Why “Sexist Capoeirista” is an Oxymoron

28 05 2008

Or: Why Sexist Capoeira Teachers Should Not Be Promoted

Capoeira is

A short while ago, my friend and I had a conversation about capoeira teachers who are sexist, who treat their female students as inferior to male students of the same level (and below…so to male students in general). One of the things that struck me about the conversation was when I heard that other (male) students and teachers had excused a contra-mestre’s behaviour by saying he just “didn’t know how to act” (being new from Brazil and all, since, you know, obviously treating students equally takes special skill and talent there compared to all other parts of the world). [On the off-chance that someone read that as being really offendingly politically incorrect, please note the dripping sarcasm!]

My friend’s (and my) response to that: How can you be a contra-mestre and “not know how to act” when it comes to teaching? Even leaving aside if you’re naturally inclined to be sexist, or genuinely hold sexist views, you’d think somewhere along the way you would’ve learned what’s acceptable and what’s not, especially in such a position of responsibility (and power). (Not that I think pretending to be not-sexist is great, but if that’s what it takes, then better than nothing.)

This is a perfect example of what Faisca mentioned in his post on teaching capoeira: “15 years does not [necessarily] a good instructor make.” However, let’s take this a little bit further:

Forget good instructors. Does 15 years a good contra-mestre make? Does 30 years a good mestre make?

To be a qualified teacher, one should know what it means to teach, and what teaching is about. More importantly, they should know what their subject is about, and know it through and through.

Being deemed and respected as a mestr(a/e), contra-mestr(a/e), or any of the nearby levels implies that you have what verges on a deep, profound knowledge of capoeira, and have at least a better than average notion of what capoeira is all about.

Well, what is the one thing that capoeira is MOST touted for being all about, by beginners and advanced capoeiristas, old guard and avant-garde alike?

Universality. All-inclusiveness. “For men, women, and children.” (-Mestre Pastinha, in case anyone forgot)

In that case, wouldn’t that mean that a capoeirista who is sexist (or racist, or in fact discriminatory in any rights-violating way), and lets it show in the capoeira environment, lacks true understanding of one of the most basic, fundamental concepts of capoeira?

And thus is not prepared to be granted the recognition and responsibility that comes with being deemed a “full”/”good”/”advanced”/”true” capoeirista in the way that today’s capoeira systems do?

I mean, think about it. Beginner and novice capoeiristas are expected to be well-rounded in terms of the “physical” aspects of capoeira in order to be promoted; they need to know both movements and music. Even if they have great floreios and great game, they won’t go anywhere if they can’t hold a berimbau or sing any songs.

As you progress in capoeira, this required all-roundedness expands to include the metaphysical—that is, capoeira philosophy. Well, a basic part of the philosophy of capoeira is that it’s for everyone: girls as well as boys, women as well as men. So, wouldn’t promoting a supposedly philosophically advanced capoeirista who doesn’t understand that concept be akin to promoting an esquiva-challenged beginner capoeirista to novice level?

Of course, none of that applies if a certain mestre or contra-mestre or so on really believes that capoeira is not for everyone, and that “true” capoeira philosophically does mean Brazilian Males Only.

But otherwise…just saying. If capoeira is truly universal, as we all love to say it is, then please hang up your bigotry, or abada. Because a sexist capoeirista is, arguably, no capoeirista at all.

Picture source:



67 responses

28 05 2008

This is a very interesting post; precisely because it gets at the heart of why many mestres/contra-mestres/profesores ask the question “Why do my female students reach a certain level and then disappear?”. There are very specific intersections between gender and capoeira performance. An aggressive performative masculinity is many times rewarded in capoeira while other masculinities and femininity(ies) are many times not rewarded. In discussing “reward” as a concept I am not thinking of belts etc. but more in terms of who gets attention, who gets validated, who is recognized, etc. Many times, I don´t think this reward system is conscious…..I think the aggression and the masculinity that supposedly goes with this aggression is deemed as being a “good capoeirista”. However, if it goes unchecked then the respect deserved by upper level women/or men who don´t aspire to an aggressive/confrontational masculinity is lost to the fancy and aggressive moves of “men”. I certainly don´t think this should be the case and I do think that it should discussed by those in leadership positions.

However, it also goes beyond gender…..I think sexuality is also very much at play in capoeira. There are exclusionary comments made regarding “non-normative” sexualities as well. The very idea of a “gay” capoeirista is far beyond the comprehension of many. I think these issues are both tied to hegemonic conceptions of capoeira as both a gendered/sexualized performance in addition to an art form.

The thing is, that if indeed capoeira is open and inclusive….these “other” groups have much to offer the art form and its development. Afterall, let´s not forget capoeira´s origins…..it wasn´t the hegemonic power holders that developed this art form! It was the slaves…the “Other” if you will. I am constantly fascinated by how the “professionalization” of capoeira has changed both its form (physical) and its philosophy. Sometimes we just need a reminder that capoeira, historically and in its essence, was the product of “Othered” and oppressed groups which nourished the art though centuries….keeping that in mind should force inclusiveness and appreciation of the amazing differences and perspectives we all bring to the roda. Axé!

28 05 2008

[Editor’s note: To those I train with, this isn’t “our” Polvo. -Joaninha]

let me just be the devil’s advocate for a second:

Don’t women (or atleast women in capoeira) kind of ‘ask’ for this way of being treated as less valuable by not playing (or less frequent) in rodas??

I notice in my group that the girls are less likely to participate in a roda. Especially when it becomes a fast-paced regional roda, or a very close tricky angola roda. Most girls are waiting for Benguela to play and even then a higher corda-girl has to start so that other girls can buy in to play with her. Only at that point the other girls start playing.

Or am I putting everything upside down…

While writing this down and trying the phrase my own thoughts a bit logical I started wondering which is the cause and which is the result…
– Do girls/women play less because of the ‘masculin’ spirit of capoeira?
– Is the spirit mainly ‘masculin’ because the girls/women are less likely to play?

I’ll finish with my own opinion on this
-> Girls are equal to boys, both in capoeira and in life. Both sexes have different advantages and disadvantages but imho they balance eachother.

ps: I’ll try to arrange and organize my thinking before I post something next time 😉

28 05 2008

I agree with you Joaninha that ‘being from Brazil’ or ‘not knowing how to act’ is a pretty lame excuse to behave that way.
But as you say, it is arguably that a sexist capoeirista is therefore not a capoeirista. For a bigger part, the ‘malandro’ is considered to be a true capoeirista. Being a ‘player’ (excuse the duality of the word) is, as I see it, what a malandro does or could do.

None the less, many Brazilian capoeiristas who come here to Europe are ‘players’ willing to get ‘something blonde on the side’. And (often not too) surprisingly, there are many girls/women here to get ‘something Brazilian on the side’. They even developed a name for them and call them ‘Maria Cordinha’ as they are aiming for someone of a higher level.

@ Polvo: I agree with the fact that the girls and women of our group are often not too eager to play because they seem to be afraid of the violent vibe of the game. But this might be due to some specific factors. Most of the girls in our group are at a beginners level, the ones that are at a higher level do play more and aren’t too afraid to play. Enter Onça’s bit of girls that stop at a certain point.
Let’s be honest, many of them like playing Capoeira as long as it does not become violent. Don’t worry, I’m not pro bashing heads and breaking limbs, but we shouldn’t forget that Capoeira is about the fight, a dialogue of attack and defense. At some point you leave the beginners level and the game becomes more complex, more intelligent and with that more dangerous. Often this comes across as being violent, and the majority of the people getting scared of that, are the girls and women. (Although I think there’s no reason to)

But it isn’t that way all around the globe, in some groups the girls and women do play a lot, regardless of the game being fast, slow, violent or tricky. So let’s not generalize this fact.


28 05 2008


I think I try my best now to give my piece of opinion to this. We all know that Capoeira is for everybody, regardless of which gender, “race”, age or sexual orientation.
Just yesterday I watched the Trailer of the movie “Madame Sata” (I was surprised that I never heard about that movie before, because it’s just a simple googling) and Madame Sata was a historical Capoeirista, troublemaker, transvestite and prostitute. So if Capoeira really would have a just-(straight)-Men Macho Attribute then such persons would be forgotten, if they would have existed at all.
Ok, but now we leave the spheres of ideal Capoeira and come back to Capoeira Today: We see, a lot of male mestres, only marginal numbers of women in higher ranks. We see, although beginner classes are almost always female dominated, the higher ups are usually male. If you see Capoeira in the media, it is usually a man doing it (by the way, it is also usually a Black man, and he is never – NEVER – ugly and has always a perfect body…and so on…).
Where does this come from? It’s not because women don’t do anything about it. I met more than one girl who actually trained harder than me – and still I am more of a slacker than most of my female, Capoeirista friends… And in terms of agressiveness, well, I am not really conviced of female being less agressive. Maybe less strong. But surely not less agressive (some experience speaking here 😉 ).
So what is it then? I think it is a general Macho attitude which is coming together with the people who teach it. I am not saying that every Mestre, Contramestre or Teacher is a macho (man, I wanna survive the next roda!), but I say that there is a general acceptance against machismos and that people who are actually sexist are accepted in a way like “yeah, that’s what they are – you gotta have the whole package and can’t do anything about it”. But I think especially in Europe and in North America this does and will change more. Because in the beginning people accepted everything from a Capoeira teacher because he was “Brazilian” (which is really a bit of racist, isnt it, “he’s Brazilian, he does not know it better” ?) and because there were not many teachers around. But now a new generation of teachers evolve. People who were grown up in Europe or elsewhere, who cannot rely on the bad excuse “I am not from here I dont no shit about equal treatment…”. And also the competition will rise between teachers. And females who are mistreated in one group will be able to change to the least/non-sexist teacher. And female teachers, which are really missing, will really change things. So I am looking forward to the future of sexism and Capoeira. I think everybody of us should be aware of that problem and try to do something about it. And even if it is just not-laughing about the last sexist joke your teacher made…

Ok…this was kind of a long comment… if you fell asleep in between I am sorry for that 😉

28 05 2008
Penélope Charmosa

Being a female Capoeirista I can say that I have experienced being treated differently from the guys only very occasionally. I think some of the time the male Capoeiristas, particularly the Brazilians don’t like to be really rough with the girls becuase they don’t want to hurt us, so this can lead to us feeling like we are not worthy of a hard game, and therefore less likely to buy into a fast aggressive game becuase we feel like we would be ending what some people may have been enjoying.

I certainly think that it is more difficult for girls to earn the respect of guys so that we can play in a hard, aggressive game, without them “going easy” on us.

I think however that a much bigger problem in Capoeira guys is the “malandros”, always trying to get a “something blonde on the side” as Cantor said. This I have experienced a lot, being a blonde capoeirista. It is not easy. A lot of the time it makes me feel like they have no respect for women and that we are simply being accepted into their roda as eye candy.
Unfortunately some girls do have a tendancy to only go for the higher cord guys. As long as these girls are around (which they -lets face it- probably always will be) the guys are not going to respect girls as capoeiristas and are (as is the nature of guys) going to get with these girls.

One point I think is important to mention is that girls who are NOT in it to sleep with hot mestres do get more respect and thus give more repect, both to themselves and their teachers. I can trust a lot more and give a lot more respect to a guy that I know is not trying to chase after me, but is instead giving me the respect and the training that I am entitled to without hassle.

The culture difference in Brazil is not an issue that should even be approached! Brazilian women are often strong and there certainly isn’t a culture of them being “below” men, but perhaps that Brazilian men like to take care of their women and for this don’t like to play really hard with a female capoeirista.

Sorry for the rambling, I hope I made a point somewhere here!


29 05 2008

Hey Onça,

That was an all-around awesome comment. Thank you.

That’s funny, I didn’t even think of that question the entire time I spent on this post, but you’re right that it’s definitely related. And I completely get what you mean about non-overt rewarding, and I think it’s subconscious a lot of the time, too. (Not sure which is worse though, someone doing it on purpose or someone doing it without even knowing they’re doing anything wrong!)

Spot on about the sexuality issues, too…definitely seen tons of that firsthand. And it’s always been in my mind to touch on that subject eventually, here. This also goes back to that capoeira video we were talking about a short while ago, where it was a sexy woman playing against a sexy man, and both in the most stripped down version of a capoeira uniform, etc. I’d say that capoeira is probably the most sexualized martial art out of all of them (if the others are sexualized at all to begin with).

