Videos: Maculelê

18 01 2008

Dear reader, please play the following clips of maculelê performances for your viewing pleasure!

With grimas: 

With facãos: 

Maculelê roda:

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Capoeira é Dança, Part 1: Maculelê

17 01 2008

Welcome to Part 1 of Mandingueira’s newest series, Capoeira é Dança!  Maculelê has always been one of my absolute favourite things about capoeira since the first day I saw it (“That’s even cooler than the backflips!”), and I hope you enjoy finding out more about this spellbinding dance as much as I did!   

Myths and Legends

Maculelê may have been named for a village hero who single-handedly fought off an enemy tribe.Maculelê has its origins steeped in waters as murky as those which surround the origin of capoeira. Some say it came from Africa. Some say it came from indigenous Brazil. One story features slaves on a sugarcane plantation; another features two tribes at war. What is agreed, however, is that maculelê is a warrior dance—clashing blades, flying sparks, and heroic movements all blend together in a whirlwind performance against the pounding of hypnotic drums.

One of the most popular origin stories of maculelê attributes it to African slaves working on the sugarcane plantations in Brazil. The maculelê sticks were to represent stalks of sugarcane, and machetes the large knives used to cut them. Slaves, according to this theory, either formed the dance for entertainment in the fields or senzalas while resting between work, with the dance movements representing the motions of cutting sugarcane; performed it to vent their anger and frustration; or, like capoeira, practiced it as a form of self-defense disguised as a dance, later using the sticks, knives, and movements to protect themselves from physical punishment. Maculelê performances have also been known to use flaming torches in place of sticks or machetes; these represent the sticks some say slaves used to fight their “captains”, which were pulled, still burning, from the fire.

The other principal version of maculelê’s origins features a village hero, and there are variations even within this. As the story goes, all the men of a village went hunting and fishing one day, and left only one man or one boy to protect the rest of the village (i.e. women, children, and the elderly). An enemy village attacked, and the hero fought them all off with only a pair of wooden sticks he picked up off the ground. In some versions he dies in the attempt, but always when the rest of the village men return, they celebrate his bravery and spirit, creating the dance of Maculelê (possibly the hero’s name) in his honour. This story is said by some to have taken place in Africa, and one source goes so far as to give specifics: it was not one man, but 22, and they were from a village in Nigeria.


Finally, maculelê seems to be partly yet very strongly rooted in the indigenous culture of Brazil. Popular Brazilian legends tell the same tale of a sole man or boy fighting off an entire enemy tribe and saving his own, then being celebrated in the dance of maculelê. According to one, the battle was actually part of an ongoing conflict between two tribes, a warlike one and a peaceful one. The latter could not defend themselves against repeated attacks by the former, until during one attack, a young boy named Maculelê ran around with such ferocious energy holding two sticks in his hand that the warlike tribe never came back.

There is much talk of African culture having mixed with Brazil’s indigenous culture in the creation of maculelê, especially as the dance resembles some Brazilian aboriginal ones. A study by Manoel Querino, on the other hand, claims that maculelê was actually derived from the Cucumbi natives in Angola, whose battle traditions involved a “more elaborate and complex warrior dance” that “included group dance formations simulating actual combat”.

That’s it for how maculelê came to exist in the first place, but what happened after? How did this “dance of sticks” migrate from indigenous tribes, whether in Africa or Brazil, into the academies and performances of capoeira schools today?

All the World’s a Stage

Maculelê is performed as a popular part of many festivities in Santo Amaro.That would be thanks to one Paulino Alusio de Andrade, also known as Mestre Popo do Maculelê, in the city of Santo Amaro. Apparently, Mestre Popo first used the movements of this near-forgotten dance in the street, with a friend to attract the attention of women. Then, he gathered family and friends in 1943 in order to teach them maculelê based on his memory. He refined and revived it through a folkloric dance company called Conjunto do Maculelê de Santo Amaro, with the intention of reintroducing maculelê in local religious festivals. As a result, Mestre Popo is now considered by some to be the father of maculelê in Brazil.

