“The Negroes also have another war game, much more violent, the ‘jogar capoera’: two champions charge against each other, and seek to hit with their head the chest of the opponent they want to throw to the ground. By jumps on the side, or equally skilful parries they escape from the attack; but by throwing themselves against each other, more or less like he-goats, they sometimes get badly hurt at the head: therefore one sees often the jesting being displaced by fury, to the point that blows and even knives stain the game with blood” – Johann Moritz Rugendas
Hello Everyone, this is Part 2 of my history of Capoeira Angola.
I’m gonna pick up this part of the story in the 19th century, and continue till the present day.
But first, I want you to watch this video by T.J. Desch Obi.
Yes, I realize that Dr. Obi goes through the same topics as in the video about him that I posted on the 1st HISTORY PAGE, but what he said here on this video has much to do with this page.
So, here we go.
Registries of capoeira practices existed since the 18th century in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Recife. Due to city growth, more slaves were brought to cities and the increase in social life in the cities made capoeira more prominent and allowed it to be taught and practiced among more people. Because capoeira was often used against the colonial guard, in Rio the colonial government tried to suppress it and established severe physical punishments to its practice. The Calabouço prison, located in a military installation at the bottom of the Castelo hill in front of Guanabara bay, was the landing place for any slave that misbehaved or was thought to have misbehaved. As per an agreement between the State and the slave owners, any slave could be brought there to receive a “corrective whipping” of 100 lashes for the price of 160 réis. In 1808, King Dom Joao VI and his court fleeing Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Portugal arrived in Brazil. African culture among the slave population was persecuted and nominally banned under his rule. He believed that by destroying their cultural identity and taking away their sense of community, he could rule them more effectively. This effort to stamp out African cultural expression was, of course, detrimental to Capoeira. This attitude prevailed even after King Dom Joao left Brazil after Napoleon’s defeat, and even during the successive reigns of Pedro I (self-crowned Emperor of Brazil 1822) or Pedro II (crowned in 1831 after his father’s abdication).
African culture as a whole, and Capoeira along with it, was frowned upon and for the most part banned. Some believe that it was at this time, in order to overcome this law; the slaves disguised their fighting style as a dance so that the plantation owners would be completely oblivious to the fact that the slaves were actually training for combat.
However, it’s hard to beleive that is the case because, if all forms of cultural expressions by the Africans were outlawed, then why would the plantation owners tolerate the dancing that disguised Capoeira?
But anyway, there were a few instances when capoeiristas were considered heroes, like the time when during the Rio de Prata war, a large group of capoeiristas in Rio helped to stop a rebellion of foreign soldiers in 1828, and also, during the PARAGUAYAN WAR from 1864 till 1870, when many Capoeiristas were sent to the front lines.
That particular event is still celebrated in a very famous CAPOEIRA SONG. And after the war, when the veterans of this conflict would come back home to cities like Rio de Janeiro, they would join gangs called MALTAS.
The members of these gangs had a characteristic way of dressing: they wore white clothes, trousers with a bell mouth, a shirt or a linen suit with a thin-tipped shoe, on their necks they almost always wore a silk handkerchief that worked as protection against razor cuts (Usually a razor blade does not cut silk, instead it gets stuck), a hat and hands, a knife, razor or cane for any unforeseen… situation he may find himself in.
These Capoeiristas used to live in the city together with prostitutes, aristocrats, immigrants and intellectuals. They liked parties, rallies, and crowded places to steal, plunder, or fight rival maltas. Almost always, when the police arrived, they managed to escape, but sometimes if there they couldn’t escape, they would fight the police, and often times leave them on the ground, unconscious or worse.
These maltas tormented the population of Rio, especially the authorities who wanted to exterminate them. There were several maltas in Rio de Janeiro and each commanded a region, but of all, there were two that stood out most: the Guaiamuns and Nagoas .
The Nagoas acted on the outskirts, which was called the Cidade Velho (Old City). They were linked to the Conservative Party Monarchists; and had a slave and African tradition. The hats were signs that distinguished the members of the two great maltas. The Nagoas wore a hat with a white strap over the red and the flaps forwards and down.
The Guaiamuns operated in the central region, called Cidade Nova (new city). They were linked to the Republicans of the Liberal Party; had a mixed tradition, absorbed many immigrants, Creoles, free men and intellectuals. They wore a hat with a red ribbon over the white and the front and back flaps.
