Looking at the “Capoeira” in “Capoeira Regional”

5 08 2008

Capoeira regional

Something very interesting occurred to me as I was typing up my responses to the “Feminism, Capoeira, Cultural Appropriation, & Black Self-Determinationdiscussion. The funny thing is that after I published and reread what I’d written, I realized that my “epiphany” was actually a really common and oft-argued viewpoint. So common and oft-argued, in fact, that I’d never felt terribly interested in discussing it on here before. But thanks to that conversation, I ended up arriving at this one point from the complete opposite side. It felt exactly like the difference between arriving in China by plane, and arriving in China through a tunnel you started digging in your own backyard.

(*For context and background information, before continuing, I strongly recommend you first click here and read the original discussion):

In the very wide-ranging, thought-provoking, and possibly inflammatory conversation we’ve all been sharing in, several points have been brought up in direct reference to capoeira, such as cultural appropriation, changing or ditching tradition and bringing in your own values, and focusing on what you like and distilling out the rest.

Now, what I realized—is it just me, or does that describe exactly what happened in the development of capoeira regional?

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 the majority demographic of its practitioners were interested in. This demographic consisted of middle-to-upper-class, white students who urged or convinced Mestre Bimba to concentrate more on the martial and acrobatic aspects of capoeira in their learning, while simultaneously encouraging him away from the ritualistic and traditional aspects, out of disinterest. At the same time, these students possibly incorporated one or two things they had learned from previous martial art experience, as well.

So if you think about it, it really seems like capoeira regional was created precisely through cultural appropriation, infusion of own values, and discarding of under-valued aspects by “outsiders” to capoeira’s original community—but still with the help and cooperation of part of the community itself. Yet, it was because of precisely such 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 is it just a fact of life to accept—that things change, in and of themselves (especially considering, moreover, that we haven’t lost the “original” [if one takes angola as that] despite such change)?

Feminism, Capoeira, Cultural Appropriation, & Black Self-Determination

22 07 2008

Last week, a very important and unsettling (for me) but necessarily tough conversation began underneath my “Why ‘Sexist Capoeirista’ is an Oxymoron” post. Kimbandeira raised many deep issues that span across feminism, anti-racism, social values, and of course, our own positions in relation to capoeira.

...taking the time to take Africa and the cultural and intellectual production of African seriously.

These included issues such as the “position of privilege” from which “white [or, I suppose, ‘whitewashed’] feminists” seem to speak while advocating feminism, disregarding or trampling over (inadvertently or not) the not necessarily similar positions of black or brown women in the process, or of other women of colour.

A second major issue was cultural appropriation and sense of entitlement: As “gringas/gringos”, do we have the “right” to change capoeira from its original form/context and modify it into better suiting our own values (even a value such as gender equality)?

Finally, how valid is our 21st-century belief (exemplified in my own short story post, “Contours“) that the individual is what matters, freedom of choice and self-expression, options and unrestrained pursuit of happiness, as opposed to the values system of social responsibility, where duty to society, community, and family comes before the individual, no matter what?

The first issue, regarding mainstream feminism and anti-racism, is one I’ve wanted to approach for a while now, but didn’t because I knew I’d be going in way over my head. So, I have Kimbandeira to thank for giving me the opportunity to bring it to all of your guys’ attention. Please read her comments, and all of the responses, for what I consider to be a completely thought-provoking and eye-opening read. Click here.