Shaded Meanings: The Colour of your Corda

15 12 2007

What does your capoeira corda mean to you?The green Brazilian flag.  The black African slaves.  The orange of a rising sun.  You cherish your corda–train with it, don it before every class, and no matter what you tell people, at some level you aspire for the next one; but do you know exactly what you’re wearing around your waist when you tighten that hand-dyed knot?

We all know that nearly every group in capoeira has a different corda system.  What I wanted to discover was: Why?  How?  It’s hard to imagine that each mestre just wanted to distinguish their school from the rest and so decided on a random order of colours merely by virtue of no one else having used it yet!  Unfortunately, I have never heard of my own grupo’s corda colours symbolizing anything in particular (so people, please enlighten me if I’m wrong!), but thought it’d be interesting to see what kind of meanings are given to corda colours in general.

Before I continue, let’s take a brief detour through Portuguese 101: Colours!

off-white/”raw”/undyed – crua
red – vermelha
orange – laranja
yellow – amarela
green – verde
blue – azul
purple – roxa
brown – marrom
white – branca
black – negra

You might have noticed that all the colours are in feminine form; despite what you may think, this was honestly for no more reason than that the word “corda” itself is feminine.  Can I help it if I want to you use proper grammar?  (I don’t rig things, I just take advantage of happy accidents 😉 )

Now, apparently many grupos do base at least part of their corda systems on the colours of the Brazilian flag, which is where cordas verde, azul, amarela, and branca come from, as well as the different combinations between them found in single cordas.  Grupo de Capoeira Lutaxé actually bases their entire adult graduation system on just these four colours, plus black and brown, which according to their website represents “the black race and time of slavery”. 

Filhos da Bahia Capoeira gets particularly creative in terms of colour placement, with nine variations of corda amarela/verde, followed by six variations of amarela/azul.  There are only so many ways you can dye one rope, and they seem to have come up with them all!  Their system intricately follows the process of nature, starting beginners off with corda verde and adding more and more amarelo to it in several stages, representing a blooming or ripening fruit.

Finally, we have what seem to be more standard symbols for each colour, the particular order here taken from Abada Capoeira.  Get ready to feel inspired 🙂

Raw, undyed, colourless–this one pretty much explains itself!  The true, unt(a)inted beginner, with no knowledge, no experience yet. 

Represents the formation of a capoeira base as solid as gold, as well as the value of the student (yup, we’re worth our weight in it!) and their future.

The rising sun – the quest for knowledge – the awakening of consciousness.

The sky, which opens into an infinite path towards knowledge.  Also the ocean, indicating the vastness and depth of ground there is to cover.

The forest: at this stage, the now-advanced student is expected to begin contributing back to the group, the way trees give oxygen to the earth.

Continuity… … … … … … … … … … … …

The soil of the earth, the source of life.  Marrom represents being grounded in the earth, and grounded in all aspects of capoeira.

In Abada, fairness.  In Sinha Bahia, symbolic of the blood shed by the slaves who started it all, as well as the blood we all share.  True understanding of all.

The colour of diamond–resistance, longevity, timelessness, and the colour that reflects all the rest.

Obviously, the rank of each colour affects the meaning the group will give to it, so it will be different for everyone, but this gives you a good idea of what’s out there!  What do you think?  Does your corda already have a symbol within your group?  Or do you think that symbolism stuff was all just claptrap made up after the fact?  Either way, I don’t think I’ll be looking at my corda quite the same way again!

Documentary Trailer: Cigarra Capoeirista

8 12 2007

To follow up on her biography, this is an awesome video I found while looking for more information on Mestranda Marcia. It’s for a documentary about her and Abada Capoeira San Francisco, called Cigarra Capoeirista. My favourite parts are the maculele performance about half-way in (I love, love, love, love, love maculele), where they use real machetes (sweeeet), and the jogo with razors about two thirds in. Enjoy!

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Ie viva meu Mestra, Part 3: Mestranda Marcia “Cigarra”

8 12 2007

Mestranda Marcia Cigarra TreidlerI got a little worried at one point trying to ascertain whether it was Mestra Edna Lima or Mestranda Marcia who became the first Mestranda in Abada Capoeira. I think it was Mestra Edna, according to a list of graduation years I found, but modified that one line in her profile just in case. And I know both Edna Lima and Marcia were awarded their Mestranda cordas by Mestre Camisa, but I believe Marcia is considered Mestre Camisa’s “first female student” to become Mestranda because Edna Lima had trained with several others before joining Abada Capoeira.