Usually, the conflicts between the maltas took place on feast days, when one malta invaded the territory of the other. Conflicts often occurred individually, rather than in groups; one member of a malta would be fighting with a member of another malta, while the rest were watching, and regardless of the result both applauded warmly.
Also around this time, appeared the iconic figure known as the MALANDRO.
The word Malandro, comes from the word MALANDRAGEM.
Malandragem is a Portuguese term for a lifestyle of idleness, fast living and petty crime traditionally celebrated in samba lyrics, especially those of Noel Rosa and Bezerra da Silva. Malandragem is defined as an aggregation of strategies utilized in order to gain advantage in a determined situation, these advantages often being illicit. It is characterized by savoir faire and subtlety. Its execution demands aptitude, charisma, cunning and whatever other characteristics (knacks) which help in the manipulation of people or institutions to obtain the best outcome in the easiest possible way.
The exponent of this lifestyle, the malandro, was an archetypal figure who was not simply a criminal and skillful capoeirista, but a master con artist. Always smooth, always perfect, commanding the respect and love even of his victims, he fueled the brazilian underworld. And The NAVALHA, or straight razor, became an iconic weapon of the malandro, hidden somewhere on his person to flash out unexpectedly and lethally.
When the 19th century was coming to an end, slavery was on the verge of ending in the Brazilian Empire. With quilombo militia raids on plantations that still used slaves growing in number, and the growth of Brazilian abolitionist movements, slavery was on it’s way out. The Government passed laws to restrict slavery, to reduce the problems, but finally Brazil was forced to recognize the end of slavery on May 13, 1888, with a law called Lei Áurea (Golden Law), sanctioned by imperial parliament and signed by Princess Isabel. In Brazil, as in the United States, the end of slavery in 1888 brought an extremely troubled time of transition. What was a former slave to do in the new society? Where to find jobs, and how to live alongside former slave-owners and other former slaves? Now many slaves did find work. However, as was the case all over the world at that time, prejudice ensured that the former slaves remained second-class citizens. They were given menial jobs if at all and most remained poor. Capoeira was now seen as the derelict’s sport and those Capoeiristas who could find no work settled into crime as a way of life.
During this time, (and in fact for over 100 years by this point, to be honest) Capoeira had become the weapon of the criminal element. Those who were skilled in Capoeira became gang leaders, enforcers, and ruffians. Because these outlaws practiced Capoeira, it became synonymous with the word crime.
In 1890, after the Proclamation of the Republic of Brazil (1889), was created the decree 847 of 1890, entitled “Of the vadios and capoeiras”. This decree rebuked capoeira and its practitioners, and made the practice of capoeira was illegal. Of course in reality, this was an exercise in public relations, to make it seem like something was being done against the rising crime rate in Brazil , although it was actually a double standard since many bodyguards were hired because of their skill in capoeira.
The punishments for practicing Capoeira were severe; Among other things, Capoeiristas had their achilles tendons cut, so they were physically unable to practice. To practice, one had to hide behind an alias. The custom of appelidos, nicknames, traces to hiding one’s identity in illegal rodas so the police couldn’t track them. This tradition is continued today in many capoeira academies. Typically, when a person is “baptized” into the practice of capoeira, they are given a nickname; the ceremony is called a batizado (baptism), and it’s mostly done in Regional or Contemporary Academies. However, this honor may precede or follow this event, pending individual group traditions.
Also, there was the berimbau rhythm known as CAVALARIA, that warned of the approach of police patrols.
To enforce these laws, the president hired a man named Sampaio , who was reputed to be the most ruthless police chief in Brazil’s history. He was determined to extinguish Capoeira. What is interesting about Sampaio was that he himself was an excellent Capoeirista. He was a terror to the gangs and was said to have faced many legendary fighters of the time, even some who were rumored to have corpo fechado(a condition magically rendering the fighter impervious to bodily injury). Sampaio’s special police force also learned Capoeira, so they were able to challenge their “enemy” on their own ground.
Had it not been for the strong resistance by the Capoeiristas, as well as support by influential people, he may have succeeded in his mission. However, one incident brought Sampaio’s relentless pursuit of Capoeiristas to an end. He arrested a man named Juca Reis, a member of the gentry, for practicing Capoeira and demanded that he be expatriated. This caused a crisis for the government. The members of the president’s cabinet opposed this action because Juca’s father was well known and favored by many politicians.The president called a special meeting of his cabinet, and after eighteen days, two important members of the cabinet resigned and Juca was expatriated.
