The first time I saw this video featuring Mestres Pastinha, Bobó, and João Pequeno playing was in a symposium in 2006 in Florianópolis, Brazil. The footage was found by Luiz Victor a student of Mestre João Pequeno, in an abandoned collection of a library in Rio. The TV Show Veja o Brasil was produced and directed by the folklorist Alceu Maynard Araújo in 1950. Maynard also authors the narrative, that I captioned for this video. The footage is quite interesting in itself, but in commenting about it I would like to take the chance to discuss a few random issues. All, of course, as part of this little tribute to Mestre Pastinha’s death in November 13 of 1981. And yet, as part of the celebration of November as the month of the Black Consciousness in Brazil. Huge thanks to Professor Calango from Volta do Mundo productions who shared the footage file with me a while ago.
To start with, I don’t agree with those who say that ‘Mestre Pastinha died in the most absolute misery'; which is often said, and does not make justice to his achievements. Material misery, for sure! But never cultural, philosophical, psychological! So much so that he was never biter about Capoeira, his philosophy of life. When questioned about what could the Government authorities do to help Capoeira, he said: “Nothing!”. As far as I know this story, it goes on saying that Mestre Pastinha told the authorities that if they would like to do something, they should look after the welfare of those teaching, not after the art in itself.
On his view Capoeira was doing well and would eventually achieve social and historic recognition, as it did. Mestre Pastinha didn’t live in poverty because of Capoeira, he lived in material poverty in spite of his cultural richness. Contradictions of a complex society been rapidly westernised. He lived in a harsh situation, like the majority of the Brazilian people, due to a complex combination of oppressive colonialism and other socio-historic conditions inflicted upon the nation by its ruling elite.
Capoeira was his treasure, which he kindly shared with all of us through his teachings, writings, illustrations, and of course, his students. But to understand his legacy one must look beyond the materialist perspective, because as Eichberg (2004) put it:
“Culture is an alternative definition of wealth … The wealth of culture – and of sport – is more than just multiplicity… But it is diversity, and this means difference. It is difference that makes variety – and this demands recognition of the otherness of the other … popular sports represents a way to peace by playing on difference.” (Eichberg, 2004)
Now we just have to share this with those educating their students in groups’ and styles’ rivalry! ;)
Bearing this in mind, how can we say that he died in ‘the most absolute misery’?!
Mestre Pastinha was a man of the people, not a self-made-man. In spite of his great knowledge and wisdom he never wanted more for him than what he wanted for all his peers. Contrary to what we see today in our worldwide community. Today it is common to see people, not as talented in the art, and/or devoted to its principles as Seu Vicente was using his death in material poverty as a way to justify their exploitation in Capoeira. Mestre Pastinha was selfless, and devoted to the entire community around him. In his genial simplicity he new that as far as social and cultural capital goes, the more you share, the more you gain. And he was a Mestre in sharing, regardless of styles, and above rivalries.
The following passage from Mestre Decânio’s book the Heritage of Mestre Pastinha, in which he comments Seu Vicente’s own manuscripts, is very instructive about his genial capacity to see what bounds us together, instead of what divide us. In a section titled “Capoeiristas who do not have support”, Mestre Pastinha notes that: “… there are many varieties: capoeiristas who do not have support, who divide themselves into unimportant classes, by ignorance, by pride. This is nothing good; see it and do not accept it…” To what Mestre Decânio adds:
Pastinha criticizes those who, because of ignorance and pride (not to mention commercial interests) divide capoeira into trivial categories – like regional and angola – and do not accept the true capoeira – the game of capoeira – from which arise the two styles created by the two greatest mestres of capoeira, Bimba and Pastinha. (Decânio Filho; 1997)
Furthermore, and still reinforcing Seu Vicente’s character of a man of his community, I would like to mention some of his lessons and how a few ‘Mestres’ have been twisting them. Due to marketing and authenticity matters that I won’t explore in this post (you can check some discussions about it in here, here, and here) the discourse was built as Capoeira Angola being ‘the authentic’ style, the one that came from Angola, Africa, as opposed to a ‘regional’ style, from Bahia, Brazil. With a predominant, but not at all exclusively, African influence and ancestry, Capoeira Angola has been re-invented in the past decades according to a western kind of Africanism.
Of course the strongest influence in Capoeira is African. Not just ‘from Africa’, but from a complex milieu of cultures. But would it be the same if it wasn’t born to a specific socio-historical and cultural context in Brazil? If these African influences did not clash within a syncretic Brazilian context?