And I LOVE your last point, about the “Others” and “othering”. I think I’ve touched on that somewhere before, since both women and the original capoeiristas grew entire movements out of their “othered” states. That’s also something that I’ve noticed since reading more about capoeira angola this year…it seems like in angola, differences are stressed and celebrated, while in regional, uniformity is key, and differences make you stand out in a negative way.

Thanks again for writing!

29 05 2008

Actually, I do have one question. Could you elaborate a bit more on exactly *how* my post relates to that question of females quitting after a certain level? Do you mean maybe teachers treat them as inferiors because they assume they won’t stay in it for as long? Or do you mean that it answers the question, i.e. “They’re disappearing because of how you subconsciously or conciously treat them!”? Or something else altogether?

29 05 2008

Hey Polvo,

Welcome; I love devil’s advocates! Okay:

First of all, I have to say that no one ever “asks” to be treated badly, and to put it in words like that puts the blame on the victim for the perpetrator’s behaviour. (Like when people say a woman “asked” to be assaulted by wearing a short skirt at night, as if the attacker had no free will of his own.) Also, just remember that your experience is based on, well, just your own experience, so it’s not necessarily like that everywhere.

Having said that, I do understand the point you’re trying to make, i.e. that teachers may be justified in not investing as much time or attention into students whom they think will not show “returns” in the long run. However, there is a difference between that, and deliberately keeping down or passing someone over just because they are a girl or woman (such as using a more beginner male to demo, when the highest belt present is female, for instance). If that were the real justification, then they should be treating higher level women and men equally, and being rude and aloof to beginner males as well as females—not treating all males like they’re already novice/advanced and all females like they’re still beginners.

I admire your chicken-or-the-egg turn of thoughts, though 😛 I think that in some cases, there could be truth to the girls/women playing less because of the “masculinity” of the environment, which can be intimidating (again though, that depends on the particular academy and the particular female student). I don’t think though that we can say capoeira is mainly “masculine” because females don’t play; it’s masculine because that’s how it started from the very beginning, when females weren’t even allowed to play, and so the “masculinity” is historically rooted in the very origins of capoeira itself (like patriarchy is rooted in the very origins of human history itself), since they were created and controlled and kept exclusively for men, by men.

Heh, arranged/organized or not, thanks for commenting!

29 05 2008

One amendment: Capoeira isn’t originally “masculine” because women just didn’t play…but I can see how, if it’s normal for girls or women to not play as much, as you described is the case in your group, I can see how that would lead to a continuation of capoeira being seen as more for males rather than for everyone.

29 05 2008

Hey Cantor, I never got a chance to say, thanks for linking to me!

Wow…I’m simultaneously disturbed/impressed/amused at the “Maria Cordinha” nickname. If someone’s truly deserving of it…then it’s perfect. But I can’t believe the phenomenon is so common that a nickname actually came to be conceived in the first place… o.O”

I thought of malandros while writing the post, too, and I wondered if there was a contradiction there, between malandros being the ultimate capoeirista and “players”. I think though, that malandros know better than to automatically write off or underestimate the people they come across, and they don’t do it on factors such as gender alone. (Perhaps gender combined with other things the malandro has learned in his vast experience are indicative of something, but I wouldn’t believe gender alone.) And if someone holds their own and shows to be deserving of respect, the malandro will acknowledge that and give it, regardless of who the other person is. Unless maybe they’re just the malandro’s chump/”prey”. But then again, that’s not exactly how capoeira teachers are supposed to see their students anyway!

29 05 2008

Angoleiro and Penélope, thank you for commenting! I will be responding to yours as well, soon 🙂

30 05 2008

No worries Joaninha, it was a pleasure to add your link on my blog. I see that many Capoeira blogs have been created at some point, but many of them died out. The ones I do think are still alive and I find interesting I put in my link list.
I’m sorry you probably don’t understand a thing of it since it’s in Dutch. Well, it’s all about Capoeira and our local group. If you run through Babelfish you might catch a thing or two.

You’re right about the malandro, hence why I wrote “do or ‘could’ do”. I agree that a malandro would pay more respect when shown that “the other” can hold his/her own.

I don’t know if the “Maria Cordinha” nickname is a world wide phenomenon, but I recon that any Brazilian capoeirista would know the meaning of it. The Brazilians use this phrase a lot to point out that something is rather typical for that person. Ex: “Maria Bola” for a girl who goes after high level soccer players, “Maria Chaminé” for someone who smokes a lot, …
This might soften the shock that such a nickname came to be conceived.


30 05 2008

Girls are horrible at Capoeira! lol I’m joking of course!! I think women tend to be more fluid and flexible while most guys I see are more powerful and forward. This is just a general observation. I think it’s perfectly OK to be any way you want to be. It takes all kinds, races, creeds, sexes…EVERY kind of EVERY thing to make Capoeira what it needs to be. I think that racisms and sexisms will eventually fall by the wayside. They might not disappear entirely but they will become much more rare as time progresses and people are exposed more and more to other lifestyles.

4 06 2008

Whoops, my bad. I wrote “Maria Bola” for a girl that goes after the high level soccer players, come to think of it, that’s not correct, they’re called “Maria Chuteira”.
Sorry, just wanted to correct that.

16 07 2008

I think that it is misleading at best – and ignorant at worst – to extend some sort of weakly theorized equality discourse to capoeira. Capoeira was never about equality – capoeira has always been a strategy for survival and for reconstitution of personal and community honor under the most desperate circumstances imaginable. As a Black woman, I have only ever had the experience of having whites (mostly women) complain in this way. For example, there are certain principles of the Candomble that are relevant also in capoeira – as a woman, I would not start a roda, for example. I do not feel degraded by this, as I have need to assert equality on the basis of identicalness to men. I am a strong, aggressive capoeirista who never hesistates to enter the roda or play against anyone (except young children, because that just freaks me out… ) regardless of level, but I am not a man. I learn from men, I learn from women, but I play my own game in dialogue with others. As for the whole “blonde on the side” thing, I’m just sickened by the lack of interrogation of the racial ideology behind that. We practiced capoeira while you held us as slaves, and now you want to participate but change it with your own ideology and then have us smile at you, while at the same time articulating a none-too-subtle Birth of a Nation sort of thing? Please.

I think the problem is that white women are raised to think that they are special and delicate and feminine (while Black women are of course Mammies or Jezebels), and then get pissed when they aren’t treated exactly like men. Get a grip.

Capoeira isn’t the place to work out middle class white concerns.

17 07 2008

Hi Kimbandeira, thanks a lot for writing that. I’m really glad you brought it up actually, because I’ve wanted to approach the exact issue(s) you brought up here for a while now, but honestly had (still have) no idea how to do it properly, and it is definitely something I would not want to botch up.

Do you read any feminist blogs? I just ask because that was how I found out that a lot of the feminist movement does seem to be a “white” feminist movement (although I’m not white), and that a lot of mainstream feminist discourse or rhetoric speaks from a “place of [white] privilege” and doesn’t necessarily also reflect the positions of black women. The whole thing came to a head a few months ago and put the whole “feminist blogosphere” into uproar on this topic, when a (white) feminist blogger published a satirical feminist book, but it was filled with racist cartoons.

It sparked a huge divide between “white feminists” and “women of colour”, and really forced everyone to face the issue head on (that of, I suppose, the feminist movement trying to advance itself at the expense of fighting racism, as well as the whole issue of if feminism and racism are mutually exclusive and whether or why people see them as such, and why/how that’s untenable and “white feminists” have to realize what they’re doing, just to name a few of the aspects I remember reading about), and got pretty ugly at one point as people started to see “white feminists” marginalizing “women of colour” who were speaking out the same way those feminists would say they themselves are marginalized by men. (If you want to read more about it, just search for “Amanda Marcotte” and “It’s a Jungle Out There” on big feminist blogs, like Feministe)

So, since reading about all of that, I’ve wanted to bring it up on my blog somehow, especially with capoeira being what it is, which is what you said it is, although I’ve been hesitating because I know I lack way too much knowledge or experience to approach this particular issue head on, adequately, and actually do it justice, without probably making a fool—or worse—of myself.

About this blog post specifically, I didn’t mean it to be any more than the articulation of a random thought I had that I thought would be relevant to my blog. I do find what you said about “capoeira never being about equality” really interesting, not least because it’s true when I read the way you put it. I’m just wondering though if that invalidates just discussing issues of equality in capoeira today, even if capoeira itself wasn’t originally about equality, per se? Since lots of things in the world were never about equality in themselves, but then wasn’t the point to bring equality to them? Also, is it wrong then to try using capoeira as a tool for equality, as long as you’re still respecting capoeira itself? Since I don’t see how trying to bring equality to something would be reasonably disrespectful…

Unless, again, you mean it’s how in the process we run into the “(white) gender equality at the expense of racial equality” issue? In which case, I get that (or think I do, which probably isn’t the same thing), but like I said earlier, I would be going completely in over my head at this point trying to talk/write about it with any depth. Which is why I also wanted to ask you…well, I don’t know if you’ll think it a waste of your time or not, but if you’re willing, I’d actually really appreciate it if you could elaborate on two things you said.

The first was the “interrogation of racial ideology” behind the blonde comments. I think I suspect where that would go and could try it, but it would be a far from adequate interrogation just because I honestly haven’t really dealt with or substantially studied race issues before, so I was wondering if you could do that, here, in brief if you don’t want to spend the time or in full if you want to make sure we really understand? Actually, if you felt so inclined, you’re welcome to go through my entire blog and point out any other posts or comments that you think need to be interrogated from this standpoint. (Actually, my posts on Morocco come to mind, where my friend told me that Moroccan women may seem oppressed or harassed and all that, but that they have their own form of feminism that just doesn’t match “white” feminism.)

The second was the Birth of a Nation comment. I actually didn’t know what you were talking about because I didn’t know the movie (yes, I am actually that movie-illiterate), but after looking it up on Wikipedia, what you said seemed pretty drastic so I was wondering if you could explain in more detail what you meant by that, especially if it’s something being done obviously?

Finally, what you concluded as the problem is the problem—only the raising is just as much a part of it as the being treated differently. It’s all part of the same cycle/system: raise them differently because they’re to be treated differently, treat them differently because they were raised differently, etc. etc. The whole problem is that they aren’t supposed to be raised as “special and delicate and feminine” in the first place!

For the last line…actually, I’m not really sure how to respond to that one. I really don’t feel like what my blog is concerned with is just for middle-class white people, for one thing…although, now, I suppose that could be the “white feminist” talking…? But, let’s say, stereotypes and gender equality…those seem like things that would concern most people actually, regardless of class or race. So maybe it’s just my approach to them or (I would have to say, inadvertent or subconscious) slant on everything that is “middle-class white”, rather than the issues/concerns themselves?

As for capoeira being or not being the place…well, I don’t know if anyone can say that, really. I love capoeira and am passionate about it, which is why I write so much about it, so it seems natural to combine it with something else I care strongly about. (Starting to repeat myself a bit now but) Is it wrong, then, if mestras or mestres or capoeira groups use capoeira as a tool for or means to equality, any kind of equality? Or if they try incorporating more equality into capoeira so it’s more accessible to and enjoyable for people regardless of superficial differences? Once we get into critical theory and sociological discourse and capoeira philosophy and things like that, I can maybe see how people could start arguing whether capoeira is or isn’t “the place”, but when it comes to everyday things like teachers training students and who plays in the bateria, how could there be an objection to saying both men and women (of all races) should have equal opportunities there?

Anyway, thanks again for your comment, and for definitely making me think.

(p.s. And totally relate on the playing with children point)

17 07 2008

Kimbandeira, I can understand to some point what you are saying, but at the same time not. Cultures in every country are abundant with traces of traditional discrimination, particularly against women. If we put aside the privileges of the ”problems” we white people try to fight against without actually having experienced discrimination in the way blacks have, it all comes down to whether or not it is ok to say: ”Woman, you do this, man, you do that”.

Sorry, it doesn’t sit well with me. Why shouldn’t you feel ok starting a roda? If that is your personal preference due to personality rather than gender, then that is one thing. But feeling that this a privilege reserved for men only, well, that is just strange to me.

And yes, white people held blacks as slaves, and yes, now we are practicing an artform with its roots from the time of slavery. But it is not hypocricy that makes us talk about discrimation and thus ”wanting to change it with our own ideology”. Capoeira has already changed beyond what it probably was hundreds of years ago, and it will surely keep changing. Whether those of us who are white have experienced the same problems with discrimation as people of another skincolor or not shouldn’t disqualify us from acting against it now in the ways that we know. In my opinion, traditions have never been a good excuse for being selective in who can do what when it comes to gender, particularly not when the choices rarely seem to fall into the womans favour.