If Mestre Popo is the father, Santo Amaro may well be the home. A city in interior Bahia, Santo Amaro is known for its African cultural heritage, which strongly includes maculelê. Incidentally (or perhaps not so incidentally), Santo Amaro is apparently also known for “the green of its sugarcane fields”. It’s not surprising then to hear that maculelê is supposed to have developed in the sugarcane fields of Santo Amaro, where the dance has been performed in local festivals for over 200 years. It is a leading number in the Nossa Senhora de Purificacao (Our Lady of Purification) festival every February, and plays a role in other religious and harvest festivities as well.

Although no one knows exactly how old maculelê is, the role it played in Santo Amaro is unmistakeable, with records such as the following newspaper obituary, published in O Popular, December 10, 1873:

“On the first of December the African Raimunda Quiteria passed away at the age of 110.  In spite of her age, she still used to cut the grass and sweep the front and back of the ‘Church of Purification’ for the maculelê festival.”

The popularity of maculelê declined after the abolition of slavery in 1888, coinciding with the death of great maculelê masters in the early 1900s, until it was revitalized by the efforts of Mestre Popo (purely for the tourism, one source claims). Now, the dance takes centre stage once again, especially among festivities in northeastern Brazil.

Maculelê performance by a capoeira grupo

As for maculelê’s association with capoeira, this supposedly began in the 1960s, through the students of Mestre Bimba. Many capoeira groups today incorporate maculelê into their schools due to its similar Afro-Brazilian roots to those of capoeira.

Dance this Dance

Maculelê dancers using machetes, or facãosMaculelê is immediately recognizable for its dramatic, expressive motions, high-energy performances, spectacular choreography (if applicable), and mesmerizing rhythms. The sticks, called grimas, were originally 24 inches long and 1 1/8 in. thick, but today have a range of 12-20 inches. Traditionally, grimas are made of biriba wood, the same used to make berimbaus. Maculelê knives, normally machetes, are called facãos, and they were traditionally around 40cm long (about 16 inches).

The dance is performed to a 4-count rhythm: for three beats, players strike their own sticks (or knives, or flaming torches) together in combination with expressive and athletic movements, and every fourth beat, partners strike their right-hand sticks together. Grass skirts are normally worn for performances, and sometimes bodies are painted. Although today many maculelê performances are choreographed and have dancers performing movements individually in straight lines, true maculelê is done in a roda just like capoeira is. Someone begins singing, then two people enter and begin to play. According to one source, the original basic step of maculelê was a “broken gingado” similar to that found in frevo, but through the years has been turned into “a hardened ginga with little swing”.

Maculelê by Grupo Abada CapoeiraMaculelê songs are sung mostly in Portuguese as well as in Yoruba, one of the languages spoken by the African slaves in Brazil. Songs can lament working in the sugarcane fields, celebrate the abolition of slavery, recall the bravery of the hero Maculelê, or evoke the battles of Brazil’s indigenous peoples. Up to three atabaques may be used for the accompanying rhythms, one of each type: Rum (large), Rum-pi (medium), and Lê (small). The rhythms usually associated with maculelê are the congo, afoxé, and barra vento.  Click here and scroll down for a list of maculele songs (with lyrics and English translations)!

Well, that’s it for Part 1, and I hope you discovered more about maculelê than you ever thought you would!  Unfortunately, I can’t list the sources I used right now as they’re bookmarked on my own computer and I’m posting this from a hostel in Morocco, but they will be added as soon as I return home!


Click here to read a transcribed/translated interview with Mestre Popo, the “Father of Maculelê”!

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6 Keys to Building Upper-Body Strength (And Other News)

16 01 2008

Hello, class!

Today, we’re going to take a little field trip over to The Capoeira Blog, where Faisca has kindly published a guest post of mine.  Faisca was really nice in helping me when I first started trying to get Mandingueira off the ground, and so I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you! 