In this regard it’s ironic that was Mestre Pastinha who became to be considered the most important figure in Capoeira Angola. Ironic because today there is a strong Africanist trend in Capoeira, a movement generally inclined to overlook its Brazilian origins while overvaluing the African roots. Something Seu Vicente, himself a descendent of an Spaniard* and a Black Brazilian women, never did. On the contrary, he stated that Capoeira was ‘the second fight’ “because the first was that of the caboclos, and the Africans joined it with dance, parts of batuque and parts of candomblé, they created their style.” Mestre Pastinha’s statement is followed by Mestre Decânio‘s comment:
Here is an important historical detail, a direct reference to the roots of capoeira, the dances of candomblé and of batuque. It derived from the movements and the rhythms of candomblé, especially because in batuque – a dance with traumatic, violent tripping movements, considered ambiguously dance and fight – it was expressly prohibited to use the hands! The Mestre also cites the dance of the caboclos – a Brazilian element, indicator of the Brazilian origin of capoeira! (Decanio Filho, 1997: 21)
In fact, a bit further on in his notes, Seu Vicente humbly says that “When they ask me where capoeira came from, I respond, I don’t know, because the Mestres of my epoch do not say. … (Decanio Filho; 1997)”. Once again followed by Mestre Decanio’s own notes:
The disappointment of not having encountered capoeira in Angola during his trip “to show capoeira of Brazil!” confirms the fact that the mestres of his epoch – the beginning of the 20th century – ignored its origin. The lack of knowledge of its origin on the African continent, by Afro-Brazilian oral tradition, reinforces the thesis of its appearance in Santo Amaro da Purificação, Bahia, in the port area, in a similar way to how maculelê appeared in the sugar cane fields! Another relevant datum, “there are capoeiristas on all the beaches,” confirms the costal presence of capoeira, contrasting with the lack of oral references to native centers outside the maritime and river centers, a precious clue for future researchers! (Decanio Filho, 1997: 22)
In Mestre Decanio’s notes however, we note the use of the term ‘Afro-Brazilian’ quite often. A term that depicts the main cultural background from which Capoeira sprung, but that it also reduces it. I say this because, in a way, to say that Capoeira is an ‘Afro-Brazilian’ cultural practice, is as reductive as it’s to say that it’s a ‘Brazilian Martial-art’. As Morin (1999) singles out concerning the western reductionism in his book Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future:
The principle of reduction inevitably results in reduction of the complex to the simple. … And it may obscure the truth and eliminate all elements that cannot be measured and quantified [like the ethnic mixing component of the Brazilian], taking the human out of what is human, the passions, emotions, sorrows and joys. Further, when the principle of reduction is applied in strict obedience to the determinist postulate it obscures what is fortuitous, new, inventive [like Capoeira is]. Because we were taught to separate, compartmentalize, isolate learning instead of making connections, the whole of our knowledge forms an unintelligible puzzle. Interactions, retroactions, contexts and complexities, lost in the no man’s land between different disciplines [or styles in Capoeira], become invisible. The major human problems disappear, obscured by specific technical problems. The inability to organize scattered compartmentalized learning leads to atrophy of the natural mental disposition to contextualize and globalize. … Fragmented, compartmentalized, mechanized, reductionist intelligence breaks the complex of the world into disjointed fragments, fractures problems, separates what is connected, makes the multidimensional unidimensional. … (Morin; 1999: 25)
Capoeira is not only ‘Afro-Brazilian’, as it’s not only ‘a Brazilian martial-art’. Ethnically speaking it’s much more complex than the label indicates; as its interdisciplinary characters demands a broader definition. In his wisdom Mestre Pastinha knew all that. His manuscripts are full of warnings about the complexity of Capoeira, of its origins, of its diversity. He was an Angoleiro, but above that he was a capoeira. He was an Afro-Spanish-Brazilian descendent (if we’re to use the western hyphenated labels) but beyond that he was a Brazilian. He was a Mestre without never putting himself above others. On the contrary he always dedicated his life to serve the art-form as a teacher.
Great lessons in times when “identities battles cannot do their job of identification without dividing as much as, or more than, they unite”. Even more so while our Mestres and teachers keep reinforcing their students’ sense of belonging to groups and styles above belonging to the worldwide community of Capoeira in general. In this way our “inclusive intentions mingle with (or rather are complemented by) intentions to segregate, exempt and exclude” (Bauman; 2004: 79).
Seu Vicente ‘The Philosopher’ Pastinha, as I said, knew all that, proving that the path of devotion and selfless dedication to master ourselves through Capoeira can be powerfully enlightening.
Sua benção Mestre Pastinha! Obrigado pelo exemplo de coerência! Por viver na prática o que ensinava com devoção na Capoeira!!
* – For instance, at Mestre Pastinha’s Wikipedia entry, there is no reference to his ethnic mixed background.
Bauman, Z. and Vecchi, B. (2004). Identity: Conversations with Benedetto Vecchi. Cambridge, UK. Polity Press.
‘Capoeira de Angola’ (1950) TV Show Veja o Brasil [See Brazil]. Produced and directed by Alceu Maynard Araujo.
Decanio Filho, A. (1997) The Heritage of Mestre Pastinha. São Salomão Collection 3. Electronic editing of the text; revision, creation and final art of the cover:
Angelo A. Decânio Filho. Translated by Shayna McHugh.
Eichberg, H. (2004). From sport export to politics of recognition. EAC Magazine Online. Accessed on 26/04/2007 at: www.eac-magazine.com/en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=56&Itemid=65
Morin, E. (1999) Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future. Unesco Publishing.