So, it is not a middle class white concern that we make up in lack of better things to do. Sure, some people take it to the extreme, and make it their sole purpose to crusade against any hint of differentiation between the two genders. It’s not about differences, it’s about rights, options and equality.

17 07 2008

At the risk of being accused of being a Cultural Nationalist and dismissed…

Part of the issue is with the notion of ownership. Black people are not allowed to own ANYTHING in this world, whether it is physical (like land) or intellectual (like the creation of various forms of government) or artistic (see: rock and roll, hip hop, etc.). Capoeira is now among these, and we all know the history of how that went down in early twentieth-century Brazil, but how many of us know the history of capoeira proper? I don’t mean the superficial line about n’golo, I mean taking the time to take Africa and the cultural and intellectual production of African seriously. I’ve seen exactly one book that does this, and it was published this year. By a brotha. Go figure.

Meanwhile, there is this attitude that I’ve noticed among whites (and again, for whatever reason, the attitude of entitlement among white women is the most striking) that every other culture in the world is a buffet of options for them. Music is an obvious place to see this (and this relates to your example with the batteria): white people in general, and women in particular, playing West African drums is NOT ok. Why? Because the rhythms are used to communicate with the ancestors, and if your ancestors were responsible for bringing mine here in chains in the belly of a ship, don’t feel like you are entitled to speak to mine. Furthermore, many of these rhythms are prohibited to women for some really concrete reasons which may or may not make sense to a white woman, but no, white women don’t have a right to impose their vision of equality on the world. Every time I see another media report about the “oppressed women of Africa,” I want to scream. Please, people. Abandon the patronizing missionary impulse for just one minute and deal with the fact that cultural differences are not just about “exotic” signifiers you can use to horrify/impress your white friends and family (“Capo-what?”). Accept Black self-determination. Try it. Just even for a minute.

I’m also amazed that folks think whiteness is about “skin color.” That’s a shockingly dismissive way to talk about the lived experiences of people. It’s easy for whites to disregard “tradition,” but that doesn’t make it right. Our traditions as Black people have allowed us to endure the last 500 years, and I don’t think we should abandon them so we seem more acceptable to some twisted notion of white equality. Which always makes me laugh, anyway, because it isn’t like any of these middle class white women want to be treated like a Black or Brown man, believe me. “It’s about rights, options, and equality?” Please tell me you understand what a culturally-specific view that is. The world doesn’t look that way for everyone, nor should it. For us, our cultures have long been focused more on responsibilities than “rights and options” – which is such a consumerist view of life, anyhow. I have responsibilities to my family, my communities, and of course to the ancestors, and if I keep up with that, I can join the ancestors when I die. This is the same paradigm from which capoeira comes, and I will resist it’s shift into your with every ounce of my strength.

As to your requests for clarification:

The blonde/Brazilian (and we really mean Black/Brown here, let’s be straight) disgusts me. Blonde women are a sexual fetish because “conquering them” (for those of you who don’t speak Portuguese, yeah, believe me when I tell you this is the verb used… ) is a great way to prove your manhood and status. You banged the master’s daughter, after all, so goes the thinking. White women, meanwhile, have a none-too-subtle fetish for the Black male body which is also connected to slavery. Of course, who loses out in all of this? That’s right, the Black women, who are asked why we are “so angry” and also criticized for being assertive and not doormats like white women are reputed to be. And then we have to sit there, too, and listen to some white woman talk about how boning a brotha makes her not racist. Please… It’s a plantation fantasy, first, last, and finally.

I don’t think the Birth of a Nation comment was extreme at all. There’s an assumption that Black people are dangerous and culturally backwards underlying many of these posts.

You say that white women aren’t supposed to be raised to think of themselves as delicate flowers at all, and yet I hardly think that there’s a single one who would be willing to abandon all of the privileges that come with it. These privileges are far too numerous to list here, but think, just for one, of an entire legal “criminal justice system” established to protect fragile white womanhood. That’s right. So any time white women march to “take back the night” or whatever, it means demanding more police presence and harsher sentences, which means – more of my people locked up and for longer. But hey, that white woman will talk about her rights without a thought to the destruction of our communities and young men that is justified to protect her. And yes, I’m familiar with the blog storm, and deeply sickened by it. White feminists should at least be aware by now that we do NOT accept your right to speak for us, particularly as it so often means stealing our ideas and our very words. It’s also interesting to me that you claim to “not be white” and yet you are just aware now of white privilege, from which position you seem to speak with relative ease?

17 07 2008

Thank you to Kimbandeira for posting her thoughts here. It’s a perspective that I haven’t seen enough on the various Capoeira websites i usually visit.

The various comments here speak to a concern i have had in general–within society and also Capoeira. The wiping out of the extremes…the homogenization of perspectives…making things “the same”. It definitely is an idea perpetuated by Consumerism–especially in America and now, spreading throughout the world. “Buy this, but that…you want to be in Style, don’t you??”

Will the Old traditions be lost–stirred into a gooeygray??

I am a woman. I am not a man. In my Latino culture, I was taught the power of my femininity and it is definitely different than the “White American” female experience. Is it better?? No—it is DIFFERENT. I don’t expect to ever understand the White, Black, and/or Asian female experience completely–EVER.

But i have definitely been challenged in my thinking and have learned things from hearing each perspective.

There is nothing wrong with what each of us has learned from our respective cultures. Where it turns wrong is where we disrespect other people/cultures and discount their experience in this Life. Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean that it lacks value. It just challenges our Experience.

I hope old traditions are preserved. They have value.
I hope that things continue to evolve. This also has value.

People don’t like dealing with the issues brought up here–Class, Race, Tradition. It makes us uncomfortable.

May i continue to find myself uncomfortable sometimes so that I may Learn.

18 07 2008

Hi Tomas, thanks a lot for commenting. You make some fair points…in my point of view though, which I’m admitting is going through a fairly steep learning curve these days thanks to this. I have to say that though I don’t like that “tradition” is used as an excuse for what is basically discrimination, either, Hera has a point in that there is still value in tradition…so as per usual, everything comes down to where you would draw the line, and of course it’s never in the same place from situation to situation…

But whereas Hera sees tradition as valuable, it seems like Kimbandeira sees it as unquestionably fundamental (if I’m not mistaken, Kimbandeira), and it hit me, reading what you said and her response, that it really is two completely different ways of looking at things. I know this because of some conversations I’ve had with my dad lately regarding career choices…”options” in particular is an especially North American, middle/middle-upper-class/yes, consumerist/”white” if you want/whatever value system…the idea that we are entitled to do “whatever we want” purely because we want, in the “pursuit of happiness”, of individualization, etc. …because we see ourselves, or want to see ourselves, purely as individuals and not as part of a bigger whole…such as society, family, etc. Whereas the way Kimbandeira (I think), or at least my dad (to a certain extent), sees it, yes you have the right to pursuit of happiness and what you want, but at the same time you must also keep in mind your responsibilities to the groups you belong to, such as family, community, society, and that in this day and age North American society as a whole has become too focused on the individual rather than the group…and so today a lot of us feel entitled to “options” as a right, when really that’s just what they are…optional, things to consider after you have fulfilled your duties and responsibilities as a member of whichever social groups you belong to.

I’m not saying I necessarily agree with that point of view…well since I was born and raised in Canada so I do come with a base belief in the idea of “going for your dreams” and “standing out from the crowd” and all that…but I just wanted to say I think that might be one of the reasons for the disagreement here in terms of sexism and traditions, because it’s really two completely different world-views clashing against one another, i.e. the idea of the individual coming first or of the social/familial/etc. group coming first.

By the way, Kimbandeira, I hope you didn’t take what I just said as trying to speak for you. I’m just reiterating what I read in the way that I understood it, so if I understood it wrongly, by all means please correct me.

18 07 2008


To be honest, I’m not sure why (perhaps it was the key of repetition), but somehow, this is the first time that I’ve truly appreciated your concern about homogenization of everything, even though you’ve expressed it in many previous comments. Perhaps it was you putting it in terms of consumerism, which really got the point across to me, whereas before you mostly brought it up in ways that I thought could be slippery slopes towards resting with gender stereotypes, etc. However, like I told Tomas, I think there are lines…between the preservation of tradition and…damn, now I can’t think of a way to complete this sentence that won’t sound completely “western civilization”-centric (in the old-fashioned sense of the term). Okay, how about this, between the preservation of tradition and ensuring that certain people or groups of people aren’t treated as inferior or judged simply because of who they are.

Now, if I may insert just a bit of levity here, may I express my envy reading what you said, seeing as I don’t think I’ve ever been taught anything remotely like “the power of femininity”? Maybe if I’d known that…! XD

From there on out, you make several good, simple but fundamental points, and I’m really glad you wrote them. The last one in particular…I don’t know if I would be willingly engaging through all of this or encouraging it to continue if I didn’t think I would (hopefully) come out the better for it, in knowledge and thought, or ways of thought.

18 07 2008


“Cultural nationalist” was another new term to me, so having looked that up, are you saying that you aren’t a cultural nationalist, or just that cultural nationalists tend to be dismissed in these conversations…and if so, why?

I think I’ve heard or read what you said about “ownership” before, and you have a point…then again, that could just be because I’ve never heard any arguments to the contrary. Could you tell me the name of the book and its author?

When I read that, the first thing I did was start looking at other non-white cultures and see if they had/have the same issues with “ownership”. Actually, what IS considered “ownership”? To be recognized as the originators of something? To be the ONLY persons that have anything to do with that something (whether it’s playing it, listening to it, reading it, implementing it)? Or to be the only ones who have control over how it changes and evolves, without ANY outside influence whatsoever? Because I would say that if the first, that it’s done…and if the latter, doesn’t it seem a bit unrealistic to expect that everything can stay untouched, especially in immigrant societies like the States and Canada, and today’s increasingly globalized world?

I realize the issue here is cultural appropriation, taking something that is not “yours” and changing it to suit your own tastes or values…but isn’t that how so many things in the world have developed? Science, religion, art, sports, just to name a few…and I’m not condoning cultural appropriation in terms of taking, say, capoeira, changing it, and then saying “THIS is capoeira.”, completely erasing over the “original” capoeira. But what’s wrong with people taking a GENUINE, real interest in something (particularly with capoeira; how many other sports or arts are there where it’s taken for granted that the practitioners will willingly and enthusiastically study the language, visit at least one of its places of origin, and have such avid discussions on its history and philosophy?), not because it’s “exotic” or “impressive” but simply because they got into it…and then if changes happen…well, isn’t that why we have, for instance, capoeira angola and capoeira contemporanea? It’s not as if capoeira contemporanea IS Capoeira–it’s contemporanea, and angola still exists and is recognized for what it is, while contemporanea is acknowledged as being a version of capoeira with outside influences. Also…does ANYBODY know the history of capoeira proper? I thought that was something unconfirmable/unknowable…hence all the arguments about where capoeira “really” comes from.

18 07 2008

“If your ancestors were responsible for bringing mine here in chains in the belly of a ship, don’t feel like you are entitled to speak to mine.”
You don’t feel a sense of “holding the child responsible for the sins of the parents” kinda thing here?

Hmm…I really want to ask you what those reasons are for those rhythms being prohibited to women, but I can understand if you’d rather withhold them for fear that they would be critiqued from an outside standpoint…

Just a brief side note here, the world isn’t made of only black people and white people. And…on that note…errr, I wasn’t lying about my ethnicity, if that’s what you were thinking.

Finally, what exactly is Black self-determination? I have an idea, but haven’t come across any actual definition or comprehensive explanation of the concept.

18 07 2008

Blonde comments – alright, I get that, thanks for the elaboration.

Birth of a Nation…oh. You’re right, if that’s what you meant then I guess the analogy was appropriate to get your point across. I’d like to make it clear, though, that I don’t hold that assumption. Certainly not “dangerous”.

As for “culturally backwards”, perhaps you have more of a point there in the sense that I do believe it’s plain wrong to, well, as you described actually, not letting women do certain things in rodas simply because they are women, and for no other reason than that (though with plenty of supplemental justification, I imagine). And I have referred to Brazilian culture as being not very inclined towards the breaking down of gender stereotypes and the sexism that results from it, based on my experience in capoeira. Maybe I shouldn’t have—though, I should say, I don’t consider entire cultures to be “backwards” just because there are one or two things I personally don’t like about them. As for this assumption being about “Black people”—the one and only way I can see that statement working is if you’re equating “Brazilian” to “black”.

