Ie viva meu Mestra, Part 6: Mestra Paulinha

7 01 2008

Something interesting I noticed while researching Mestra Paulinha and Mestra Janja is that it was a lot easier to find information about recent or current things they had done/were doing, than it was to find things in the past that they had done (like a plain old biography!).  I found this really intriguing because normally, for capoeira mestres/mestras, all you can find is their stock biography, plastered word-for-word all over the capoerista’s World Wide Web.  Furthermore, most of the information I did find was about projects or events they had done or were part of, rather than accounts of their capoeirista journeys leading up to them becoming mestras and having their own group. 

I suspect this is connected to my last post about how capoeira (angola), at least for Mestras Paulinha and Janja, is inherently about bringing about change, and to say the least, they do more than just talk about how it is and actually show how it is.  I really admire how they have found a way to seamlessly merge career, academics, capoeira, and working for change all into one!

Mestra Paulinha of Grupo Nzinga CapoeiraMestra Paulinha, like Mestra Janja, is a veritable force to be reckoned with in the fields of social issues, academia, and (of course) capoeira. Last year marked her 25th in capoeira angola, and in that time she: earned a master’s and doctorate degree in Sociology (from the University of Bahia and University of São Paulo, respectively); became a distinguished professor at the University of Bahia; gave lectures on various topics in various settings; published scholarly articles; and worked with Mestra Janja to focus attention on (anti-)racism, youth, higher education, identity, black culture, and women in capoeira.

Mestra Paulinha began training capoeira near the start of the 1980s, in GCAP (Grupo Capoeira Angola de Pelourinho), also with Mestres Moraes, João Grande, and Cobra Mansa. She became a contra-mestra in 1990 and moved to São Paulo in 1998, where she became a coordinator of INCAB (Instituto Nzinga de Estudos da Capoeira Angola) along with Mestra Janja and Mestre Poloca. In 2002, Mestra Paulinha moved to Salvador, and leads a core group of Grupo Nzinga Capoeira there. She is the grupo’s designated sociologist, and has maintained constant dialogue with other capoeira angola groups in order to further INCAB’s goals.

Editor’s note: INCAB is not, as was implied in Mestra Janja’s write-up, the same as Grupo Nzinga Capoeira. INCAB is a larger, umbrella organization that encompasses several smaller associations, such as Grupo Nzinga Capoeira and the Nzinga Berimbau Orchestra.

Sources: (with Google translation) (with Google translation)

Click here to see other posts in Ie viva meu Mestra


Ie viva meu Mestra, Part 5: Mestra Janja

3 01 2008

I almost made a huge oversight in this series–so far all of the mestras or contra-mestras featured have been players of capoeira regional, but of course there are angoleira mestras as well, and they are amazing!  Apologies to any angola capoeiristas who read this blog, and much thanks to Shayna McHugh of Capoeira Connection and Bahia-Capoeira Blog for bringing several angola mestras to my attention! 

Today I want to tell you about Mestra Janja, who has done/is doing so much inside and outside of capoeira that I hardly knew what to talk about first.  And she’s not the only one, so please look out for following posts in this ongoing series!

Mestra JanjaMestra Janja, or Rosangêla de Araújo Costa, is a well-known and much esteemed mestra in the world of capoeira angola. A former student of renowned Mestres João Grande, Moraes, and Cobra Mansa, she began training in Salvador during the early 80s. In 1995, Mestra Janja founded the Instituto Nzinga de Estudos da Capoeira Angola e Tradições Educativas Banto (Grupo Nzinga de Capoeira Angola), along with Mestra Paulinha and Mestre Poloca. Instituto Nzinga, an NGO based in São Paulo and named after a 16th century African queen, works towards an anti-racism and anti-sexism mission statement beyond the preservation of capoeira angola and its traditions.

Mestra Janja plays a major role in social issues related to capoeira. She has coordinated projects such as affirmative action for black students’ entrance into university, and leads the Network of Women Angoleira (RAM). In addition, Mestra Janja has helped to organize events such as last year’s VI Congresso Badauê of Women Capoeiristas, for which she also taught workshops and organized an international conference in Atlanta, USA. Last year, celebrations were held in Salvador to commemorate Mestra Janja’s 25th year in capoeira angola.

Beyond her superlative capoeira skills and extensive social work, Mestra Janja is known for being a top scholar in the field. She completed a master’s and doctorate’s degree in Capoeira Angola at the Federal University of São Paulo, and graduated from the Federal University of Bahia with a degree in History. A university professor and published scholar, Mestra Janja is Grupo Nzinga’s historian and co-publisher of Real D’Angola magazine. She also conducts the Nzinga Berimbau Orchestra, which performs pieces that create links between capoeira and other types of Afro-Brazilian music, such as jongo, tambo-de-crioula, and bumba-meu-boi.

Sources: (with Google translation) (with Google translation) (with Google translation) (with Google translation)

Click here to see other posts in Ie viva meu Mestra


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. 


Click here to see other posts in Ie viva meu Mestra