For sixteen-year old Marcia Treidler, it was love at first sight. Fast-forward 25 years, and the capoeira-enthralled teenager has become Mestranda Marcia “Cigarra” of Abada Capoeira, founder and artistic director of Abada Capoeira San Francisco, and one of the most esteemed capoeiristas in the field.

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Mestranda Marcia started training capoeira in 1982, under Mestre Camisa. She rose through the ranks and taught and performed capoeira throughout Brazil, Europe, and North America, until moving to San Francisco in 1991. There, Mestranda Marcia founded Abada Capoeira San Francisco, which aims to preserve and expand capoeira beyond Brazil, use capoeira to improve and enrich people’s lives, and improve “cultural and social equity” through initiatives such as outreach programs.

In 1997, Mestranda Marcia received permanent residency in the United States, through a National Interest Waiver that declared her an “Alien with Extraordinary Abilities”. She then founded the Abada-Capoeira Brazilian Arts Centre, dedicated to preserving and promoting Afro-Brazilian cultural arts.

Finally, in 1998, Mestranda Marcia received her corda vermelha, becoming Mestre Camisa’s first female student to do so, as well as one of the world’s first. Today, she is internationally recognized for what she has done, and known by students and fellow capoeiristas for her deep commitment to capoeira and to her students, whether it is bringing out their best every class, or improving their very lives.

For more information, please visit:


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Videos: Mestras Edna and Suelly in Action

7 12 2007

It dawned on me that my previous posts on Mestras Edna and Suelly were kind of like trying to teach someone about an artist without showing them a single one of the artist’s paintings. Thus without further ado, I’d like to present to you the following videos!

This first one shows Mestra Edna Lima playing (now-) Mestranda Marcia, which is perfect as she’s whom I’ll be writing about next! It’s an old 90’s video from a roda in California. Mestra Edna is the one in the sports top, and their game lasts for about the first 50 seconds. This video is cool also because it shows Mestre Marcelo playing after, capoeira’s own real-life video game character =D:

Second, we have Mestra Suelly in a batizado roda from earlier this year. I like the double kick she does towards the end!

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Ie viva meu Mestra, Part 1: Mestra Edna Lima

4 12 2007

The more I read about this woman, the more I can’t believe I’ve never heard of her before! She has done so much, and in such a seemingly short time that I can’t help wondering just how slanted all the glossy write-ups on her might be…
However, spotlight first, shadow-chasing later!

Mestra Edna Lima 

Edna Lima loved sports as a child and first encountered capoeira at the age of twelve, in her hometown of Brasilia, Brazil. She trained with Instrutor Dentinho for eight months, first secretly (using money she told her parents was for books) and then openly, with her mother’s wholehearted support. As the only girl in the class, Edna thought early on that capoeira might be “only for boys”, but her mother quickly relieved her of that thought, and fended off admonition from friends and relatives for allegedly risking her daughter’s “femininity”.

Lucky for Instrutor Dentinho, as he left Brasilia only after requesting that Edna take over teaching the class! However, two months later Edna herself left, in order to further her training with Mestre Tabosa of Capoeira Senzala. In 1981, it was he who gave Edna her corda vermelha (red), making her the first female capoeira mestre in the world, as well as the first mestra in Capoeira Senzala. Edna, barely 20 years old at the time, played hard for her belt that day. Capoeiristas came to her ceremony from all over Brazil, in order to test or just to see her: “‘Who is this girl getting a Mestre in capoeira?!’ The guys freaked out!” Happily, they got over it soon enough: “When people came to check me out, they got checked. Then, afterward, they would support me.”

It probably didn’t hurt that Mestra Edna was a black belt in karate as well as a master capoeirista. Edna started karate just eight months after starting capoeira, alternating her three weekly training days with four days of training capoeira. As she travelled throughout Brazil to increase her experience in capoeira and in the roda, she won five national karate championships along the way. That was when she decided it was time to move north: “With an extended visa, a burning desire to learn English, and no friends in North America, she travelled north to experience ‘the city that never sleeps’.”

Upon arriving in New York, Mestra Edna met Mestre Jelon and toured for some time with his performance group, Dance Brazil. (For capoeiristas who happen to be movie buffs as well, she also appeared in Rooftops.) Several years after, she joined Abada Capoeira, Mestre Camisa’s group branched off from Capoeira Senzala (Edna had also trained extensively under Mestres Camisa and Joao Grande). In 1997, she became one of the world’s first Mestrandas, or Contra-Mestras, and one of the first in Abada. Mestra, or Mestranda, Edna then went on to found an Abada Capoeira group in New York City, in addition to developing several other programs using her capoeira knowledge and experience, combined with her Master’s degree in sports science and physical education.