Before going on to the guest post, I apologize in advance for any irregularities in posting this week!  I’m actually on vacation in North Africa right now, so it’s going to be a little bit tricky.  The topic for today’s post went through an interesting process.  Originally, I was going to publish the article on maculelê, first in the Capoeira é Dança series.  Then, thanks to Day 1 of my trip, in fact, I completely forgot about that and was going to write a one-off post titled “The Scariest Night of My Life and Why Things Like this Blog Need to Exist”.  (Don’t worry, nothing happened, but that fact itself was also a part of it, as you’ll see.)  Now that Faisca has published my guest post, I also plan to publish a sister post to it, looking at women’s strength and the perception of it (or its lack) from a more theoretical point of view.  I hope to keep posting throughout my trip, and will hit all of the things mentioned above, so please keep checking back for more!

Click here to read 6 Keys to Building Upper-Body Strength

Videos: Contra-Mestra Susy (Grupo Vadiacão, Capoeira Angola)

14 01 2008

There were too many to choose from!  I’ll put two up here, and they’re a little lengthy, but worth it. 

This first one is Contra-Mestra Susy playing several of her students, and you can just feel the fun she’s having playing them, through the video.  (And props to the kid for his macaco, hehe.)  There are also some really interesting parts where you can almost (almost) forgive those people who mistake capoeira for [purely] a dance. 😛  Contra-Mestra Susy is the one in all white.

This second one has Contra-Mestra Susy playing someone more her level, and again, they are obviously having fun (another difference that’s starting to come up more between angola and regional to me; angola games seem to have a lot more playfulness at…well, play…than the average regional game).  Watch for a really cool section near the end of the first half, where it looks like they’re playing at intense regional speed, but with clearly angola movements.

And for those who still haven’t had enough, here’s a link to more!


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Ie viva meu Mestra, Part 7: Contra-Mestra Susy

12 01 2008

I’m starting to see an interesting pattern emerge from researching all these female mestres and contra-mestres.  Very few of them seem to have based their lives on capoeira alone, as it appears with many males mestres, but have expanded and merged it with other major aspects of their lives or livelihoods as well.  Mestra Edna Lima took the physical, sports science aspect of capoeira regional and turned it into fitness or physical education programs.  Mestras Janja and Paulinha focused on the sociological aspect of capoeira angola and through that, publish examining articles while working for change and progress in related social issues.  Now, we have Contra-Mestra Susy, whose life and career highlights the potential of capoeira’s dance aspect.

Contra-mestra Susy of Grupo Vadiacao and Academica JangadaContra-Mestra Susy became the first European female in capoeira angola to earn her rank’s belt, in 1992, and she puts the “dance” in the dance-fight-game. In addition to nineteen years of capoeira, sixteen of which were with Berlin’s Mestre Rosalvo (the first angoleiro to arrive in Europe), she studies and practices breakdancing as well as Afro-Brazilian dances associated with capoeira. Contra-Mestra Susy, or Susanne Oesterreicher, also performed in the dance piece Grupo Oito by Ricardo de Paula, with whom she has been working since 2005, and who choreographed her debut solo performance, “Identity”.  Ricardo de Paula is known for his work in attempting to combine contemporary dance and “contact improvisation”, inspired by capoeira.

Contra-Mestra Susy organized the First International Capoeira Angola Convention in Europe, in 1993, followed by a series of international meetings that hosted guests such as Mestres João Grande, João Pequeno, Cobra Mansa, and Ciro.  She then founded the Academia Jangada with Mestre Rosalvo in 1997, Europe’s first capoeira angola academy, for which she coordinated the First International Convention for Afro-Brazilian Dance in 1998.

In 1999, Contra-Mestra Susy founded Grupo Vadiação, and since then has also been teaching the children’s capoeira group in Academia Jangada. She now holds workshops throughout Europe, Brazil, and the United States, where she attended the Fourth International Women’s Conference at the invitation of Mestre Cobra Mansa, in Seattle, 2002.


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My First Capoeira Class (Or: Joaninha Joins a Brazilian Street Cult)

11 01 2008

*to-be-Joaninha (hereonafter referred to as simply “Joaninha”)
*Joaninha’s father
*Joaninha’s sister
*Random British woman
*Teacher who taught first capoeira class
*Group of skilled, attractive, intimidating, tattooed strangers who obviously work out (hereonafter referred to as simply “Capoeiristas”)

Scene 1: Kitchen inside Joaninha’s home

Joaninha sitting at table, poring over KCC (community centre) summer program.

