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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The Feminine in Capoeira, Part 2 (Context)

14 12 2007

Within or without capoeira, it's all about context. 

What’s wrong with being “feminine”?  That was the question nagging me as I finished Part 1 (Malicia) of this topic.  As pre-empted by some of the comments that followed, I also started having doubts in terms of the need to place capoeira and capoeira discourse in the context of its cultural origins.  Additionally, one of the things I’m starting to fear doing on this blog is going too deeply into text and discourse while I write, too far into another plane, and forgetting that it’s all supposed to come back down to be grounded in good ol’ everyday capoeira.  (On the other hand, sometimes that’s the fun part…)

Sorry for the extra bit of waiting this time this round!  I did a lot of thinking for this, so I hope it’ll have been worth it…  Today, I’ll start by excerpting from an article on, in which Jessica Fredican responds to sexism in her capoeira class and Nestor Capoeira’s take on malicia:

He talks a lot about malicia and, at the time, I was really turned off by it. … But the nicest games still involve being able to outwit and trick your opponent….

These goals lend themselves perfectly to traditional views of feminism. Ancient cultures worldwide have invented stories and myths that portray women as internal, sinuous, ambiguous, dangerous creatures. They aren’t external like men, carrying their genitals outside their bodies, displaying great feats of strength. Yet, women have this dangerously inexplicable power to knock men on their asses. This primordial and universal femininity involves hiding your intentions and using unexpected and unseen manoeuvres to defeat the opposite sex.

So maybe we should just be feminine. It would almost seem that capoeira was designed especially for women – a circle (a traditionally feminine symbol) in which to carry out their dangerous rituals of masking and trickery.

This was the article that started my doubts.  I loved the ideas in it, and the way she framed universal stereotypes of “the feminine” made me think, “Well, what’s wrong with that?”  Personally, I think it’d be pretty cool to have a “dangerously inexplicable power to knock men on their asses”, so if that’s what it means to be “feminine”, then why not “just be feminine”?  Same with the other things she said–if being “feminine” means being able to “hide your intentions” and “use the unexpected”–in other words, if being “feminine” means being an expert in malicia–well, wouldn’t it then be a compliment to be given that label, rather than anything derogatory? 

And especially that last part–if capoeira itself not only consists of the feminine but is the feminine–then, how in the world could it be a bad thing?

I believe all of this relates to context.  In the philosophical, metaphysical, symbolic context of capoeira, “the feminine” is esteemed because it is the source of malicia, and malicia is esteemed by capoeiristas.  I think where we run into trouble is when such symbolism is taken out of context–out of the centuries of culture and history and mythology that Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré were drawing on when they characterized malicia–and then applied to everyday life, whether unthinkingly or not. 

[Side note: While I’m exonerating Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré from the accusation of sexist views, on grounds of cultural context, I also want to add that in hindsight, their use of the word “power” could have meant brute force rather than power in the more general sense of the word, especially since I’m sure many consider malicia to be a power in itself.]  

For instance (returning to what I was talking about before the side note), in the symbolic context of capoeira, “the feminine” is partially defined as “not rational”–by which it is meant that you can’t explain malicia, you can’t use reasoning and logic to teach it to a student, the same way you can teach them how to land a kick properly or where to place your hands while doing rolé.  Switch into the everyday context of running a business though, or governing the country, and this “symbolism” is exactly why we have things like the glass ceiling, and why while 52% of the Canadian population is female, they are represented by a government that is nearly 80% male.

Now, I am not saying I think that people begin learning capoeira, get introduced to malicia, and start subconsciously discriminating against women (give me more credit than that!).  However, it is something similar that occurs, in a larger pattern over time and throughout society; only, instead of capoeira and malicia, people learn it through myths, through religion, through normative fairy tales and children’s games.  The specific mediums and symbols differ, but they all send the same messages about women and what “feminine” and “female” mean, without any barrier of “culture and history” to contain them in their respective contexts, as we do with capoeira. 