Over time, under intense legal persecution, the heads of the maltas were gradually incarcerated, exiled or exterminated, and they were losing their strength and being dismantled. And the practice of capoeira receded until it was alive and well in only a few cities: Recife, Rio de Janeiro, and Bahia. Also in this time, there were a few legendary characters that appeared, known for their skill in capoeira.
In Recife, the Capital of Pernambuco, there was an intensely feared Capoeirista named NASCIMENTO GRANDE who led his band through the Carnaval each year and disappeared in the early 1900’s; some say he was finally killed in a police raid, others that he simply moved to Rio de Janeiro and lived out his life under another identity.
In the Brazilian capital (At the time) Rio de Janeiro, there was MANDUCA DA PRAIA, an older Capoeira, always dressed in the utmost elegance and had, it was said, twenty-seven criminal charges against him – all dropped because of the influence of the politicians who secretly employed him.And later, we have MADAME SATA who was a drag queen, an ex-con who spent more than two decades in prison, and a legendary fighter.
And in Bahia (And the RECONCAVO, the interior), There were left a few legendary Capoeiras like BESOURO MANGANGA.(I’ll tell you more about him on another PAGE). There were many others of course, who all contributed to what I like to call “The age of the valentaos (Tough Guys)”.
By the 1920’s, the law that prohibited the practice of Capoeira was still in effect, and its practice was still disguised as a “folk dance”. In their hidden places, Capoeiristas did their best to keep the tradition alive, and by presenting it as a folk art, they made the practice of Capoeira more acceptable to society, although it continued to have an unsavory reputation with mainstream brazilian society, which kept it illegal. And then, a man appeared who was to forever change capoeira’s destiny. He was named Manoel Dos Reis Machado, but was better known as MESTRE BIMBA.
Mestre Bimba (pronounced beem-bah) was born in the Bahian capital of Salvador in 1900, and started learning capoeira from a merchant marine captain named Bentinho around 1912. By the time he was 19, he was a master, and since he preferred the martial aspect to the ludic (although he did both very well), he became feared as a terrific fighter, winning challenge matches against boxers, jujutsu fighters, etc.
Because he was a famous fighter, soon wealthy young men began approaching him asking for instruction. At first he taught students in their homes, but by 1932 he had so many students that he decided to open an academy, where he taught his form of Capoeira, which became known as Capoeira Regional (pronounced ‘heh-shon-al’.)
This was the first non-military capoeira school in Brazil, and it is in the same place TODAY.
Capoeira Regional was created in reaction to the street Capoeira of the twenties.
With all these white, middle-class, and upper-class young men training in an art that had previously been done mostly by black and working-class young men, Bimba knew that capoeira had to change. You see, the traditional Bahian capoeira, the kind today called Angola, was not taught in schools. Instead, a prospective student approached the group, and if he was accepted he watched and tried to imitate the others.
Bimba’s well-educated white students were used to different methods, so Bimba started teaching his classes in the same way the Catholic schools did, namely by taking beginners aside and teaching them increasingly difficult techniques in a systematic method. Mestre Bimba wanted to legitimize Capoeira as a form of self-defense and as an athletic game, improving the technical quality of movements and creating TRAINING SEQUENCES, which were a lot faster and more aggressive than the traditional Capoeira Angola style. And, he included some hip throws called the CINTURA DESPREZADA and certain arm-locks that you don’t usually see in Capoeira Angola, which led people to beleive that he incorporated moves from other martial arts into his style, though probably, there isn’t much truth to this.
Mestre Bimba also created the time honored tradition of the Batizado. A batizado (literally “baptism” in Portuguese, and borrowed from the religious tradition) is normally an annual event for a capoeira group in a region or country.
The tradition of the batizado is basically the first time a new student plays capoeira to the sound of the berimbau. In the batizado, the new student will play with a more advanced student, who takes care of the beginner, and helps them to develop their capoeira game. The batizado welcomes new students into the school and strengthens community bonds.
In modern capoeira, batizados are large events and are very important for the group organizing them. It is the point in the year where the new members will be baptized officially into the group and receive their first cords and where the other members, depending on their progress, will receive a new one.
A typical batizado will take several days and consist of workshops, the batizado itself and a troca de cordas. Often many groups from more than one region will attend a batizado for other groups. This allows for development of the game by contact with other players, teachers and styles.
