Capoeira é Dança, Part 2: Puxada de Rede

6 02 2008

Although I have never seen puxada de rede performed before, I was enchanted as soon as I started reading about it.  Perhaps it was the idea of theatre exalting the real, of the supernatural convening with the natural, or of beauty growing out of tragedy, but something about it hooked me (pun not intended).  I hope you feel the same!

Tradition and Necessity

A fisherman throwing out a net 

Puxada de Rede, like many traditional Afro-Brazilian dances, is marinated in legend and folklore. Unlike other dances such as maculelê, however, the “original” puxada de rede is still a true-to-form way of life today.

Named for fishermen’s “pulling of the net”, puxada de rede is a dance as well as a “folkloric theatrical play” evoking the lives of traditional fishermen in Brazil. More specifically, the dance/play is a tribute to both the sea and the fisherman’s work in Bahia, where both have figured and continue to figure tremendously into the region’s lifestyle. Fishing by puxada de rede (the method) is one of the most important means of sustenance in Bahia, and commonly seen along the Northeastern coast of Brazil, due to the large amounts of xaréu fish that migrate to the warmer waters there between October and April each year. (“Xaréu” is both a common dark meat fish and the name used for several species of fish in the Atlantic Ocean.) For this reason, puxada de rede is also sometimes known as “puxada de rede do xaréu” or “xaréu hake”.

The ritual of puxada de rede is a legacy with a line thrown back to the period of slavery in Brazil—or rather, the period right after slavery. According to one source, former slaves had difficulty finding jobs in the labour market, and so they made their living at sea; Bahia, apparently, was the first place to see this happen. Today, puxada de rede represents an ever more significantly renewable resource in Brazil, upon which thousands of families depend.

In the Hands of the Goddess

Performance of puxada de redeAfter reviewing a myriad of sources and videos, it appears that the puxada de rede can be performed with a choice of emphasis on one of three concepts: the death of a fisherman who went out to sea at night; acknowledging, entreating, and thanking Yemanjá, the Goddess of the Sea, while celebrating the aquatic windfall she has provided; or the actual process and ritual of puxada de rede itself. Elements of all three are found in the following popular legend, on which most performances of puxada de rede are based:

One night under the full moon, a fisherman went to fish at sea, in order to feed his family. He kissed his wife goodbye. She had a bad feeling about her husband going to fish at night. She warned him and told him of the dangers of fishing at night. Nevertheless, the fisherman left the house, despite his wife’s tears and children’s scared faces.

The fisherman went to sea and took with him the image of Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes (Our Lady of Sailors). He went with his fellow fishermen and God’s blessing. Hours before the fisherman was supposed to return, his wife waited for him on the beach. She had an odd vision. She saw the fishing boat return with the fishermen on board. They were very sad, and some of them were in tears. They then got off the ship. In panic, the woman realized that her husband was not there. The fishermen told her that he had fallen off deck into the darkness of the night. They could not find him in Yemanjá’s waters.

In the morning, when they pulled the net that was in the ocean, they noticed that they had caught much less fish than they expected, yet the net was heavier than usual. Once the net was on shore, they realized that the missing fisherman’s body was in the net. Everyone became very emotional and desperation took over those who were present.

They proceeded to hold funerary rituals for the fisherman. They carried his body on their shoulders because they could not afford a coffin. His companions and loved ones took his body to his eternal resting spot.


Gone Fishing

Performance of puxada de redeThe actual process of puxada de rede takes place every year in Bahia, flanked with music, rituals, poetry, festivities, and religion. It begins with fishers and their families preparing the xaréu nets, which crisscross rolls of strong, resistant wire with about a thousand metres of rope. Wearing short trousers or shorts and straw hats, groups of fishermen throw the net into the sea at the start of chanting, commanded by the “Master of the Sea”. (One source describes a “Master of Land” as well, who coordinates everything with the “Master of the Sea” and team generals.) The nets are then trawled out in large, heavy rafts that form a semi-circle in order to entrap the migrating, spawning fish. At this point, possibly fishermen go out in canoes and dive under the water to see how many fish have been caught.

