Review: Capoeira Beyond Brazil

29 01 2009

Back to apologies mode…sorry, guys.  My new schedule thanks to work is insane, and I barely have time to cook and clean, let alone read or write anything of substance!  I may be going on another hiatus soon, but not before I release the Mandingueira Retrospect Magazine (only table of contents left!!!).  For now, here is my long-promised review of Capoeira Beyond Brazil!

Capoeira Beyond Brazil is written by Aniefre Essien and published by Blue Snake Books. I was really looking forward to reading this book because of the “international aspect” it seemed to have, and was really interested in seeing how capoeira would be treated in an international context.  Having said that, the book had both its ups and downs.

When I was in high school (please excuse the temporary non-sequitar; this is related, I swear!), our social studies teacher gave us a tour of the school library’s references section. There was Encyclopedia Britannica, World, Canadiana, etc., and there were racks of Time Magazine, as well.  Upon showing us the latter, our teacher told us, “Here we have Time World, which is about the United States, and here we have Time Canada, which is about the world.” (That’s still one of my all-time favourite quotes, by the way.)

Well, reading Capoeira Beyond Brazil, unfortunately, brings that quote to mind. I suppose you could say it goes beyond Brazil—but only as far as the United States (skipping over Mexico and Central America along the way). Maybe it was just me, but for some reason I’d been expecting a slightly more academic, ambitious piece with a larger scope than it had. I was expecting to read about capoeira in Asia, Australia, and (present-day!) Africa, about globalization or international relations (and capoeira’s influence from or on them, of course) and sociological theory more so than personal anecdotes and basic/typical introductory capoeira lore.

However, the book does have it good points, as well.  Essien touches interestingly on some topics that I don’t think I’ve seen quite touched on the same way before, such as the horridly ironic phenomenon of some capoeira teachers using capoeira as a “tool of oppression” on their students. The book is healthily “progressive” from a feminist point of view, and I enjoyed reading the capoeirista interviews at the end (though again, the interviews, similarly to the rest of the book, only feature “A Few U.S. Capoeiristas”).

One interview which especially resonated with me was the first one, by a former capoeirista who left the game because he felt that people were beginning to bring too much ugliness into the art and violating the spirit of the game. He said a lot of things that I found insightful and agreed with, especially in regards to fighting in the roda/in capoeira, mentioning how “students have been trained to fight in the name of the instructor, not necessarily because that student feels that s/he has to fight”. The capoeirista being interviewed concludes, “I have to separate the concept of capoeira from how it’s actually practiced by individuals who tend to bring in the element of machismo.”

Overall, Capoeira Beyond Brazil was an okay read. It just didn’t turn out to be what I’d expected it to be, which is the only reason I was disappointed. I think it would be an ideal gift to give to a beginner capoeira student, and even more so for an American beginner capoeira student. The writing itself is fine, Essien’s experience as a capoeirista and capoeira teacher shows through with no question, and I’m always up for a good capoeira anecdote, so in that respect the book is great.  For what I mentioned earlier, I guess I’ll just have to wait till some international affairs post-doc gets hooked on capoeira!



11 responses

31 01 2009

So how long before you get your International affairs post-doc?
; )
[love the time canada quote too)

1 02 2009

Well, that’s a pity. I was hoping for a book with a much wider scope, and I think I will give this a miss.
It’s not that I am uninterested in US capoeira, but there is a real missed opportunity here. American influence on culture around the world* makes capoeira’s interaction with the US interesting, but other cultures would be interesting in other ways and as points of comparison.

For historical reasons, I’d like to know about capoeira in Portugal and Africa, for example, or the perception of capoeira in cultures with long-standing, formalised martial arts traditions such as Japan and China.

* the name of the godeme shows American influence in regional, too 🙂

1 02 2009
Norberto - Start Playing Capoeira

Thanks for the book review. I was looking for some good books to start out with, and that won’t be one of them 😉

Out of all books you’ve read, which would you recommend first for a capoeira book, if that’s even possible…


3 02 2009

Maybe the “beyond brazil” part of the title puts it in the context of an international scope… but really, it’s a good read.
It seems a more personal take on capoeira and I like how the writer shares his experience, knowledge gained, on schools, rodas and capoeirista attitude in a general modern look (like his example of a breakdancer wanting to use his skills in capoeira yet doesn’t grasp the concept of the roda).
I guess it’s nice to see the perspective of a teacher to see what we’re missing when they teach us in class.

8 02 2009

Give this book a chance people! It’s actually a very good. The title is inaccurate but there’s lots of information on capoeira philosophy, etiquette, and history. Essien does a really good job of explaining the differences between capoeira in Brasil and capoeira in the U.S. and why those differences exist. I learned a lot and found it interesting to hear about the perspective of an instructor outside of Brasil. My only critique–it was too short. I wanted read and learn more about the instructors’ experiences.

8 02 2009

I’m sure it’s lovely, but I’m just not interested in buying a book about capoeira in the US.

9 02 2009
Dan Tres OMi

I enjoy the review. I will cop the book. I would like to see the author’s perspective.

31 05 2009
Capoeira for a good cause « Angoleiro’s Blog

[…] to do so. In the meantime one of my favourite Capoeira Bloggers Mandingueira did already post a review about this book. That’s why I decided to take this review one little step further and give a […]

9 11 2009

Hey Mandingueira,

Even though I’m not ding a post-doc, I’m doing a PhD and have just started using my Blog to give voice to the sort of issues you comment on your review. I would like you to visit it and have a look through it. My research is on Capoeira and social inclusion and how global market issues has been affecting the art and its local role empowering communities.

Please, do check it out (forgive me my English) and lets keep in contact so that we can give more voice to those issues.


15 12 2010
Capoeira for a good cause

[…] to do so. In the meantime one of my favourite Capoeira Bloggers Mandingueira did already post a review about this book. That’s why I decided to take this review one little step further and give a […]

4 02 2012

I love your ayainsls and I’m reading all of these posts, though this is the only comment i’ve left. just wanna say i’m enjoying this!

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