things about me, they think that they are making it worse for me only? They are making it worse for themselves too.
They make it worse for themselves, making it worse for me, talking badly about the town hall, talking badly about the governor, publishing the name of the governor saying that he is no good. This does not help. Doesn't help at all. They are doing this for the publication, for the new. Because when you do this thing thinking that the other will becaome worse who are you talking to? The time has passed... There was a time when the government worried about what the people were saying. Today the government doesn't give a chat about it, it doesn't, it doesn't want to know. If he advertises, for him this is advertisement, he is looking after his own job, doesn't pay attention.