Today, Edna teaches capoeira at her academy in New York–where students of other Mestres occasionally drop in for a class or game or two–and leads workshops and batizados in countries around the world, including Spain, Israel, Japan, and Canada. She is an Adjunct Professor in the Dance Department at Long Island University, and has been inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame. She has seventeen international karate championships under her belt, including three Pan-American gold medals, and in 2000 the City of New York recognized her accomplishments with a Proclamation, during Black History Month.

For more information, please visit:

Update: The following paragraphs were originally written for the post after this one, but for purposes of clarity I’ve decided to merge them into this post and take them out of the other one.

There are just a few things I wanted to mention about the write-up I did on Mestra Edna Lima.  First of all, I know that my list of sources are not going to be winning any research awards!  If you are very concerned, you can check out this additional list of articles, but they all say basically the same things.  Second, one part I slightly glossed over was the other “programs” Mestra Edna developed with her knowledge of capoeira and degree in phys ed.  To be specific, they include: a capoeira program for school children instilled in at least ten public schools in Brazil, which she had the schools hire capoeiristas to teach; a capoeira program for youth; and…a trademarked capoeira aerobics workout program, of purported scientifically proven effectiveness. 

I have to admit I’m not crazy about that last one, and I can’t think of any capoeirista I know who would be, especially when such a program spawns articles like this one.  However, I suppose that having done that one thing does not diminish any of her other accomplishments.  Speaking of which…I have always been under the impression that it takes thirty or forty years to become a mestre; maybe twenty at the absolutely minimum.  So it seems very surprising that Mestra Edna received her corda vermelha at age twenty–eight years after her first capoeira class.  Needless to say, I’m not meaning to cast aspersions, but it’s interesting.  Thoughts?

Also, as I finished writing the profile/biography, I realized that my lead-in to it wasn’t quite true, on two counts.  First of all, I had heard of her before, briefly: she was interviewed in a documentary that I’d seen recently.  (The documentary, by the way, was great!  If you ever get a chance, definitely check out Mandinga em Manhattan.)  Second, I realized that it’s actually somewhat reasonable that I’ve never heard of her, considering the generation of mestres she belongs to.  After all, most of the names common to capoeirista knowledge, aside from the mestre(s) of one’s own and affiliated groups, are historical figures, whose experience in capoeira can be traced back to the days of Mestres Bimba and Pastinha themselves: Jelon, Joao Grande, Joao Pequeno, Camisa, Camisa Roxo, Gato, Sorriso, Waldemar, Leopoldinha, and Accordeon, for example.  Their students, however, and their students’ students, are the ones actively teaching and leading us today, and I know for a fact that there are plenty of capoeiristas out there who have not heard of my grupo’s mestre, and I haven’t heard of theirs. 


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Ie Viva Meu Mestra, Camara

1 12 2007

Remember that pop quiz in this blog’s introduction post?  Never be caught unwares again, after we’re through with Ie viva meu Mestra, Mandingueira‘s very first post series!  Focusing on the lives and accomplishments of female mestres, or mestras, around the world, this series seeks to redress the balance of prominent figures offered to capoeira students as hero(in)es to revere or look up to.  From Mestra Suelly, the first and possibly only (please correct me if I’m wrong) North American mestra, to Mestra Edna Lima, the first mestra ever, these women should have wider recognition for what they have done, as inspirations to women and meninas everywhere who do capoeira today.  Please come back soon to read our first profile and biography, on Mestra Edna Lima!

Update: Just so there’s no confusion, mestranda and contra-mestra are terms used for the same rank in different grupos, indicating the level right below mestra. 

Ie Viva Meu Mestra: Archives

Why Write about Female Mestres? The Feminist Catch-22

Part 1: Mestra Edna Lima
Part 2: Mestra Suelly
Part 3: Mestranda Marcia/Cigarra
Part 4: Contra-Mestra Marisa Cordeiro
Part 5: Mestra Janja
Part 6: Mestra Paulinha
Part 7: Contra-Mestra Susy
Part 8: Mestra Jararaca

Part 9: Contra-Mestra Cristina 


Mestra Edna Lima, Mestra Suelly, and Mestranda Marcia
Mestra Marcia/Cigarra
Mestra Janja and Grupo Nzinga
Mestra Paulinha
Contra-Mestra Susy (Grupo Vadiacão, Capoeira Angola)
Mestra Jararaca