Mandinga and Mandingueira: What’s in a Name?

21 03 2008

mandingueira (noun, feminine): capoeira player who is skilled, experienced, intelligent, powerful, dangerous, and not to be underestimated

Malicia and Mandinga” formed the fourth FICA Women’s Conference discussion topic, and since I’ve talked a bit about malicia already on this blog, this time I’ll focus on mandinga.

What is mandinga in capoeira?

What is it? According to the conference discussion group,

mandinga relate[s] to something more abstract [than malicia], an energy transmitted, something magical, spiritual, and related to an individual’s personality.

That sounds about right; and since mandinga is so abstract and versatile, and pervasive in one who’s learned it, it makes sense that how it’s expressed would depend on the individual capoeirista who has or uses it.

There’s also an article about mandinga on Capoeira Connection, in which Mestre Curió says:

There’s the mandinga of black magic and there’s the mandinga of the capoeirista’s cleverness, when he reaches the point where he can really be called a capoeirista. And especially when he’s an angoleiro. It’s not that there don’t exist elements of mandinga in Regional. But there are people who enter the roda, exchange beatings, and claim that they’re good. But they’re not good. That’s what mandinga is: It’s wisdom, it’s being able to hit your adversary but not doing so; you show that you didn’t hit him because you didn’t want to.

I like this one, too. It puts emphasis on the subtlety and “underlying-ness” of mandinga; it’s not brute force, but the threat or potential of force; not overt fighting, but mental manipulation (in all senses of the word) and psychological prowess.

Next, I think the explanation on—appropriately enough—Grupo Mandinga‘s website does a really good job describing just what this mysterious, floating spectre is. You should definitely check out the whole thing, but in a nutshell:

Mandinga in the capoeira environment means, amongst many things, the hidden power that one has to disguise their real intention and to trick the opponent. It is a way to invoke some forces to blur the opponent’s vision of reality almost like hypnotizing him/her into a trance-like state so that they can’t see what is coming. It can also be magic like a trick that confuses and distracts the opponent. However, it is much more than any of the above meanings.

This angle hits on one of the most common notions of mandinga, as a spell one capoeirista puts over the other while playing inside the roda. And of course, it makes the point that ultimately, something like mandinga is beyond description or definition.

Finally, we return to the FICA conference, where Mestre Paulinha split mandinga into four main elements:

  • attitude
  • improvisation
  • deception
  • interruption

If someone who was at the conference could elaborate on her ideas regarding these, that would be awesome! For myself, I could see attitude being the comportment of a capoeirista as they play, their relaxed yet hyper-alert mental state and ability to take the jogo as it comes, turning anything that happens to their own advantage. That covers improvisation as well, and deception would be the capoeirista’s powers of concealment, hiding their every intention and movement until the very last nanosecond, toying with their opponent in the form of dangled feints and barely-there (until you fall into one!) traps.

Lastly, interruption is an interesting one, and I’d interpret that to mean how you interrupt the other player’s game, countering their attacks and moving too quickly for them to even be able to complete a single movement. It could also mean interrupting your own game and mindset, if the situation in the roda suddenly shifts or changes on you.

Now, what does all this have to do with Mandingueira? I thought since we’re already on the topic, I’d take the opportunity to explain the thinking behind this blog’s name. Again from Grupo Mandinga:

When a capoeirista is referred to as being a “mandingueira” it can be considered as one of the highest compliments that could be given. It implies that one is experienced and mature with a good sense of humor and yet dangerous and not to be fooled by the appearances. Sometimes the word mandinga is also used to imply that someone put a spell on a player and for that he/she can’t play well or is not doing well in some senses.

Basically, what better way for a blog to advocate for women in capoeira than to name it after the ultimate capoeirista? Not the “ultimate female capoeirista”, but the ultimate capoeirista, who—guess what?—is female! As for the rest, you could maybe call it wishful thinking or dire optimism, but I’d hope that in the long run, Mandingueira will affect and change society (or at least the capoeira world) the same way a mandingueira or mandingueiro would affect and change another capoeirista in the roda; not exactly by tricking them in my case, but through their interaction making the other aware of their own faults and mistakes, and thus causing them to improve and change for the better…and moreover causing such a complete and amazing change that it’d be like a spell was cast over them (in this case, society—or the capoeira world).

Update: See Comments to download a 40-page research paper on malicía in capoeira angola and capoeira regional!

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What’s Wrong with Women-Only Capoeira Events?

16 02 2008

You may have noticed that a while ago I put up an events listing on my blog sidebar, featuring capoeira women’s events.  The truth is, I was a bit iffy about the whole idea, but in the end decided to go ahead with it anyway.  In this post I explain why, and thanks to Cenoura for the prompt!

When it comes to all-women (meaning women-only) capoeira events, I’m not completely against them (obviously, seeing as they’re being publicized on my blog), but I don’t think they’re the greatest idea in the world, either.  For one thing, their existence, more specifically the focus on women-only rodas, is yet another phenomenon rooted in the idea that women and men don’t or can’t play on the same level.  It’s just like when you were in gym class at school, and the teacher separated the boys from the girls to play football, or soccer, because they thought the girls wouldn’t be able to handle playing with the boys, or wouldn’t be given a chance to play by the boys.  On the other hand, there is probably something to be said for the atmosphere of support and comaradery found at these events (well, I’m assuming that’s what the atmosphere would be like; I’ve never actually been to one), where women can share stories about training, past experiences, what it’s like for them in their respective grupos, etc. 

Should there be women-only rodas or events in capoeira?

Before continuing though, we need to make an important distinction here.  I’m all for capoeira events that are about women, such as FICA’s 2008 Women’s Conference.  Events like this bring up and address important issues, and they are for men as well as women, and they work towards resolving matters such as, I’d imagine, sexism and discrimination in capoeira.  Women-only events or rodas that are held purely for the sake of having something women-only, however, in my opinion, only serve to highlight “the divide” (a phrase I’m starting to despise, so please take no notice of it beyond what’s necessary for this sentence to make sense) without providing a channel for discussing, deconstructing, or resolving it.  And if they do provide a channel, then that’s even more reason for the event to be for men as well as women.

Now that I think about it, even the pros mentioned above aren’t very good arguments for women-only events, once you consider that support and comeradery are found at most capoeira events in general, and that women can always share stories there, as well.  I read somewhere that another reason for all-women events was so female capoeira students could meet and be inspired by women who had reached high levels in capoeira.  My response to that, though, would be to invite more of these women to normal capoeira events (thereby, moreover, balancing out the gender ratio of high-level belts at these events and killing two birds with one stone)!

At the same time, I still don’t feel I can just outright condemn or want to call for a stop to all women-only events.  I figure while they’re still going on, you may as well go and get what you can out of them, which I’m sure can be a lot.  I know, also, that they are supposed to be empowering rather than alienating or belittling in terms of women in capoeira.  (Although, just to be Devil’s advocate, let’s not forget what the road to Hell is paved with…!  Good intentions are what fuel my self-christened “Chauvinist Theory“, as well.)

In the end, I think a lot of it depends on each individual event, what it includes, and how it’s pulled off.  Most of what I’ve said just applies to all-women events, however; all-women rodas alone, I would say, are unnecessary.  And they certainly should not be held, as I read happened somewhere, at co-ed/”normal” capoeira events!  (I don’t know about you, but my grupo finds it more useful to split up participants by corda level, not gender…)

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