To be honest, I have never in my life been more aware of race than after this conversation. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. In fact, I kind of understand now why/how people get mad at feminists for bringing up gender divides. But I suppose it’s kind of the same thing—you have to bring up racial divides if you’re going to deal with them, just like feminists bring up gender divides in order to deal with them.

18 07 2008

I’ll try to respond to everything as best I can…:

First of all, Joaninha, I was not meaning to implying that you are lying, but rather that race is more complicated than heritage. What I mean by that, before any of the white folks get real excited and say that they “feel” Black or any other such absurd mess, is that for us people of color, our consciousness is central to our identity. This is what is behind Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement, for one notable example, and similar movements in Brazil. My point was simply that every viewpoint I heard you expressing seemed to be coming from a white, middle class, privileged perspective. The luxury of not “thinking” about race, for example, is something I cannot fathom, but then again, I have grown up in a police state (USA) where I and my family are always presumed guilty. It’s not a luxury I’ve had. I am aware that not everyone is Black or white, but other people of color, in the crudest general sense, generally either come from a place where what I’m saying would be intelligible or fall into the whole “model minority” mess, which means advancing at the expense of Black people. If you are interested in reading about that, I would recommend Vijay Prashad’s The Karma of Brown Folk (title obvious riffing of of DuBois’s The Soul of Black Folk).

It seems that you’ve basically represented what I meant about community and responsibility being the crucial value rather than the white consumerist values of choices and options. These values are inherently foreign to me, and to many people globally, and I am pretty tired of them being advanced uncritically as if they were accepted universals, particularly by folks who call themselves engaging with other cultures.

As for capoeira’s origins, there are obviously things that may never be knowable, but the whole “origins cannot be known” thing comes from whites not taking Africa seriously. They say it cannot be known because they don’t want to bother learning, or knowing, or taking any intellectual, spiritual, or political production of Africa seriously. If you want to read the book to which I was referring, I mean T.J. Desch Obi’s Fighting for Honor. Please, read the actual book and not whatever amazon has to say about it. But on another note, when you sing in maculele “Caduiza, donde e que veio/Eu vim de Angola e” etc., what do you think that means? “Meu pai e filho, sou neto de Aruanda…” C’mon. Even the name of this blog! Do you think “mandinga” is a Portuguese word? It isn’t, it truly isn’t, and you might want to try to learn a little more about where it comes from and how it came to mean what it means in Brazil…

I might feel like holding whites today accountable for slavery was anachronistic were it not for a few simple truths. First of all, I don’t divide myself from the community of my ancestors, so the experience of slavery is very real in my present. Making those divisions is a white cultural feature. Secondly, in a more material, political sense, slavery isn’t the past. Whether you are looking at the U.S. or Brazil or anywhere else, it is still very much a part of our lived reality. Whatever some people may believe about Brazil being a “racial democracy,” if you have your eyes and ears even half open, you will quickly see that that is not true any more than it is in the U.S., where a third of Black men spend time incarcerated. We are still in chains. Even more strikingly, though, white folks still benefit from slavery and from the continued oppression of Black and Brown people. Wonder why land in the American west is so cheap? Wonder why the U.S. is so rich? Wonder why Brazil leads in the production of sugar cane for ethenol? Wonder why folks in the Niger Delta cannot grow food on land that his been so polluted by Shell, Exxon, etc., who are filthy rich?

How is the world more globalized now than in all the centuries when my ancestors were being bought by Europeans with Asian goods and taken to stolen land to do labor to begin the whole cycle again? I think the notion that the world is “becoming globalized” is sort of odd.

You are right, the issue is cultural appropriation, and white people do want to make capoeira their own WITHOUT the burden of dealing with issues of race or questioning their own power relationship to it. This is what I’ve seen in my own experience. The same thing happens when whites (mostly women) think they have a right to try to participate in African Traditional Religions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard white women who want to come into a house talk about how they think it’s wrong to kill chickens, or they want to be able to wear black, or whatever. Fine, if that’s your view, but that doesn’t mean you get to change our culture to make it comfortable for you. And I guess that’s what I mean: whites seem to have a tremendous difficulty accepting that there is something that is not theirs, that they are not entitled to change. Capoeira changes, has changed, always will change, but those changes should come from within the community. Women have always participated, and many of them brought about great change, but that is their place, not the place of the slavemasters. This is also, by the way, the standpoint from which womanists/Third World Feminists come. We are always engaging the men in our communities, but that is for us, not for outsiders to impose upon us.

Black self-determination is the idea that our communities should control our own lives, our own destinies, our own cultures, our own futures, without having to make them palatable or nice or easy for those who have always wanted nothing more than to consume us. And that’s what cultural appropriation is about – consumption.

21 07 2008

Thanks for taking the time to explain all of that, Kimbandeira. I found your points pretty clear and straightforward.

By “globalized”, I just meant that everything that happens among and between different parts of the world happens so much more quickly and easily than ever before, including the spread of cultural things such as capoeira, which is why it would be hard to contain it and “protect” it from influences in Europe, Asia, Australia, etc., once it gets over there.

I’ve actually read about Fighting for Honor somewhere, and have been on the lookout for it since then, so I’m glad you recommended it.

Anyway, I hope you don’t mind if I write a post directing readers to this thread. I think it’s important for people to be made aware of all the issues you brought up, and it makes more sense for them to read it in the original context here, and would probably be more effective, as well.

21 07 2008

Feel free, of course.

22 07 2008

pfeeewww… heavily loaded discussion here, I have to say. But it’s good. It’s interesting. And most of all: it’s controversial. I will try to put in my own few cents of opinion.
I think, Kimbandeira, that you are quite right with the opinion that “whites” (which is, actually, a very broad expression, just like “Blacks”or “Asians” ) do have the tendency to adjust cultural achievments to their own needs. It is, on the other side, also interesting that a lot of non-whites do try to follow “white ideals”. I think this is something like a universal thing. The ones who have “the power”(again a very broad word into which I wont dive for now) do somehow define what is wrong, what is right, what is beautiful, and what not.
And now I will come back to my favourite topic: Capoeira. We see the same in Capoeira, you are right. And I think, Kimbandeira, that it is your right to fight against any assumptions or attempts to change Capoeira into a “white sport”. On the other side.
Capoeira is always a mirror of the time it is living in. It is also a mirror of the place it is played in. Aaaand, it is the mirror of the person playing it.
Of course the tradition and the history of Capoeira (and every other culture) is important and has to be cared of in order not to lose its identity. But the Capoeira of the slaves was a different one than the Capoeira of Rio’s streets in the 19th century. And the Capoeira of the 1930’s was different than the Senzala Capoeira of the 60’s and of the Contemporean Capoeira that we have today. Not only the game, but a lot of the surrounding properties are different. There were never so many white people playing Capoeira than today. And with this, of course, ideas and principles of “whites” drip into Capoeira and ADD to its taste. It’s not a losing of Capoeiras identity, as long as we do not forget the rituals, the language and the Game.

I do understand that “Black People” cannot just do whatever they do without forgetting that their grandparents or grand-grandparents were de facto slaves and also that the feeling exists that living in a world dominated by “whites” is still some kind of “slavery”. On the other side most slaves would have envied today’s Black people for their freedom. Yet, this doesnt mean that one should not struggle to free yourself much more. Especially if you are black. And Capoeira and the lessons we learn from it are very useful in doing this.

And this does not only apply to Black People. Or to any other minority in any state. It does apply to everyone. Every person out there has his own load of boundaries and problems and has his own chains to free from. Maybe there is no way to free yourself physically, but mentally there is always a way. And Capoeira, as physical as it is, and as heterogenous as it is considering rules and traditions, is a perfect way to free yourself…

alright. I think I wrote enough. Hope that I could make my point clear.

22 07 2008

edit: …I do understand that “Black People” cannot just do whatever they do without HAVING IN MIND that their grandparents or grand-grandparents were de facto slaves and also that the…

22 07 2008

I am truly speechless. I am not being facetious saying every emotion in my being was triggered reading this. Thanks to you both.

22 07 2008

Angoleiro, do you really think that you can say “Every person out there has his own load of boundaries and problems and has his own chains to free from” with impunity? And that capoeira is somehow this universal tool for anyone and everyone to do whatever they want to do with it?

Whatever sorts of issues whites and those people of color who ally themselves with the white hegemonic order may have, well – these are the sorts of self-centered, egotistic ramblings we get from neurotic poets and other writers who, because of their privileged place as whites get to be the authors of “universal literature”. But, please, the whining of a middle-class white girl who feels like no one can understand her desire to do whatever non-gender normative activity she wants to do, for example, cannot really be equated to the very real struggle that is survival as a Black person in this world. I’m not only talking about the struggle of our ancestors that allowed us to be alive today, I mean the very real, material struggle that is being Black. I could list off examples, but look at the differences in life expectancies for Blacks and whites in the U.S. or Brazil for that matter. This isn’t an abstract question. Our people are not dying – we are being killed by a system that is designed to allocate the benefits of our labor to whites and distribute the costs and burdens to Blacks and indigenous people. Every prison built – and in the U.S., these are privatized now, which means direct profits for whites – is more stolen future for us.

Given that reality, I think that we need such arts as capoeira to maintain our community integrity. Capoeira has a role in teaching physical discipline, cultural discipline, honor, and respect. It was an important way to forge community out of the broken lives of slavery, and it remains so for us today, when our families are fragmented in other ways.

When young Black kids see an activity dominated by whites, it becomes not ours any more. We lose our heritage. And this is more so the case when our culture and traditions become fragmented by the demands of white culture and its focus on “equality” on a rhetorical level and impoverished individualism at a structural level.

As for respecting the “culture, language” etc., do you think most white folks who train actually do this? Some may know Portuguese, which is important, but how many have bothered studying anything about Angolan history or learned any Angolan languages (Kimbundu, Kwanyama, etc.)? People may sing songs about “dende” but how many know the first thing about the Candomble?

My point is that the view of seeing things for what they can “do” for you is a very culturally specific one, and it is one that elides responsibilities to the community.

23 07 2008

Wow. This has been an incredibly enlightening series of posts. I don’t think I can begin to address all of the topics here that have made me think, but there is a question I would like to ask of Kimbandeira:

About your comment: “I might feel like holding whites today accountable for slavery was anachronistic were it not for a few simple truths. First of all, I don’t divide myself from the community of my ancestors, so the experience of slavery is very real in my present. Making those divisions is a white cultural feature.” Does this mean that we as white people can never, ever possibly atone for the sins of our ancestors? Does this mean that the damage caused can never be undone? Should we stop trying to make amends, stop fighting against injustice when we see it, stop fighting a system that is so WRONG, because the divide is permanent, my ancestors hurt your ancestors and so we are forever at war? I am asking this question seriously, because I am deeply ashamed and horrified by the way that white people have treated everyone other, past and present, and what you seem to mean (which I may have misinterpreted) is very discouraging to me.

On the other hand, I would also like to know if you hold yourself accountable for the sins of your ancestors, for the things that they have done in the past? How do you carry the weight of thousands of years of individual and societal wrongs on your shoulders without being crushed by the weight of it? Again, I ask this seriously, because I do not understand. I want to be clear that I am NOT trying to say that all sins are equal, that your ancestors are not perfect so therefore the sins of mine should be excused. What I am trying to understand is how we can possibly carry both the weight of our own, personal inadequacies and failings AND the weight of the people who came before us without staggering?

Thanks to everyone who has posted here. This is certainly a difficult conversation to have, and I respect all of you for sharing in it.

23 07 2008

Hey Kimbandeira, I actually realize that it is good that such a controversial discussion is going on here, although I am afraid that the discussion will die off, because this is not only about rational arguments, it is also about feelings, fear and cultural issues, which do have a long history. What people often oversee is exactly what I said. Everybody has his own load of trouble to carry around. Of course you might start comparing and say that the problems of a white middle-class girl are different than of a Black woman trying to find her way in a white dominated society. On the other side people might say what are the problems of a Black woman in a Western society against an African kid somewhere in South Sudan which is literally starving because there is no food. I know I am playing unfair here, Kimbandeira, but I hope you can see my point. Yes, part of humanity does have troubles considering their primary needs (food, life..), part have troubles considering their secondary needs (security, freedom… ) and those who have these problems sorted out (not by themselves but because they were born into the right family) do have other troubles, which are still legal problems. And by playing Capoeira and diving into its culture everybody can and will get out different things. This is not – as you call it – doing with Capoeira what ever you want to do with it. It is just a legitimate reason to go and play Capoeira. But you said it yourself: “the view of seeing things for what they can “do” for you is a very culturally specific one, and it is one that elides responsibilities to the community” – I would add it is not only culturally specific but also personally specific. And there is nothing wrong with it.
To the topic about respect for Capoeira: Respect for Capoeira is not depending on what you learn about it. This sounds wrong? It is not. Your example of Angolan languages can’t be right. I am pretty sure that most of the biggest mestres out there (Angoleiros and Regionalistas) do not speak Kimbundu. On the other side there is no doubt that these people have dived into Capoeira, have a deeper understanding of things than we all together and that their respect for Capoeira is immense (I am not talking about some mestres who just go for the money, I am talking about the majority of the mestres…). On the other side I do encourage people to get more into Capoeira and its background, because I also did realize that most people who actually play Capoeira have no idea about it. But, and there is the difference, I do not say that these people have no respect for Capoeira because they did not learn certain things.
Man, I hope that there is still some structure left in this post. Otherwise I will have to apologize for being totally not understandable!