Again at the Master’s signal, the bona fide puxada de rede begins—ritual, synchronized movement of bodies pulling the fish-laden net knot by knot out of the sea. The fishermen’s wives and families, meanwhile, sing and clap along the beach in order to fortify the spirits of those involved in the puxada de rede. Finally, the fish are secured, collected, and cleaned, followed by celebrations and thanks given for the catch.

Water Ballet

The dance/theatre version of all of the above transforms hardship, physical labour, and grief into a sublime ballet with the “resonance and poetic power of opera”. Work and joy are united through “force, power, and vitality” in body, along with music, ritual, and poetry in mind, all of which progresses in rhythm with the rolling, watery sphere of Yemanjá. As for the music, puxada de rede is executed to a slow atabaque beat. Song lyrics invoke Yemanjá for protection and abundance, as well as praise and thanks for the goddess. Both sad and joyous, the songs also convey the “natural beauty and daily struggles of the fisherman’s life”.

Puxada de rede is another traditional dance with acommpanying festivities in Brazil

With the development of technology in the fishing industry and otherwise, some say that the traditional puxada de rede has been reduced to a single, thin stripe of its former rainbow of tradition. Without ritual, songs, choreographed steps, nor the “charm and magic of the past”, puxada de rede may now occur on a much smaller scale than before, and also among fewer and smaller populations in Bahia. If this is true, then it makes the dance of puxada de rede all the more meaningful, as a both a tradition and the vivid memory of one.

Click here for a list of puxada de rede song lyrics

Click here to see other posts in  Capoeira é Dança

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

Picture sources:



11 responses

6 02 2008

Ei Joaninha

Sorry querida, but that balé is so gay!

A fake!

Crap! (can I say it here?)

This is the process through the essential-original culture is converted in a product for the consume of the masses…

Where the identity of a population is maked up to can be sell it to the world.

A shame!

PS: sorry about my english. You can find more about this reading anything related to culture, art, identity and nationalism.

7 02 2008

Some time ago I stumbled on these two video’s. Actually it’s one puxada de rede performance cut in two parts.

part 1:

Just in case you hadn’t seen these yet 🙂

7 02 2008

Oiii Joaninha!
Nice posting!
i recommend reading Jorge Amado’s novels. He has one about sailors and about the fate of sailor’s wifes… Very empowering story of a woman who has witnessed her husband die in a battle with sharks and her taking over her husband’s place on the sailboat! I am not sure what is the title of the novel in English (I read a Russian translation)

7 02 2008

Oi, Alvaro!

Haha yes, you can say that. When I wrote “ballet” I meant it more in a figurative sense though, rather than that the dance is actually a ballet dance. But could you elaborate more on what you were talking about? You mean the whole fisherman’s identity is something made up for consumers, or…? Thanks!

Xixarro!! Hey! Where have you been all this time? Heh, you’re always too quick for me when it comes to putting up videos, I was planning that part for today! Thanks for the links though 😀

Ola, Mariposa! 🙂 Wow, that does sound like a good story, and an empowering one, too. I’ll definitely have to look it up some time. Thank you for the recommendation!

7 02 2008

Very Nice!

7 02 2008

Oi querida

Sorry, I always assume things, and my speech sound with no connections…

So, the thing is talk about the Balé Folclorico da Bahia as cultural reference is a big “mancada” (mistake).

Basically, according my opinion, any floclorical ballet (in many countries exist, like Perú, Chile, Argentina, etc) pick a nice traditional culture, and apply some make-up on it, to make it more “digestive” for the people, the crowd, avid for new fast-food-cultural experiences.

I saw the Balé folclorico… not voluntarily, some gringa friend ask me to take her there.

So, I have to say again: what a crap!

I know what that is like for “real” (reallity depends on a personal point of view), I saw samba de roda, and puxada de rede, but do it by the people from the country, the interior of Bahia, old people (really old), velinhas e velinhos… no one of them will show something so gay and insipid like that balé.

(by the way, I have no problems with the gay community, in fact, many of my good friends here are gays, and also the godmother of my son)

Well, that happens also in many countries. like Chile…

The Folklorical ballets are a disease, a plague for the continuity of the traditions.

I’m not an alarmist, just think in 20 years in the future, that concept created by the balés folcloricos will be taken as the vivid image of the real culture of a nation…

In capoeira? Just see maculelê…

Also, many of the capoeira angola “new” traditions…

So, talking about this require of experience, live-experience, like live here and know the old people, talk with them and see the cultural manifestations “in-situ”, and the changes, the daily tiny changes.