Joaninha (to self): Well, it’s July and I have another two months to go before university starts.  Seeing as how it’s not really my goal to become a professional couch potato by the end of August, I should probably pick something up.  Hm, what’s this?

Joaninha’s eye is caught by an interesting-looking word.  The intrigue piques her dormant yet awakening inner-English major.

Joaninha (to self): Capoeira? (with retroactively perfect pronunciation) “Learn self-defense and increase your flexibility to invigorating Brazilian music!” (or words to that as equally misleading effect)  That sounds like something new, and interesting.  And since it’s just a community centre program, it’ll probably be all “just for fun” and no pressure, nothing really hardcore or anything like that.  I’ll try it!

Scene 2: KCC Gym, one month later.

Joaninha enters and makes a few interesting observations during the start of her first class.

Joaninha (to self): Hm, the music’s pretty cool.  Wait, why is everyone in uniform?  Uh-oh.  And they all have belts!  What?!?  Okay, okay, class is starting.  What did everyone just say?!  What was that move they just did??  Alright, just running around the room now, that’s normal, warm-up makes sense…oh, the teacher’s starting to clap on beat—wth?!?!!

Joaninha’s internal panic system goes into overdrive as rest of the class does a cartwheel every time teacher claps.

1.5 hours later

Against all odds, Joaninha has survived both mentally and physically, along with one British woman, also new, who was never to be seen again.  Class is now sitting through wrap-up talk.

Teacher: So, we’re ending class a little early today so we can go to the academy.

Joaninha (to self): There’s an academy?!

Teacher: And Thursday’s class is cancelled—

(At this point, teacher starts talking about what turns out to be a batizado, which, unheard of by and unbeknownst to Joaninha, happened to be that weekend.  So, she heard things a little differently.)

Teacher: —because we’re all going to a tournament to compete against teams from the United States and Brazil.

Joaninha (to self): Whoa!  What?!?!  Okay, this thing is WAY bigger than I thought it was!!!  Holy crap, what have I gotten myself into?!

Teacher (to Joaninha, as people get ready to leave for academy): You should come, and see what capoeira is really like.  This is just a small part of it.

Joaninha (to self): Well, if I’m going to do this, I might as well make an effort to do it properly.  (to teacher) Um…okay.  I just have to call my dad. (for she does not yet know how to drive or take public transit, to her future self’s chagrin)

Joaninha (to her father on the phone): Hi…yeah…so…this capoeira thing…well, I think I may have gotten just a tad in over my head…It turns out they have uniforms, and belts, and there’s an academy, and international teams, and everything…but they’re going to the academy tonight…and the teacher said it’d be good for me to see what it’s all like there…can you drive me?

Joaninha’s father arrives with little sister, who promptly states she came along for the ride specifically to make fun of Joaninha. 

Scene 3: The Academy 

Joaninha, father, and sister have arrived at The Academy, which turns out to be in a not-so-good part of town.  Joaninha and little sister are dropped off, proceed down narrow dark path between two buildings into a back alley, and enter The Academy.  They both spend the next seemingly interminable period of time (the exact length of which Joaninha has no memory, beyond “long”) huddled sitting on the floor against a wall watching Capoeiristas mingle, mill around, and eventually hold a roda.  Joaninha’s first roda is entirely seen through a forest of white-pantsed legs.

An interminably long period of time later.

Teacher: So, what did you think?

Joaninha: It was interesting!  Yup, see you next class!

Joaninha and little sister leave and are picked up by Joaninha’s father.

Sister (to father, angrily):  Why didn’t you come in?!?  It was so scary in there!!

Father: Are you kidding me?? All those big, muscled guys with tattoos?  I’m not going in there!

Joaninha makes mental note to rethink next year’s Father’s Day present.

Father: Anyway, wait till your mom hears that you’ve joined a Brazilian street cult!

The end.

Joaninha's first capoeira roda

Capoeira é Dança: New Series!