So I suppose that’s really what I wanted to get across in Part 1.  My conclusion is that though I still don’t like what Muniz Sodré said, I can understand that it does add depth and interest to thinking about capoeira and the game, and that it’s okay as long as we keep it within the metaphysical/philosophical/symbolic context of capoeira, that it’s actually more than okay because this way we preserve part of the roots of capoeira, and the culture and traditions it was steeped in.  It only becomes not okay when we take that message out of context and apply it to the “real world”, which is what you see happening in the media, workplace, government, etc., today, and even to the everyday world of capoeira, which is why I had to write this post.  Thanks again to everyone who commented last time, and as always, muito axé. =)

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The Feminine in Capoeira, Part 1 (Malicia)

12 12 2007

Malicia - the feminine in capoeira?

In my very first post, I mentioned that capoeira seemed to be an art form mostly dominated by men; in fact, it’s one of the main reasons this blog exists in the first place.  What’s interesting is that while some of capoeira may be male-dominated, it is not traditionally masculine, the way people might consider football or rugby to be.  Several fundamental aspects of capoeira have been characterized as belonging to the feminine, in ways I find in equal parts inspiring, thought-provoking, and problematic.

I first encountered this in Nestor Capoeira’s book, Capoeira: Roots of the Dance-Fight-Game, in which he deems malicia a manisfestation of the feminine in capoeira.  Unfortunately, I’m living away from home right now and thoughtlessly left the book there, so I can’t quote his exact words to you…but his thoughts were reiterated later on in the book by scholar Muniz Sodré, and due to a brilliant stroke of luck, this particular passage was reproduced in Google’s Book Search Preview:

You also say that malicia belongs to the Feminine aspect of things. I like that. While Masculine is the gender of the defined, the understandable, rational—the gender of power—the Feminine is, on the other hand, the reverse of all this. It is the void. Its power is also of the sort that you don’t know exactly what it is. Its power is “not to be clear” about power itself. It’s the power of the void. Because malicia is exactly that: to go around what is clear and established. And in that sense it is Feminine.  (Sodré as quoted by Capoeira, p. 30)

You can see for yourself (I hope) why statements like that are problematic.  The “void”?  The reverse of “rational”, of “power”?  This is where things get tricky.  As a capoeirista and English lit major, I can appreciate the symbolism in that, the evoked nature of malicia and the dimension it adds to capoeira and the jogo.  And as a feminist, I feel (with all due respect to Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré) that that can’t be right, there must be another way to put it, and that the whole thing should be torn up and sent back into the 19th century, where that kind of thinking belongs!  How exactly do I go about doing this while maintaining the integrity of both capoeira and modern-day/feminist thinking?

The main issue here, I think, is the seemingly necessary genderizing of things, when in fact it’s not necessary at all (let alone the use of capital letters, which just makes the terms look way more qualified than they should).  It’s cool to think of malicia as the “power of the void”, as that unexplainable, irrational thing that gets in through the cracks and hits you where you thought there was nowhere to hit.  When you say that malicia is all these things though–void, irrational, unclear, evanescent–and therefore feminine, that’s where you lose me.  “Void” is exactly what we are not supposed to be! And you can say that assigning feminine and masculine aspects to capoeira adds meaning and depth, similarly to nuance and capoeira movements in the roda, but I think there is a way around that.

The whole reason it’s appealing to associate malicia with the feminine is because of all the things that have been associated with the feminine throughout history.  When you say malicia is “feminine”, you are really saying malicia is mysterious, elusive, intangible, and all those other things that Nestor Capoeira and Muniz Sodré said, thanks to stereotypes that have been entrenched probably since humans first learned to discriminate.  I believe it’s possible to “de-genderize” concepts like malicia while retaining the things one actually means when labelling them “feminine” or “masculine”.  Referring again to the nuance in movements analogy, we do not say that a chapa is “masculine” because it’s aggressive, or that a bait-and-switch sequence is “feminine” because it’s deceptive (or “went around what was clear”)–they are just aggressive and deceptive, respectively.  So why can’t malicia just be what it is, without perpetuating outdated stereotypes at the expense of women and the feminist movement today?

To read Part 2 (Context), please click here.

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