Besides that, a good reading about art and modern (invented) tradition will be nice…

I’m an architect, and I did a master degree here in Restauration and Preservation of architecture, and also about art history, and a really interesting part to argue and discuss was the creation of modern traditions in the last 2 centuries…

But that is complex and subjetive materia… What have a traditional or art value and what have not…

So, coming back in capoeira and afro-brazilian traditions, I reccomend you to read books, at the beginning, of Pierre Verger and Emília Biancardi, and also see some documentaries of the IRDEB (TVE -Bahia)… very nice:

Many of those are in video… still just in VHS. Check the list, and if you want some of those, let me know and we can solve it.

I recommend you “Canticos de Lavoura”, very interesting.

Sorry about my english.

Is so hard express complex ideas in a language when you are not so skilled on it.

Um abraço

8 02 2008

Don’t panic Joaninha,
I’ve never been away.

I just don’t always post a reaction 😉

*now off to watch your videos*

8 02 2008

Alvito, eu sabia que vc nao ia poder resistir o desejo de comentar… 😉

What Alvaro’s essentially saying is that the Balé Folclorico in Bahia is not a particularly good representation of traditional culture. Rather, it’s an altered and sensationalized performance that is designed primarily to attract paying spectators.

Even the association of maculele, samba de roda, and puxada de rede with capoeira was pioneered by M. Canjiquinha, who did it so that his shows wouldn’t “get monotonous” and lose the audience.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, allowing the demands of the “market” to dictate the changes in an art form is dangerous. On the other, what are we supposed to do – tell capoeiristas and dancers that they MUST stick closely to the traditions and can’t make money with shows? I know quite a few Bahians who eke out a living from doing these types of “sell-out” performances, and they know it’s not “real” capoeira, but they need the income (even though it’s not much…)

What I think is going to happen is that there will be an increasing divide between “show” capoeira/maculele/etc and the more “roots” form of the art. A lot of capoeira groups today play very different games in performances than they do in their own rodas. Mestre Bimba warned his students not to demonstrate outside the academy what they had learned, and Mestre Joao Pequeno spoke of the 3 parts or faces of capoeira: one that is displayed to the public, one that is only displayed to fellow capoeiristas and training partners, and one that is within yourself.

9 02 2008

Garibald: Thank you!

9 02 2008


Ahhh okay, I understand now. So you were referring to my listing of the Bale Folclorico da Bahia website in my sources. If it’s any consolation to you, the only words they had on puxada de rede were: “A popular demonstration, still seen on the beaches of Bahia, in which Iemanjá, the Goddess of the sea, is invoked by the fishermen and their wives who, through their dances and songs, ask for an abundant catch”, so nothing more than that of theirs influenced what I wrote!

I know everything you said still stands though, and this is a super interesting topic you’ve brought up. Between you and Mariposa alone on this post, I think I’ll need to start up a “To Read” list, just to keep track of all the recommendations! Thanks for them, the books and the videos…only one thing, are they all only available in Portuguese? If so, it may be a while before I can get the full benefit of them…! I was wondering if you could also tell me what is some good writing on art and modern/invented traditions? That sounds really interesting, too.

And I definitely understand what you meant about needing to experience and learn about everything in-situ. Unfortunately, we’re not all so lucky to live in Brazil… 😛 But now I’ll know to keep an eye out for this kind of thing and try and be more aware of whether I’m looking at the real thing or a commercialization, for everything I research in the future. Thanks again!

p.s. For the language thing, you still do a pretty good job. 🙂

9 02 2008


Hey! Who’s passing secret notes in Portuguese on my blog? 😛

Thanks for clarifying, I think I more or less figured out that’s what he meant! I like your take on it, as well. It seems to be the most practical/realistic approach, and yet one that doesn’t sacrifice the art/original traditions, as it were. I suppose as long as it’s made clear that these shows are exactly that—shows, that are stylized and sensationalized and commercialized—and not advertised or presented as the true, real thing, that would be acceptable. These shows might be considered something like the performance version of books adapted for kids or movies—the adaptions work and are popular, but everyone knows the latter are nearly always inferior and never equal to or the same as the former!

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