23 07 2008
A small lesson in History: Mandinga « Angoleiro’s Blog

[…] 23, 2008 by angoleiro The other day I read a comment of a person called Kimbandeira on the Mandingueira blog. One question she asked in there was: […]

23 07 2008

Hey Kimbandeira, during work I had the luxury to fade off mentally and contemplate about this whole discussion and such. What I realized then is that you have a lot to give to the Capoeira Community out there. I dont know what you do in “real-life” but I thought it might be a good idea if you share your knowledge with us (knowledge and love are the only things that increase when you share it). I would love to read something about Candomblé (for example), as you are a practitioner of Candomblé, right? So, if you are interested, just tell me or Joaninha (I think she shares my opinion in there…did I assume too much now? 😉 ) and we will put whatever you have to share with the world onto the blog. I would like that.


23 07 2008

Wow this conversation really took off!!

I think there are a couple of issues that should be brought up in order to better wrap our brains around the issues at hand. First, capoeira, in academic literature and writings by different mestres, is many time theorized in terms of the African Diaspora. That is, capoeira is understood in terms of diasporic (and in this case certainly forced diaspora) movement of people. Explicit in this is that “Black Culture” is always already a hybridized culture (see the following for theoretical discussions on the hybridization of “Black Culture”: George Lipsitz. “Diasporic Noise: History, Hip-Hop and the Postcolonial Politics of Sound”; Stuart Hall. “What is this ´Black´ in Black Popular Culture?”; and Tricia Rose. “A Style Nobody Can Deal With: Politics, Style and the Post-Industrial City in Hip Hop”). Because of this hybridization it is very difficult to claim that any of our cultural forms in the New World are a PURE result of past traditions or cultural forms from Africa or Europe. Imagery in African-based religions are mixed with christian images (Mama Ezili in voudun for example is many time seen as a specific apparition of the Virgin); languages are mixed versions of Old World and New; etc. My point being that capoeira cannot be understood to be a pure African form.

However, the lack of “purity” is not be understood as a detriment in any way shape or form. In fact, hybridization has very powerful political/cultural/social possibilities. Through hybridization there are many more “nodes” for social groups and people to attach themselves to an art/cultural form. Through hybridization we can build cultural understanding that might help various oppressed groups come together at specific moments to resist oppression(s). My oppression might not be the same as a woman of African descent but there are certainly aspects of our oppression that overlap and that engage one another. The very problem with many freedom/liberation movements is the concrete-ness of their definitions of who belongs to that specific “community.” Even the example brought up about white-middle class women defining feminism is really about who is able to define the needs and qualities of the community and thereby concretizing that community into a politics of strict identity. Third World Feminism brought to our attention that “feminism” is multi-faceted and should indeed be “hybridized.” Therefore, hybridization results in fluidity which helps various socio-cultural groups come together at specific moments to fight for the resistance to oppression (please see Miranda Joseph. “Against the Romance of Community” for an engaging discussion of why “community” and identity politics limit our ability to resist oppression).

To bring this ethereal discussion back to capoeira. Instead of staking claims as to who has the right to change capoeira; who it “belongs” to; and who can be an “authentic” player of capoeira/practitioner of candomblé/voudun; etc…..I think it might behoove us to think about the power of hybridization and the opportunities such hybridization brings about for all of us resisting oppression on various levels. Look at the Mesters who made capoeira a “sport”…..and the Mestres who brought it to the the USA….or even globalized the art form….many of them are not of pure African descent and some might argue that some of the most influential Mestres are actually of European descent (yet of New World Origin). This is certainly an historical and very physical example of how capoeira and its practitioners are hybrids……much like the game which is fluid….capoeira can and does shift and change both its artistic form and its expression in the physical body of the practioner. Therefore, capoeira, in my opinion, is the physicalization/embodiment of the hybridization of the New World. Granted, this hybridization was forced for some and chosen for others (though I am not sure that anyone can consciously choose hybridization and certainly not understand all of its effects). The New World and its art forms/languages/ and really all cultural forms created a hybridization that allows all of us to engage capoeira and disallows any of use to appropriate capoeira as belonging solely to ONE group. The fact is that capoeira as we know it came into existence in the New World; and that many people of various ethnicities/races/genders have practiced the art form over the centuries. What is exciting about capoeira is that it is one of the only New World martial arts……it is a hybrid…….and it is that hybridization that invites us to play; that invites us to change the game; that invites us to imagine a capoeira community that gives something to everyone and requires that we all give something to the art.

So, in my humble opinion fear not hybridization…..”claiming” capoeira as belonging to this, that, or the other is also to ignore the socio-cultural and historical factors at play throughout the conquest/discovery of the New World. Claiming that capoeira is solely “African” is to rewrite a history and seek purity where there is only hybridity…and finally, “claiming” capoeira also limits the ability of all of us to resist oppression that affects us all in very specific, yet overlapping, manners.

My two cents…….thanks for making me think!

24 07 2008

Hybridization and its close cousin creolization are simply ways for whites to not take Africa seriously. I don’t mean to sound short, but I have little to no tolerance for post-structuralist, post-modern, and (hah!) post-colonial theories that cast as “essentialist” any sort of connection that we have with our homeland. Now, look – capoeira comes from Angola. Period. Simple. The inversion that makes capoeira distinct as a martial art is connected to notions of kalunga. These practices and identities became available to other enslaved people in Brazil and in other parts of the Americas, but that does not mean that they were “hybrid”, “fluid, shifting, and multiple” or any other conveniently depoliticized trope that is common in academia today.

And that’s the rub: No one’s writing on hybridity has anything to show for itself in terms of political movements, whereas the “structuralist” “essentialist” literature that such people deride has a whole bunch of things to its credit, including independence movements across the continent. Give me Fanon over Hall any day.

I don’t fear hybridization, but I am not about to celebrate the violence done to my people or accept the beneficiaries of that violence as unquestionably legitimate participants in my cultural practice. It’s hardly re-writing history to acknowledge that one group of people benefited from slavery and continues to benefit today (white folks). It’s hardly re-writing history to say that white culture seeks to consume everything in the world with its giant capitalist maw, and render it all “signs,” “symbols,” “discourse,” “creolized hybridized discourse,” etc. No. It is not your right to take a sacred practice and render it a playground for pale, pale theory.

Furthermore, I find it ironic that white middle-class people have this desperate need for “community,” considering that, at least in the U.S., they were the ones who fled actual living communities post WWII in favor of the suburbs (in order to get away from dangerous Black and Brown folks like me). And now, their children get to invade our cultural practices to try to construct some feeble approximation of a living community, because they recognize the cultural impoverishment of the privileged places from which they come? No.

What does the slavemaster have to give to the art?

Identity politics do not limit me in any way, thanks. I am not trying to form a “movement” with white women. White women have always stood against Black people’s freedoms. White women gained suffrage by playing up racist fears. It is incredibly patronizing to assume that we have any interests in common politically. After all, it is much more a zero-sum game than the post-modernists would have you believe, and after watching white women reap the disproportionate benefits of policies like affirmative action, well. Yeah. No thanks.

I’m not articulating myself very clearly, but I would simply ask you to honestly interrogate who benefits from your glorification of hybridity and who loses. I’d ask you to think about how seriously you’ve actually engaged African history before making your baseless claims.

24 07 2008

I’ve never found my ancestors’ legacy to be crippling. Indeed, it’s what gets me through most days. The men and women who came here in chains at the bottom of a slave ship? They keep my spine straight and keep one foot going ahead of the other.
In my experience, it seems like white folks like to overly indulge in an affective reflection. It’s not about guilt, or sadness, or shame, or any of those things. It’s not about my ancestors being “hurt” – they were taken from their societies and brought here to work as expendable commodities to enrich yours. And that’s how we still function in this society, trust that. It’s about some very concrete realities. White people can do a world of work that needs to be done – work that I myself cannot do. For example, I promise you that you could reach more white folks talking about racism than I could. For one thing, I’m not terribly invested in doing Race 101. For another thing, I’m the Angry Black Woman, and so they don’t have to listen, and they don’t. Again, it’s not really about feelings, it’s about action. Talk is cheap. Feelings are cheaper.

I’m not sure I’m following your argument. Because my belly is more full than a kid in Sudan (and I’m assuming you mean Darfur instead of the south, where there is now relative peace), that means that my critique of white supremacy and its manifestations in the cultural appropriation by whites in capoeira is irrelevant? My question remains why white women need to work out their own issues on our cultural terrain. And I do think that not engaging Africa shows a lack of respect. It’s the same lack of respect that allows whites in Brazil to claim all kinds of things as “Brazilian” – samba, certain kinds of cuisine, etc. – without acknowledging how these things came to Brazil, the power dynamics involved, or the political, cultural, and intellectual histories and production of African people.

24 07 2008

Wow, I am so thrilled that A) these “delicate” issues are being addressed and B) that we have a safe and open space to do this.

So this is a pretty complex topic and it is going to be pretty hard to write a response that has even the smallest portion of the eloquence that the other writers have shown here, but these are my thoughts:

Sometimes I wonder what my feminist friends would think of the blatantly sexist remarks I come into contact with through capoeira…

First, I don’t say anything about these comments (although I did challenge a racial comment of one of my instructors once) and, really, I don’t feel it is my mission to “prove them wrong” or change the system or whatever. Why? Because what right do I have to change capoeira? Yes, it is evolving and it will continue to do so, but I feel privileged to play and I’m aware that I am not just joining a game, I joining another person’s game…a whole other community’s game. I give thanks for my inclusion.

Second, there are two aspects of feminism within capoeira to consider. It is not just about sexism, it is about empowerment! These are two major directions that feminist studies can take. Sure, you can talk about how an instructor said that you want to prove yourself by playing against the biggest, strongest man and not the petite woman. BUT! You can also think about how his wife (an extremely good capoeirsta) challenged his statement in front of the whole class and how later she seriously kicked some ass in the roda. She isn’t weak; she isn’t inferior. She is strong; she is experienced; she is powerful; SHE is a capoeirsta. Right?

Now, that said, I do think that it simplifies it a bit by dividing it into a WHITE-BLACK issue, whereupon Blacks have a right to capoeira and whites do not. (I’m thinking here of some of Kimbandeira’s comments: “When young Black kids see an activity dominated by whites, it becomes not ours any more.”; “…white people do want to make capoeira their own…”; “As a Black woman, I have only ever had the experience of having whites (mostly women) complain in this way” ) I say this because I think this turns it into only a colour issue (acknowledging, of course, that colour has a VERY important effect upon life opportunities), which can hide the very material effects of gender, class, and ethnicity. So shall we discuss these influences on life opportunities?

Colour & Class:

So, for example, in Brazil, approximately 40% of Black women work as domestic workers. Do you think this an accident? Do you think Black women prefer domestic work? So what is going on here?

Well, statistics also show that Black women have fewer completed years of schooling, which leads many into the labour market earlier and at a lower level. So, sure, some (white) Brazilians that buy into the myth of “racial democracy” would say this is about class, not colour (however, when you control for class variables, you still see large gaps between what white and Black women make and the types of jobs they get).

