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!

Picture source: http://web.monroecc.edu/manila/webfiles/capoeira/capologo1.gif