10 01 2008

You hear the distant pounding of an atabaque, and your heart begins to beat in time. You approach further, and the strains of a single berimbau call to you. Finally, your ears pick up the frolicking jingle of an accompanying pandeiro. You squeeze past the crowds, excitement rising—but wait! What’s this? That’s no ginga! Where are all the acrobatics? And—did she just spin?

Capoeira é DançaYep. You, my friend, have just stumbled upon a fine showing of samba de roda, one of the many Brazilian or Afro-Brazilian dances associated with doing capoeira. Be prepared to stumble upon many more, as we go through afro, xaxado, coco de roda, and maracatu, just to name a few!

Where did they come from? What do they mean? How are they done? Who were the first to dance this dance, and why?

Welcome to Mandingueira‘s newest post series: Capoeira é Dança! You know all about capoeira’s background; now learn about the other half of the show. Look out for the first instalment coming soon, starting with my personal favourite:

“Pula menino, que eu sou Maculelê!”

Picture source:

Capoeira é Dança: Archives

Part 1: Maculelê
Part 2: Puxada de Rede
Part 3: Forró
Part 4: Xaxado


Puxada de Rede

A Thousand Words: Writing and Talking About Capoeira

9 01 2008

Words about capoeira are like shadows of the real thing 

Do you remember the first time you read something substantial about capoeira? What about the first time you went all out talking shop with a fellow capoeirista, or your first in-depth capoeira discussion?

The first capoeira book I read was Nestor Capoeira’s Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game. It was the first time I’d read anything substantial written about capoeira, and it was revelational. Imagine a girl, curled up on a chair at the kitchen table, completely still except for the spellbound page-turning of Chapter 1, eyes word by word razing lines to the ground, thinking: “Nestor Capoeira can read my mind.

Fast-forward six months or a year or so.  By now, I’m more or less constantly talking with my capoeira friends outside of class.  Of course, what else do we talk about but capoeira?  We talk about everything, from technique, to music, to trends, to dynamics, to politics, to changes, to likes and dislikes, to hearsay, to problems, to advice, to complaints, to aspirations, to the past, present, and future.  (Whoa.  And not just about capoeira anymore.  Honestly, what would I do without these guys?)

The thing was, especially and mostly at the beginning, I found that while sharing all the thoughts and ideas I’d accumulated about capoeira and class and related matters since having started was fun and gratifying—moreover to people who related!—it also somehow felt a bit…hollow.  Like nothing quite came out the way I wanted it to, no matter how many times I reworded or amended my comments.  Like I knew exactly what I was talking about before saying it, and after it came out, sounded nothing like I’d thought it would.  Like while everything remained percolating in my mind, it was clear, and pure, and…well, for lack of a better word, sacred; and after I articulated my thoughts, or tried to, it lost all of that.  It became cheapened, and trite, merely strings of words thrown to the wind, mental glass structures processed into verbal sand.

To put it simply, talking so earnestly about capoeira, at times, seemed to take away the magic from just doing and thinking about capoeira.  It was the reverse of reading Nestor Capoeira’s book for the first time. 

I believed the same would apply to writing about capoeira, as well.  Before the idea for Mandingueira came up, I never for one second considered writing a blog about capoeira.  It would be too much, I thought, too much writing, and talking, and spelling out, and deconstruction and breaking down of something I felt was best experienced holistically.  Wanting to describe or discuss any part of capoeira, whether in speech or in writing, is like wanting to paint a stunning, breathtaking, fiery sunset.  The subject is so beautiful and awe-inspiring that you feel compelled to capture it, to retain its essence, yet you know you never can, and thus don’t want to because even your best efforts will not do it justice—but still want to.

So despite the challenge, many people continue to pick up a paintbrush, ready to capture the sun.  Perhaps the most beautiful thing about it is that no matter how many people try, fail, or succeed, it remains ever burning just as bright, an irrisitible source of inspiration for all those who stop and gaze.