In fact, when I recently took a Portuguese class from a white Brazilian woman, she said, “I think that’s great that you guys are doing capoeira, it’s funny though–it’s popular outside of Brazil, but you just don’t see it in Brazil really.” Wow, so I thought this was HILARIOUS and showed the perspective she was coming from (white, middle-class, urban–from São Paulo). She went on to say, “Yeah, I think people don’t really want to try it because it is thought of as…oh, I don’t know how to say this without it sounding really bad…” At this point I interjected, feeling pretty comfortable talking about race (since I think that NOT talking about it is like trying to silence racism) and having discussed racism in Brazil with my capoeira intructor…so I said, “Oh yeah, like it’s a “black thing”…” Her eyes bulged open and she quickly said, “No, no, no, I’d NEVER say that…more like [with sad, sympathetic eyes now] a POOR thing to do.” ‘Cause I guess for her, being classist is okay, just not racist? And here this Brazilian woman is trying to say that people (and by this I’m assuming she meant white people) don’t “do” this AFRO-Brazilian martial art because of class issues? Yeah right. And why is CLASS and RACE linked in her mind? Because of the very material effects of racism on life opportunities and class that I mentioned above. And I believe that the reason so many Black women in Brazil are poor and so many poor people in Brazil are Black is very much tied to the history of slavery.

This is, I think, one of the important things that Kimbandeira has highlighted. The legacy of slavery is very much alive in many places and it is important to recognize that (even better, to try to change it!). At the same time, this is not ONLY about colour, I can guarantee you that. I grew up in a VERY POOR white family. I was hungry a lot. I was very skinny growing up because there was rarely more than some olives and mustard in the frig and usually the only meal I could be pretty sure I would get was dinner. Now a lot of people think this kind of thing doesn’t happen in “Western” countries, but it does. Look out your window. Poverty is relative, certainly, but it is still everywhere. And you don’t have to be literally starving to death to have it affect your life chances (again, it is also important to recognize that life chances or even how we conceptualize “life chances” is very relative as well). You also don’t have to be Black for poverty to affect your life chances. I look at Barack Obama and I know I have very little in common with him and that is not because he is a man or because of the colour of his skin. It is because of his social capital and his class.

(See Peggy A. Lovell, “Gender, Race, and the Struggle for Social Justice in Brazil.” Latin American Perspectives (2000), vol. 27)


Now here is something else to add to the mix. While I think that attempts to raise “black consciousness” in Brazil and elsewhere are an important part of changing hegemonic and racist ideologies and, hopefully, the material consequences of those ideologies, it is also important to remember that not all “Black” people are the same, think the same, have the same culture, the same religion, etc. (in the same way that not all “whites” are the same either). There is a wide variety of cultural practices and values that are tied up with various ethnic backgrounds. Last night, my Brazilian instructor said that next Saturday the roda would be at the Caribbean festival and one capoeiristas said he wasn’t going to be able to make it. Whereupon our instructor said, “What? Those are YOUR people man!” Now, both of them have Black skin…so, this idea that Blacks have more right to capoeira by virtue of the colour of there skin–regardless of ethnic differences–I don’t buy that. It is not clearly not a BLACK & WHITE issue here.

So, basically, I guess my main point is that there is a lot going on in discussions like these. There are gender issues, colour issues, race issues, class issues, and ethnicity issues. In a way, these are all different questions. Which makes the idea of finding one answer pretty unrealistic. The best we can do is to be aware of our own privileges (because we all have privileges relative to another) and also those deeply entrenched beliefs that are sometimes difficult to recognize (e.g. who says that “individualism” and “equality” are more important values than “solidarity” and “teamwork”?). If we are all here because we love capoeira, then go ahead and take a moment to appreciate how lucky we all are to be doing it at all.

(Please forgive any typos!)


25 07 2008

Hey people…dont feel bad about it. I will only response to Kimbandeiras comment. There is only so much you can comment on and Pitanga, you are right with most of the stuff you wrote, but I will leave it uncommented.

I think there was a misunderstanding. Of course your relative wealth does not forbid your criticism about white supremacy. The Sudan example (actually I meant South Sudan, they live now in a kind of peace, but the people are still hungry down there!) was a reply on your questioning of the “every person has his burden and problems to carry around of mine” (or better said: you said that there are differences in problems and that the problems of white middle class chicks are not that important and so on…which is in my opinion wrong.)
And now to your question why white women do have to work out their problems on Black people’s cultural terrain. I think you will agree with me that most people dont do that on pupose. Maybe Out of good will, but with a lot of wrong assumptions? Maybe because of ignorance? So what people like you and others have to do is remind them: “HEy people, this is Capoeira, not your backyard, in Capoeira there are rules, traditions and so on”. People are all thinking about their own problems and they wont see your problem without you saying that there is a problem. And that is what you are doing. That’s good!
Oh yeah, the respect topic. You know there is the difference between Capoeiristas and CAPOEIRISTAS. The one type, and that is the majority, does start Capoeira because it is fancy, flashy, whatever… and a lot of people get stuck in that state of mind. I say, fair enough. I started the same way. But the more some people are in Capoeira, the more they are interested in its facettes, its history, tradition and so on. It is for non-Brazilians not thaat easy to learn all that stuff which is around Capoeira, and most students do only have their mestre or teacher teaching them bits of Capoeira history. The more people are engaged the more they will learn about it, right? But some people are content with what they learned and do not want to go into the depth. Do those people have less respect to Capoeira? I dont think so. Not learning things can be due to thousands of other reasons than disrespect.

And then there are people like Joaninha, who have a deep interest and respect for capoeira. why do I say this? She spends a lot of time thinking about Capoeira, playing Capoeira and talking about Capoeira. She brings in (and now I am coming back to the things I said a couple of days before) what she is. Because in Capoeira everybody brings in his own personality. Including cultural background, existing or non-existing knowledge, opinions and issues. That’s what makes Capoeira so rich. And that’s why Capoeira is changing the whole time. What did I read the other day about Capoeira? Capoeira is always what you don’t think it is! Of course it is your right to insist on that what you represent here: The African Roots of Capoeira! And I like that you do that. because Capoeira does have African Roots and it would be a shame if people just ignore this. But do accept that there are a lot of other people out there who do bring their issues in. What you can do is teach them, tell them, remind them. And I hope you would do so in enriching some of our blogs. As I said, if you are interested, my blog is open for you.

25 07 2008

Okay, I’m going to edit the smiley faces out of all the comments!

Thank you so much to everyone who has responded here, and especially thank you, Kimbandeira, for continuing to engage with everyone (and for what must be a lot of patience on your part, considering everything you’re explaining probably seems painfully basic and obvious to you).

Honestly, I feel so, so lucky as a blogger to have readers like all of you, who debate and make your points so coherently, articulately, passionately, and respectfully!! With a conversation like this with so many potential landmines and opposing points of view, you almost expect something or someone to explode and have mass moderation and/or damage control be called for, or at least one or two trolls. But that hasn’t been a problem at all here, and I truly appreciate and respect all of you for that.

I will try to respond to what I can or feel compelled to respond to, but as Angoleiro said, there is a LOT going on here, and you all seem to be doing fine without me. Just please know that I am reading and absorbing everything that gets written on here, and the involvement and sincerity of all of you has really made an impression on me.

27 07 2008
African Roots - series on Angoleiro’s Blog « Angoleiro’s Blog

[…] it game, its music and its history. In a discussion** I read and participated in on the Blog Mandingueira I realized that this awareness has to be maintained and increased in the present Capoeira […]

29 07 2008

Hey all,

Thanks for this series of posts. As I started reading, I was like, “man, this is going to devolve into another series of posts where the white woman (women) get upset and the Black woman ends up having to explain (and maybe justify) centuries of thinking that Black women – and women of color – have done, have written, and been, and not recognized of honored for.

And I am relieved to say that I feel like it has not devolved into that.

In fact, there has been a patient and relatively loving exchange of information.

I guess I’ll just add: i do find that most mestres in the US are lighter than darker. There is white privilege in Brazil, and there is in the US. They are different. And they are the same. And just cuz someone’s a mestre or mestra and borwn or black, doesn’t mean they have anti-racist or feminist or whatever analysis. Think on our parents. I love them. And they grew up in a time and a place where they are racist and elitist. And so i reject what is not useful, and I honor what is survival skill and love, and I move on from there. We have always done this, women, women of color, Third World women, and men, and communities, to survive.

As a woman of color training capoeira, I have trained in various different schools over the last 9 years (with time off in between). I have met with weird sexual overtures from one mestre, been entirely ignored in other schools .. and I attribute those to racial and gendered expectations, and hetero assumptions .. where I train now is a place of community. I am still learning about the internal dynamics of the roda in my school, and with other schools. I am wishing that I had more mentorship from my teacher (he is young, a person of color, working class background, hetero but mostly gets it..), and I am loyal to the school, my mestre and to my classmates. So I will stay there, but I feel that I want to look for as many opportunities as possible to train with female martial artists, female capoeiristas, as well, to enrich my training and hopefully up my level. I am also constantly learning what it is to be a good capoeirista, a yellow belt (both mentor and learner, always). I can also say that I am excited bc another woman I knew from when I began training is back from 2 y in brazil, and she knows this race and gender stuff, in the lived experience and in the political way, and she’s a blue belt, and I can’t wait for her to take leadership in the capoeira society in my local area, so that i hope we can have cross-school women-centered events, led by women of color, that honors the traditions of survival and progressive values, honors the African roots of the game, the tradition, and upholds the work of social justice and survival that capoeira is linked to. That is for me some of the traditions of capoeira that I would like to continue to keep alive.

30 07 2008

Thank you for that, Açerola. I especially liked what you said about “And so I reject what is not useful, and I honor what is survival skill and love, and I move on from there.” Then again, I wonder if people could see doing that as part of the problem as well, because people from different backgrounds might see different things as “useful”—such as, from things said above, tradition, for instance, which can be considered anywhere from pointless and useless to absolutely vital!

30 07 2008

As for some other responses I had, in brief:

Angoleiro…regarding the presumption, maybe a little, but now I feel like I’m disappointing you! I just kind of prefer to keep all the main posts in my own voice for now, but if Kimbandeira were to start her own blog (which is what I thought you were actually leading to), I think that’d be a great idea.

Also, I have to say that I agree with Kimbandeira on the comparison of problems thing you guys went back and forth about. Although I can see how everybody in the world has their own problems, no matter what, and the fact that you see this so strongly tells me how much compassion you have for people, which is really admirable, but for myself, I don’t think I’d feel the same for, as Kimbandeira said, a “middle-class white girl” writing in her diary about normal teenagehood problems (for stereotypical instance) as for a black woman struggling in “the system”.

AT THE SAME TIME—and this is for both Angoleiro and Kimbandeira—I think this type of thinking is best avoided when possible, because then you get discussions degrading into big, ugly messes like “Which is worse, misogyny or racism?”, or “Which rights is it more okay to violate?” which is counterproductive on all counts.

30 07 2008

Angoleiro cont’d.:

I’m between the both of you for the respect vs. interest issue. I agree that just because someone doesn’t know Portuguese, for instance, that does not mean they respect the art of capoeira any less than someone who does know Portuguese. There can be many reasons for the former not yet knowing Portuguese. However, Kimbandeira has a point generally speaking as well. An easy example is to look at the guys who come into capoeira just wanting to learn flips and nothing else; where is the respect there? I think respect for an art comes from realizing the importance of every aspect of it and its contribution to that art, and so theoretically if you realize the importance of something, you will be interested in knowing more about it. I think you just have to differentiate between those who don’t know something, and those who aren’t even interested in knowing. The latter I can see having less respect for the art, but for the former, that is for sure not necessarily so.

30 07 2008

Hey Joaninha, dont worry, I am not disappointed or so, why should I? It was an idea, not a must-be. I still hope Kimbandeira will respond or start her own blog. Would be interesting to see.
About the problem topic. You hit the point, Joaninha, of course at first sight there are bigger and smaller problems. And once I have some problem it does help to think “Well, common, there are worse problems out there, just keep going” and then just shrug those problems off. But this leads, if you think further, to a habit of ranking problems. And if you rank problems then you can start calculating in how much some people can handle problems and then you go in for ranking people according to race, gender, class and so on. I’d rather not go into such discussions and say that everybody has his own weight to carry around – because, well, that’s the truth, isnt it?

30 07 2008

Something very interesting just occurred to me though. All these things we’ve been talking about—cultural appropriation, changing or ditching tradition and bringing in your own values, focusing on what you like and distilling out the rest…is it just me, or does that describe the process of how the style of capoeira regional developed?

If Greg Downey’s Learning Capoeira is correct, and if I recall it correctly, he wrote that regional is faster, flashier, and more focused on kicks and acrobatics because that’s what Bimba’s new majority demographic (middle/upper-class, white) of students were interested in, so they focused on those parts or asked him to focus on those, and possibly brought in one or two things from their own, other martial arts experiences, and gradually got or convinced Bimba to start moving away from the rituals and traditions that stayed in capoeira angola, because they weren’t really interested in that. And then it was because of those changes that capoeira had its big explosion, paving the way for regional and thus opening up opportunities for angola’s revival later…paving the way for capoeira, period.

