By Alberico Manoel | Translation by Christine Di Stefano
First, I would like to explain about the origin of the word “Capoeira” as many people reading this article should be not familiar with it. The Capoeira name is from the “tupi-guarani” language and means “little forest” or “cut forest”. This form of art and fighting arose in the XVII century during the time of the Guerra dos Palmares (War of Palmares) in the Northeast of Brazil and today has a strong historical and cultural value. A symbol of the resistance of the slaves brought from Africa during the period of slavery in Brazil, has appeared in documents from the XIX century in Rio de Janeiro, but was in the states of Bahia and Pernambuco that it was mainly developed.
In the 1930s, a talented capoeorista, Mestre Bimba, mixed techniques from boxing and other martial arts into Capoeira and began to teach Capoeira to the bourgeois white community. He even came to train the guard of Getulio Vargas, the then president of Brazil. During this time Capoeira was legalized after many years of being illegal and practiced clandestinely, but also lost some of its original characteristics and rituals. It is speculated that the development of “Luta Regional Baiana” or as it is known in modern times as “Capoeira Regional” came by during this time.
Capoeira Angola became less and less practiced as time passed and its mestres gradually died off. The exception to this fact was the “Angoleiro” Mestre Pastinha, who taught Capoeira Angola to many other people, among them Mestre Joao Grande and Joao Pequeno, who are still alive today. They became standards and helped to educated new mestres who would pass on and save the art and tradition of Capoeira Angola.
Today, Capoeira has accumulated values from pop culture to form a body of research about itself. The big problems are the different ideological discourses that have initiated this research. The main objective is better understand the culture of Capoeira, its ancestral roots and its historical value as the identity of a people. Yet another question raised is the appropriation of Capoeira into gyms but without its social and cultural context.
Mestre Curió – one of Mestre Pastinha’s students, talks about the use of Capoeira in gyms as the misappropriation of a culture that doesn’t belong there. Capoeira has its roots in a people who have suffered and been forgotten, but have continued fighting for the preservation of their culture. According to Mestre Curió, the problem is the utilization of black culture by society without understanding it.
“I was invited to give a lecture at ONU and received the title of Doctor of Capoeira in Mexico. Here in Brazil, tangible things aren’t valued so much. We have to find something outside of ourselves to value.” Mestre Curió also speaks about another thing that bothers him in modern Capoeira. “Inside of the roda there are prejudices against women Capoeiristas. For me women are equal to anyone else in the roda, I don’t accept this kind of [sexist] behavior”.
A law presented by the Physical Education Counsel that regulates the practice of Capoeira and restricts who can teach it to University graduates is currently on its way to the national congress. Pedro Rodolpho Abib questions this manner of regulation. He is a professor at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) and a Capoeirista himself. The professor affirms “This is the usufruct of a culture that for many years no one cared about.
People don’t realize the bad habits that they will bring to this determined community that has resisted outside influences and survived in the fight for Afro-Brazilian culture.” He mentions the importance of the traditional elements that make up Capoeira, like the berimbau, which in Africa, was used as an instrument in rituals to speak with the dead; the “mandinga” (the attitude and roguery in Capoeira), and the whole mystical & religious component of capoeira.
Professor Neuber Leite Costa, from the department of social studies at UFBA, talks about the confrontation between capoeiristas and the Counsel of Physical Education in relation to the regulation of Capoeira. In his masters work he deals with the dislocation of the development of Capoeira from the popular sphere into the scholarly sphere, where knowledge is restricted to academic areas and to those with higher educations. And for it is not discussed with the Capoeira community.
Amelia Viera de Souza Conrado, professor of physical education at UFBA, says that Capoeira Angola and Afro-Brazilian dance contain a connection in the language of dance. She also mentions that the language of the university and of the public can contribute analytically to cultural knowledge. Her work differs from the pedagogic mindset and actions of cultural institutions and the language of the body as the language of education and the expression of a culture.
She questions the mono-cultural and pedagogical European mode of thinking and proposes a change in the politics of education to multicultural levels in order to de-mystify euro-centric culture. “It is important to construct a theoretic reference in the contribution of people and their communities, and to recognize the necessity of scientific research for a different kind of study that returns to the question of Brazilian reality.
The didactic production for a wider cultural diversity that takes into account history, time, and important actions is of fundamental importance. A political public behind the initiative of society and its groups legitimizes a politic of social equality. On the other hand, once popular culture is confused with mass culture, it loses its value. It is for this reason that one cannot deprive a culture of its characteristics and values just to market a cultural product to consumers. “Some cultural groups sell themselves to the market consumer with a plausible justification, but condemnable to their survival. It is possible for this cultural question to die in the future, because when a product is no longer apt for public consumption it dies,” affirms Pedro Rodolpho Abib.