Picture source:

Essential Capoeira: New Capoeira Book Comes Out

8 01 2008

From Blue Snake Books:

Essential Capoeira, by Mestre Ponchianinho(Essential Capoeira: The Guide to Mastering the Art; Available January 29, 2008)  Fun, different, and above all effective, capoeira is a unique dance-fight-fitness program enhancing strength, stamina, and flexibility training for the entire body. … In clear, accessible language, author Mestre Ponchianinho explains the aims and benefits of the discipline, along with its history, origins, and philosophy. He continues by introducing the two main styles along with the techniques of the most famous mestres. Easy-to-follow warm-ups, basic moves, defense and escape moves, kicks, training combinations, strengthening exercises, ground movements; and more advanced acrobatic movements are all described and illustrated in step-by-step photographs. […]

Ponciano Almeida began studying capoeira in Brazil at the age of four and was teaching with the Cordao de Ouro school by the age of fifteen. An instructor and performer who appeared in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, he lives in London.  [Editor’s note: Most likely no relation to Mestre Acordeon, aka Bira Almeida, or it would almost certainly have been mentioned here.]

What do you guys think?  I’ve never actually read a “technical” capoeira book before.  One reason is that I’ve always thought it wouldn’t be worth it for me to get one, because I would either have learned the same things in class; not be able to use what I learned from the book if it didn’t fit with my group’s style; or just not have time to train according to the book on top of the time I was already using to train in class.  On the other hand, I’m sure they could be very useful in terms of clarifying technique and details of how you do the moves you do know and can make use of, and it’s always a good idea to expose yourself to how others do things.  The mandatory history/philosophy/cultural analysis section that seems to accompany most things written on capoeira might provide interesting, additional insight as well. 

That first line worries me a little though—“dance-fight-fitness program”?!   Not that Nestor Capoeira is in one (knock on wood), but if there were a grave, he would probably be rolling in it right about now… Still, I’m definitely not one to judge a book by its cover, especially before it has even come out!  Plus, the author was in the fourth Harry Potter movie, which, you know, is just cool. 😛

Ie viva meu Mestra, Part 6: Mestra Paulinha

7 01 2008

Something interesting I noticed while researching Mestra Paulinha and Mestra Janja is that it was a lot easier to find information about recent or current things they had done/were doing, than it was to find things in the past that they had done (like a plain old biography!).  I found this really intriguing because normally, for capoeira mestres/mestras, all you can find is their stock biography, plastered word-for-word all over the capoerista’s World Wide Web.  Furthermore, most of the information I did find was about projects or events they had done or were part of, rather than accounts of their capoeirista journeys leading up to them becoming mestras and having their own group. 

I suspect this is connected to my last post about how capoeira (angola), at least for Mestras Paulinha and Janja, is inherently about bringing about change, and to say the least, they do more than just talk about how it is and actually show how it is.  I really admire how they have found a way to seamlessly merge career, academics, capoeira, and working for change all into one!

Mestra Paulinha of Grupo Nzinga CapoeiraMestra Paulinha, like Mestra Janja, is a veritable force to be reckoned with in the fields of social issues, academia, and (of course) capoeira. Last year marked her 25th in capoeira angola, and in that time she: earned a master’s and doctorate degree in Sociology (from the University of Bahia and University of São Paulo, respectively); became a distinguished professor at the University of Bahia; gave lectures on various topics in various settings; published scholarly articles; and worked with Mestra Janja to focus attention on (anti-)racism, youth, higher education, identity, black culture, and women in capoeira.

Mestra Paulinha began training capoeira near the start of the 1980s, in GCAP (Grupo Capoeira Angola de Pelourinho), also with Mestres Moraes, João Grande, and Cobra Mansa. She became a contra-mestra in 1990 and moved to São Paulo in 1998, where she became a coordinator of INCAB (Instituto Nzinga de Estudos da Capoeira Angola) along with Mestra Janja and Mestre Poloca. In 2002, Mestra Paulinha moved to Salvador, and leads a core group of Grupo Nzinga Capoeira there. She is the grupo’s designated sociologist, and has maintained constant dialogue with other capoeira angola groups in order to further INCAB’s goals.

Editor’s note: INCAB is not, as was implied in Mestra Janja’s write-up, the same as Grupo Nzinga Capoeira. INCAB is a larger, umbrella organization that encompasses several smaller associations, such as Grupo Nzinga Capoeira and the Nzinga Berimbau Orchestra.

Sources: (with Google translation) (with Google translation)

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