So, where does this leave us? With the conclusion that capoeira regional “is not capoeira”? Or is that an example of change happening from within a community…yet with outsiders’ “help”, or “hybridization” (and if so, does that legitimize those concepts to at least a certain extent)? Or just a fact of life—that things change, in and of themselves, and that, moreover, we haven’t lost the “original” (if one takes angola as that) despite such change?

30 07 2008

Wow, quick response, Angoleiro! What you said at the end…that was the exact meaning of my “AT THE SAME TIME” paragraph, but probably more clearly worded. 😉

30 07 2008

I am famous for my quick responds, wait until you meet me in a Roda 😉
what you said about Mestre Bimba’s students and the evolution of Capoeira Regional is actually exactly my opinion (it is mentioned in the intro post of the African Roots series). Since the 19th century and especially since Mestre Bimba had white students the influence of white people on Capoeira did grow. And this, there you are right, did trigger a response of the “Black movement” in Capoeira, Capoeira Angola. So without Capoeira Regional spreading all over the world I wouldnt have learned Capoeira Angola today. Is Capoeira Regional still Capoeira? Of course it is, it does actually have still a lot of elements important for Capoeira (e.g. its music, the roda, the game). On the other side there are things it lost (its rituals, parts of its playfulness, its magic, a lot of malicia (in my opinion)). The question which I cant give an answer to is: When does it stop being Capoeira? Well, at least this video is a definite not-Capoeira for me: http://youtube.com/watch?v=pVU_b9T77LQ . But there is another thing we learn out of that, that is: Capoeira is not a closed community which can block of any outside influence. Capoeira does influence people, and so as it also gets influenced by them. It is, of course, also in permanent danger of loosing what it was and getting something new. Loosing its traditions, its fight for freedom, its value for people under pressure, its socially strenghtening effect, its playfulness and its music (and so much more) is sth which has to be avoided. What Angoleiros are engaged in is a permanent struggle against loosing these roots – and I think since the 80’s they have done a good job!

1 08 2008
Just Wondering

(Going back to the “Maria Cordinha” comment)

What is so wrong about preferring to date higher cord capoeiristas? Personally, I am not interested in dating a man whom I would regularly outplay, or whose butt I could kick in the roda if the toque called for a more aggressive game.
I am sure he’d probably want to save himself the embarrassment, too.

Any thoughts?

7 08 2008

As I’ve just written in the “Capoeira in Capoeira Regional” post, one response I had to Kimbandeira saying “capoeira became available to other slaves in Brazil”, was that with that as the base for a lot of corresponding points of view and arguments, it makes a pretty big difference whether you think capoeira was fully formed in Africa, and thus “arrived available” in Brazil, OR whether it was just partially formed or had roots from Africa, then that arrived in Brazil and the people in Brazil themselves actually helped to form and develop the “complete” capoeira, not just accessed it.

If anyone’s still reading this and has the answer, I’d also like to know (just because I don’t know) how white women have gained from affirmative action, and how model minorities “advance at the expense of black people.”

Pitanga, I said this already, but thank you for your extensive response!!

Angoleiro, I’m completely obliged to you for your really kind words about me, but to be honest I don’t know if they would have harmed your point more than helped it! …Since maybe me writing this blog IS a form of cultural appropriation and/or disrespect of capoeira’s cultural roots? Especially since I’m not black, so it seems like I wouldn’t have anything good or non-harmful to bring in to capoeira? That’s what caused Kimbandeira to comment in the very, very, very first place, right?

But in response to Kimbandeira’s original question, I really thought about it, and I don’t know how much of a defense this really is, but the answer I came up with—and this is speaking for MYSELF, Joaninha, NOT for white women, the demographic—was that I honestly didn’t feel like I was taking another’s cultural terrain and trying to stamp all over it with ideology. By the time I started writing this, capoeira wasn’t something “exotic” to me; it was something I did, and my friends did, and seemed somewhat at home in North America by that point, especially where my academy is concerned. So writing about capoeira seemed no more “appropriating” or “reaching” to me than writing about my university would have been. I have a feeling that in itself may constitute a major fault, but that would be due to how capoeira has evolved and “assimilated” into North American culture, right, and not to myself as an individual? Unless I am to be blamed for “buying into” the version and environment of capoeira I’ve “grown” in as a capoeirista, having seen hardly any other, instead of seeing through it all as a distorted version of the “original capoeira from Africa” and thus rejecting my own academy…as a beginner student?

I really hope that made sense the way I wanted it to make sense!

7 08 2008

Sorry, “Just Wondering”, almost forgot your comment there!

Okay, I think the most basic way of putting it would be to say that being a “Maria Cordinha” would be like the capoeira equivalent of a gold-digger…only instead of marrying purely for money, you’re targeting purely rank.

I’m sure we all prefer “good/talented” people in general, and of course there’s nothing wrong with that (after all, evolutionarily speaking that’s how we survive, right?! XD), but I think that when you focus on that one aspect of a potential partner to the exclusion of all else, like anything else, that’s when it becomes a fault.

9 08 2008

Kimbandeira et. al.:

Sorry for my delay I have been in the midst of moving cross-country to take a new professorship at a new university….ugh 3 days in the car!!

Wow! Thanks for your thought-provoking comments and perhaps your overly ambitious critique of my academic background. If I were you I would be very careful in making assumptions about where my academic interests lay and what exactly I have studied.

Now, as far as your comments about post-structuralism this is an academic argument that has been engaged over and over…….so we are not about to come to terms with your issues with post-structuralism here. Additionally, I would hope that you have studied the power of hybridization……especially in the New World context. Your search for pure African antecedents is very problematic especially in the geographic and political context of the New World….perhaps you would know this if you studied your New World history a bit more before you make your “baseless” claims (sorry I couldn´t resist).

Additionally, I think is amazing that you can trace capoeira to your conception of “kalunga”……if you can do this then you should write an academic article with your data and proof being very clear…..since it would challenge most of the academic work on capoeira, you would be breaking a very new path! Most academics writing on capoeira have not been able to concretely demonstrate a pure African antecedent to capoeira with clear data(then again, academia is probably too white, elitist and appropriative for your liking no? Therefore, worthy of your complete rejection!).

Finally, Kimbandeira……how do you feel with white people playing capoeira and doing so in droves? And what about the benefits that New World hybridization has given to people of all races……..because yes, though there is violence there has also been opportunity. Your black and white (pun intended) conception of the world seems to me sophomoric at best.

Joaninha: I am sorry to “devolve” this conversaton a bit but personal attacks on my academic credibility and the assumptions made warranted a bit more defense than usual.

All my best…….and I promise not to post on this comment again :)…..I don´t like beating a dead horse :).

9 08 2008

* Sigh *

I felt confident making my statement about your lack of serious engagement with African history because talking about hybridity ad infinitum while not even mentioning specific African histories seems to me all the proof I needed. In all of the literature that you referenced, I didn’t see thing one about Africa. You may know a great deal, but the way you present your ideas, Africa doesn’t seem real to you. You talk about “pure Africa”, which seems oddly ahistorical. That being said, there are cosmological orientations and cultural practices in the Americas (the New World to whom, by the way?) that are African. I will ask again: who benefits from the glorification of hybridity? Me or you? Elvis as the King of Rock (which, as Amiri Baraka mentioned, must make James Brown God) and Eminem as some sort of hip hop figure may be a really interesting topic for academic papers, but it means something quite different from the other side of the thievery. If my frustration came across, it is because I am sick. to. death. of having any claims of cultural ownership dismissed by whites who stand only to benefit from yet another kind of thievery. After 500 years of taking our people, our labor, our lives, and our land, now it is our cultural practices.

If you want concrete examples of just how shallow hybridity really is, go anywhere in Latin America where the national discourse centers around mestizaje/mesticagem and ask yourself how the Black and indigenous people are faring there. Blacks in Mexico? That’s right.

So, any politics that problematize white cultural appropriation and the discursive practices designed to efface structural violence are sophomoric? Interesting. I’d love to know what benefits hybridity has yielded me, really I would. Let’s see…I grew up speaking the slavemaster’s language, with a surname that belongs to the people that owned my ancestors. I grew up being told I had no history, and I grew up watching everyone like me be denied jobs, housing, and education. Am I supposed to look at some sort of cultural form – I don’t know, let’s say the blues or jazz – and be grateful for all of this? It’s not that I am a xenophobe. Far from it. Our histories in Africa were always dynamic, and it’s not as if people were not moving, interacting, and changing all of the time prior to the arrival of white people. We were never static, never frozen.

I would imagine that it should be fairly clear by what I have written here how I feel about whites in capoeira.

10 08 2008

Any possibility someone could tell what is kalunga and in what way it is connected to capoeira?

18 08 2008


In reference to your comment -” …(then again, academia is probably too white, elitist and appropriative for your liking no? Therefore, worthy of your complete rejection!).

That comment is offensive, troubling and condescending. And although the question is rhetorical, the answer is YES. Which is why new “ethnic” courses are being created and more minority professors are being hired in colleges……..let’s not get nasty….there are other people following this conversation, and many of them are educated (yes, at elitist, white institutions!) black women and capoeiristas….

My two cents,in terms of the actual topic of conversation, will come later .

18 08 2008

Hey Nod, thanks for participating, and I’m interested to see what you’ll be adding later.

I think Onça’s comment was more a sarcastic reaction to the views expressed here, and I have to say I’ve seen some condescension and dripping sarcasm all around previous to his comment…which doesn’t necessarily justify it on everyone’s part, of course, but just for the record.

2 09 2008

I can’t express how much I appreciate finding this blog. Being a female capoeirista, I noticed right away there would be many challenges on the long road of Capoeira, and I was right. There are several things that became clear to me quickly and recently a roda experience shocked me to my core and officially stamped that yes, being a female capoeirista has its own unique challenges.

First, my group is different that many other groups that I have encountered. While we are slowly gaining more female students, I was ‘raised’ by playing with men thus I can hold a ‘rough’ game. I was a little shocked when I started playing with other groups and was told by my Mestre that I needed to play softer with girls. I was a little shocked (I didn’t consider myself aggressive), I somehow felt inappropriate AND felt a little masculine! Instead, I tried to become more conscious of a players game and level, despite their gender. This was one interesting lesson.

The next was accepting the notion of our relationships with Mestres inside the roda and outside. I struggled, and still do, with how female capoeiristas are somehow suppose to entertain our Mestres and visiting Mestres come Batizado time. Come social time, we are being grabbed, danced with, fed, and adored. Sometimes it is all in good fun and sometimes boundaries are seriously crossed. The next day the same man will take you down in a roda and kick you to the berimbau with a frightening sternness, yet we should still feel respectful?? Well, yes we should, male or female because they are our teachers and we are students playing in their roda! I have learned that you can’t compare these two situations because the roda is the roda and has its own rules and hierarchy, and outside of that the rules can be lifted. I feel as a woman, if you don’t see this distinction Capoeira can become a very confusing and emotional place, perhaps even causing one to drop out.

I found peace in the above notion until a recent event I attended. I was a visitor and the group’s Contra Mestre is young, and well, hot. In the past this Mestre came on to me very strongly, which at first seemed flattering. However, it quickly became perversely disturbing to me, and I asked him to please not talk to me anymore, that I felt he disrespected me as a person. He became defensive, but that was that…or so I thought. During the event I played him. His first movement busted my lip and caused it to bleed. I felt it was an accident, and stayed in the roda for another game. During this game he took me down and full force kicked me in the head. I freaked out because I felt this was a personal attack that no one else could see. As I tried to get out the roda he stopped the game and lectured me in front of the entire group about how I need to respect my master and to go and sit down. I left the roda feeling like a shamed child. After he gave a lecture and told the group that I had tried to play too aggressively with him and that was my mistake. I knew I had not. I am very aware of my level and would never play a Mestre like that.

For me, this connects directly to your topic. Should someone like this be promoted?? Perhaps he is still learning as well to be a good teacher. In my view, and how my Mestres have taught me, he should have maintained control. Let’s say I did play him aggressively, he should have kept control of the situation without playing with such roughness, especially since I am not a high cord. However, philosophies of proper instruction are all over the board and vary from Mestre to Mestre, I know that. But this was a very subtle situation that could not be interpreted by everyone.

I have not been able to share this since our groups are so tightly connected and have often wondered how other female capoeiristas feel about their experiences. I am surprised there is not more literature about it. I am not a naive woman and I accept that these attitudes are out there, as they are in life. I continue to practice and absolutely love Capoeira.