Here’s an example of a modern Batizado:
Normally, the mestre of the group must be present during the proceedings, but historically this is not required.
Mestre Bimba also created an ALBUM showcasing not only his amazing musical talents, but the songs and rhythms he used in his methodology. You can listen to the album on the soul of capoeira PAGE.
And, most likely because his patrons were mostly white, he also stressed capoeira’s Brazilian rather than African roots. But anyway, the pedagogical method was Bimba’s true innovation, and this was most responsible for making a formerly working-class art palatable to rich white people.
Shortly after, Bimba’s students, some of whom were the sons of important politicians, started to work for capoeira to be legalized.
During the 1930s Brazil was under the dictatorship of Getulio Vargas. Vargas was a fascist, but he was also a nationalist, and in capoeira he saw a national art that should be promoted rather than banned. Therefore new laws were written that allowed capoeira to be taught in licensed academies and demonstrated publicly provided permits were obtained.
And While Regional grew like crazy during the 1950s thru the 1970s, what became of the old style, Capoeira Angola?
Well, Capoeira Angola survived, thanks mostly to the efforts of Bahia’s most famous master, Vicente Ferreira Pastinha , or MESTRE PASTINHA, He lived from 1889 to 1981.
Vicente Ferreira Pastinha was born to José Pastinha (born Pastiña), a poor Spanish immigrant who worked as a pedlar and Eugênia Maria de Carvalho Ferreira, a black Bahian homemaker. He was exposed to Capoeira at the age of 8 by an African named Benedito. From 1902 to 1909, Pastinha taught capoeira to his colleagues at the School of Sailor Apprentices. He stopped teaching in 1912 and spent nearly thirty years away from capoeira. In 1941, at the request of other mestres of the era, Amorizinho, Pastinha founded the first Angola school, the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola, located at the Pelourinho. His students would wear black pants and yellow T-shirts, the same color as the Esporte Clube Ypiranga, his favorite soccer club. he taught it in the old way, by observation, without a formal method, and in this way he kept the traditions alive. If you want to know more about him, Click HERE.
Capoeira nowadays is not only a martial art, but an active exporter of Brazilian culture all over the world. In the 1970s, capoeira mastres began to emigrate and teach it in other countries. Present in many countries on every continent, every year capoeira attracts thousands of foreign students and tourists to Brazil. Foreign capoeiristas work hard to learn Portuguese to better understand and become part of the art. Renowned capoeira mestres often teach abroad and establish their own schools. Capoeira presentations, normally theatrical, acrobatic and with little martiality, are common sights around the world.
And now, I have something special for you.
What I have posted on these last 2 pages are MY OPINION on the history of this artform. An informed opinion perhaps, but still, my opinion.
However, I feel it ‘s my responsibility to share with all of you as much factual information regarding all aspects of Capoeira Angola, so you can check it out for yourselves. My research into Capoeira angola is ONGOING, and if you’re serious about this way of life, then you should never stop learning about this art.
The new Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History has published A summary of the history of capoeira and an overview of the existing literature and primary sources. All free, and totally accessible.
Click HERE to check it out.
And, click HERE to gain free access to the book, “Capoeira – The history of Afro Brazilian Martial Art” by Matthais Rohrig Assuncao, which you can get on amazon by clicking HERE.
And, click HERE to gain free access to one of my all-time favorite capoeira books, “Ring of liberation : deceptive discourse in Brazilian capoeira”, by J. Lowell Lewis. You can also get it on amazon by clicking HERE.
And last, but certainly not least, I want you all to watch this video:
I was just going to just post the above video and have everyone watch it, because in that video, among other things, Greg Downey talks about Brazil’s 19th century history and Capoeira’s role in it far better than I can on one web page. But, I figured, the video wasn’t gonna last forever…
Capoeira Angola, an ancient martial art of African origin, is one of the many cultural weapons used to break the chains of enslavement in Brazil. At one time, Capoeira was outlawed, with death being the penalty paid by those caught playing Capoeira during the slavery era. For almost 400 years Capoeira Angola was taught and practiced in secret, and only in the 1930’s did this African martial art become legal to teach and practice.We who practice Capoeira Angola owe it to all those who fought to keep it alive in the past…
To learn, practice, preserve, and show this beautiful way of life called Capoeira Angola to the world. And, to pass it on to the next generation, and beyond…