Thank you for your postings

9 09 2008

Hi Coral, I am so sorry for the delay in replying to your comment! Thank you for sharing all of that with us. I was really shocked and angry to hear about what that contra-mestre did. That seems absolutely dispicable, not only deliberately physically injuring you for refusing his advances but trying to blame it on you and humiliate you in front of everyone else on top of that?? I wouldn’t think someone with the type of personality who *would* do something like that should be advanced to ANY type of position with power…that was abuse in every shape, form, and sense of the word.

As for other issues you raised, firstly, I really appreciated how you recognized you should adjust your playing to the person’s level, not your gender, despite your mestre’s dubious “advice”!!

Secondly, your third paragraph actually kind of disturbed me. I hadn’t thought about the women in a capoeira group being used/provided as “entertainment” in that way before, and that kind of thing doesn’t really happen in my group, thank god. But what you said about “grabbing, adoring, feeding” (I have to admit I feel kind of on the verge of throwing up right about now; what are we, trained house pets?) one night and “kicking you to the berimbau” the next (but when you’re already down?!!? That could be another discussion topic altogether!), and how it’s okay because there are rules for different situations, being outside and inside the roda…that doesn’t seem to work for me.

To me, that just sounds like, “We’re allowed to harrass you sexually outside of the roda, and harrass you physically inside the roda.” Though what happens in the roda isn’t actually harrassment or anything like that at all (barring your specific case), so no, you can’t actually compare the two situations at all. You’re right in that what happens inside the roda is fine, since it’s capoeira after all, and they shouldn’t be “playing soft” with someone just because she’s female, right? And also right that we should respect them as teachers/senior capoeiristas, if they don’t behave in a way that betrays that respect.

But just because those things are all okay, doesn’t necessarily make the other thing okay as well. I don’t think they’re related or comparable, unless, again, they are beating you up in the roda BECAUSE you rejected them, refused to be treated as a sex object, etc. etc. So yes, you can’t compare the two situations, but that in no way means one situation is acceptable just because the other one is.
Thank you for your kind words about my blog. I’m incredibly glad that you felt you could speak out on it, and I really hope you find more venues to about that, as well. The fact that incidents like that are silenced and guys like that are let off the hook probably every day just infuriates me; I don’t know how I’d react if I were in your place.

9 09 2008

[Editor’s note: FYI to people I train with, this is a different Polvo than the one you know. -Joaninha]


I planned on replying to this topic right after I read it but I just couldn’t put in words what I was feeling about your story. Now I’ve had some time to think about it and phrase my thoughts. And still the best thing I can come up with: “WTF!?”.
This just to state how disgusting, dispicable, etc.. I think this kind of behaviour is.

Being a male capoeirista I don’t encounter these kind of things so I won’t say I know how you feel, cause I don’t. Just know that I despise this kind of behaviour and these kind of people should never gain a ‘leading’ status. On the other hand, can you know beforehand that someone is going to misuse his status like this?


I had to read your post a couple times before I understood everything and I still feel that I’m missing part of the underlying feelings and thoughts.
But the things I did understand I agree with.

PS: I might not write here a lot, but I do read it 🙂

10 09 2008

Thanks for your comment, Polvo! And I really hope I’m not alienating you by adding that note at the top; it’s just that I’ve had a bit of confusion in the past with same-names-different-people, so it’s just to avoid that. =)

I think the basic gist of what I wrote was that the dynamics between mestres and women capoeiristas in the roda and outside the roda are different, but that just because we still respect them after doing potentially questionable things inside the roda, doesn’t mean we have to also still respect them after they do definitely questionable things outside the roda.

As for “underlying feelings”, Coral’s story just brought out so glaringly all the things that are so wrong with this kind of thing, one of the most infuriating being how perpetrators can just get away with it so easily, partially because the “victims” often silence themselves, without the guy even having to do anything.

13 01 2009

Hi everyone,

First of all, damn… This is a VERY heavy and interesting discussion. Respect to everyone who posted! I’d like just to put a few things into context. I am training as a Social Anthropologist and strongly believe that context is the key to understanding.

It helps to remember that Brazil has a VERY different culture to US/Canada/Europe/Australia/NZ. In Western countries, yes, it is inappropriate for a teacher to “come on” to a student. In Rio de Janeiro (I don’t have much experience of other places) when an attractive girl starts training, its pretty much expected that the teacher will hit on her. If she rejects him, he might try once or twice more, but after that she gets treated normally. Now I’m not saying that this is good or bad, or that it will never change, just that it is THE WAY IT IS RIGHT NOW.

Also, Brazil is a flirtatious and touchy feely place. They laugh at me saying “you foreigners are so cold!” Sometimes what is taken to be “inappropriate” in one place is “appropriate” in another and vice versa. This of course doesn’t apply to all cases.

As far as aggression with female capoeiristas, I have found that a majority of the female Brazilian Capoeiristas (Regional) are MORE aggressive than the guys. Outside of Brazil they are usually less aggressive. In part I think this is because in Rio de Janeiro Capoeira is seen as a contact fighting art, while outside of Brazil it is seen as NON-contact, meaning that different types of people are attracted to it in the different places. Also, a stronger or more graduated Capoeirista playing heavy with someone less strong or graduated is seen as cowardly, and is very highly frowned upon here. As a result, most guys do play lighter with women. Alot of the women, however, don’t want this and as a result play more aggressively to “make” the guy play harder with them by showing that they are strong and skilled.

Another thing to remember is that Brazil and in turn Capoeira (it is intrinsicly Brazilian) is at this point in time very male orientated. It is changing slowly, but it is that way. Percentages of female Capoeiristas are rising, but are still quite low. I’m pretty sure the solution is more female masters (mestras), teachers (professoras) and instructors (instrutoras).

And on an unrelated note, someone mentioned the Regional=white middle class thing, but Mestre Bimba taught poor blacks as well, and Mestre Pastinha taught rich whites. You have a mixture of rich blacks, poor blacks, rich whites and poor whites (and every combination in between) in both styles in Brazil. I personally have found that outside of Brazil that there is a correlation between social class and style. Angoleiros are more likely to be middleclassed; working class people are more likely to be attracted to Regional, although alot of the Regional players are also middle class.

12 05 2009

right the hell on Kimbandeira!! thank you for bringing “our” viewpoint to the fore. You are sooooo right on so many levels!

23 05 2010

I’d just like to make a couple of points regarding Kimbandeira’s posts: I’d rather avoid getting into the “white woman/ delicate flower” debate, but I’d like to nonetheless contribute a little:

All races and creeds have been repressed along history, and all have had their share of struggle and huniliation. As you seem to categorise people in “black and white”, whites enslaved whites & blacks: blacks enslaved whites… and blacks enslaved and oppressed other blacks long before Africa was colonised by the white oppressor. Slavery has always been about exploitation, not racism. In the quilombos, back in the days when capoeira emerged, there were not just blacks, but also huge numbers of indigenous people and whites running from the law, not to mention numerous mercenaries of all colours. And there were slaves within the quilombos, where blacks exploited blacks.

I am a “mixed-race” Brazilian who lived for over 20 years both in Rio and in the “black” North. Brazilians don’t really see people as black or white, firstly because we are all physically so different, but, most crucially, because we all equally share one Brazilian heritage that encompasses African, European and indigenous culture. So, first of all, if we must really talk about discrimination, there are Brazilians and non-brazilians :-). Then, if we must talk about resentment (rather than discrimination and prejudice) Brazilians see it more as “rich” and “poor”. Interestingly, the middle class are rarely the subject of resentment because they encompass such a huge range of statuses and skin colours. So if there are grudges, they are against the ostentacious upper classes, “os ricos”.

In capoeira, “black” / working class practitioners are aware of, and proud of, the fact that middle-class and / or “white” people enjoy and practise capoeira with such passion. They will also be appreciative of good “white” or foreign players. Some highly-regarded middle-class “white” mestres like Suassuna or Camisa are a testament to this. They would have never reached this status had such resentment existed.

Now to the sexism: yes, it exists. Not just in capoeira, and not just in Brazil. I would argue that sexism is more pronounced in Africa than in many other parts of the world 🙂

I also would like to add that in Brazil, African culture is an intrinsic part of us, regardless of skin colour. Every day it’s in our food, our music, our literature, our art, our religion, the air that we breathe. We are proud of our heritage! A white, blonde Brazilian dancing samba de roda is absolutely normal in Brazil. No-one would bat an eyelid… why? because she’s Brazilian. Most importantly… she dances LIKE a Brazilian! Extrapolate this to capoeira….

In Brazil, and in Europe where I now live, capoeira is about enjoyment, togetherness, responding to the call of the berimbau. People of different backgrounds, creeds, cultures, colours, values, ages come together to celebrate the survival and continuation of this incredible art. Definitely not about sweeping generalisations about sexism, white females or racial / cultural grudges. Like every sport, and every art, it’s about competence, expression, enjoyment, and about what you can offer to the game, whether you are male or female, a beginner or an advanced player. Thankfully! And if there are people whose behaviour we don’t agree with, that’s life, not just capoeira!

29 06 2010

I’m not a capoeirista… but I am a musicians (percussionist, female) who loves many kinds of Brazilian – and African – music.

lúna, I deeply appreciate your comment. While I am not Brazilian, I do see what you are saying about the cultural differences between the US and Brazil, as well as the cultural melding that has taken place within Brazil. (and how it includes people from many nations and cultures: Japanese, Lebanese, Syrians, European Jewish immigrants – as well as Native people and people of African and Portuguese descent – and Germans and Italians and…. ;))

As for drumming being communication with ancestors, may I respectfully address that: in some cases, and in some cultures, it is; in others, it is not, and is “secular.” Case in point: most all djembe/dunun music from Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and parts of Senegal. This is very complex stuff; I can’t even begin to give a digest of it – nor is it especially relevant to capoeira, candomble, or Brazilian culture.

Africa is incredibly complex, in terms of the thousands of cultures and languages and peoples found on its soil. And it is not static; African cultures (like all others) are in the constant process of change and “hybridization.”

I do realize that many African-derived religions practiced in the West (vodun, candomble, Santeria, Shango, Palo, macumba etc.) come from various parts of West and Central Africa. But – in Cuba, in Puerto Rico, in Brazil, in the English-speaking Caribbean – the elements that came from Africa actually changed and evolved due to the fact that those who were forcibly torn from Africa were from differing cultures and national, linguistic, etc. backgrounds. People had to band together as best they could in order to survive; to thrive, even, in spite of what they had to endure.

And (dare i say it?) Native and European elements slipped into many religious practices as well.

I do not believe there is a single “pure” African source for the complexity and diversity of diasporic cultures, any more than there is some such thing for the descendants of European immigrants (or for South and East Asians, or Middle Eastern peoples, etc. who came to the Western hemisphere).

kimbundeira, while I am thinking over what you have said, I also feel that you are undermining your arguments by oversimplifying what they are about in the 1st place. This isn’t such a (forgive me) black and white issue as you seem to be making it. (I am referring to the color of ink on paper here, not to human skin color of any shade.)

Please realize that there are people of all colors and backgrounds who might want to understand what it is really like to walk in your shoes. And that not all of us are about “entitlement.” There’s plenty we white people don’t understand – that I, as a white woman, don’t understand – but please, give us a chance to learn!

Maybe I’m too idealistic, but… I hope and pray that Dr. Martin Luther King’s dreams for this country (US) will be realized in time. Which means that I need to make places at my table for you, and yours, and many, many others… and that, whether you want to or not, you might need to start making places at your table for me and mine – and NOT because of some weird idea of white privilege. Breaking bread with someone can be the opening to knowing their heart.

I don’t want to steal anything from anyone – but I see that so much that has come from Africa is so beautiful, and so uplifting. May I be allowed to participate, to join in the music, and in the dance? May I learn from you? (These are serious questions; I mean them with all my heart.)

I will never be a capoeirista, but I do love to watch the game being played. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

P.S.: While I see a fair amount in the comments above about poverty and discrimination against black Brazilians, i haven’t seen anything about those of primarily European-Native descent who also live in impossible conditions and who have an equally difficult time getting out of grinding poverty… If you are not familiar with any of this, I would strongly recommend watching Andrucha Waddington’s movie Eu Tu Eles, which is set in the arid backlands of the Brazilian northeast.

Brazil is more than black and white, and certainly more than black and white opposing one another! So, for that matter, is the US (I think).


29 06 2010

kimbandeira – please forgive my inadvertent misspelling of your username.


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