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Capoeira pilgrims: Negotiating legitimacy in a foreign field

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CAPOEIRA PILGRIMS: NEGOTIATING LEGITIMACY IN A FOREIGN FIELD
Lauren Miller Griffith
Submitted to the faculty of the University Graduate School
in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree
Doctor of Philosophy
in the Department of Anthropology,
Indiana University
September 2010
UMI Number: 3432109
All rights reserved
INFORMATION TO ALL USERS
The quality of this reproduction is dependent upon the quality of the copy submitted.
In the unlikely event that the author did not send a complete manuscript
and there are missing pages, these will be noted. Also, if material had to be removed,
a note will indicate the deletion.
UMI 3432109
Copyright 2010 by ProQuest LLC.
All rights reserved. This edition of the work is protected against
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ii
Accepted by the Graduate Faculty, Indiana University, in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Doctoral Committee
Anya Peterson Royce, Ph.D.
Eduardo Brondizo, Ph.D.
Paula Girshick, Ph.D.
Marvin Sterling, Ph.D.
Stephen Selka, Ph.D.
April 14, 2010
iii
©
2010
Lauren
Miller
Griffith
ALL
RIGHTS
RESERVED
iv
I would like to dedicate the following work to my grandfather, J.L. Steiner. You have
taught me that family can be a matter of choice and not of blood. Thank you for
making this research possible, you and Grams are leaving a beautiful legacy. May we
all live life as passionately as you.
v
Acknowledgements
I
would
like
to
thank
Mestre
Iuri
Santos
and
all
the
members
of
Estrela
do
Norte
for
their
tolerance
of
and
interest
in
my
research.
The
feedback
you
have
given
me
is
invaluable
and
has
taught
me
a
great
deal
about
the
ethics
of
doing
ethnography
‘at
home.’
To
all
of
the
capoeiristas
I
met
in
Brazil,
you
have
each
taught
me
so
much
and
touched
me
in
your
own
unique
way.
Mestre
Valmir,
Aloan,
e
toda
a
familia
de
FICA
Bahia,
muito
obdrigada.
Mestre
Cobra
Mansa,
your
intellectual
curiosity
is
an
inspiration
to
us
all.
I
owe
a
great
intellectual
debt
to
my
dissertation
committee.
Dr.
Anya
Royce’s
continual
support
as
my
dissertation
advisor
has
profoundly
shaped
my
scholarly
trajectory.
I
would
like
to
extend
my
deepest
gratitude
to
the
other
members
of
my
committee
for
their
thoughtful
engagement
with
my
work:
Dr.
Eduardo
Brondizio,
Dr.
Paula
Girshick,
Dr.
Marvin
Sterling,
and
Dr.
Stephen
Selka.
I
would
not
have
even
started
down
this
path
without
the
guidance
and
prodding
of
Dr.
Thomas
A.
Green
–
thanks
for
putting
up
with
me
and
continuing
to
be
one
of
my
greatest
supporters.
I
would
also
like
to
extend
a
special
thanks
to
Dr.
Alfredo
Minnetti
and
Leandro
Lopez
for
their
feedback
on
my
interview
schedules
and
their
assistance
with
translations
and
transcription.
Also,
my
work
benefited
enormously
from
the
careful
eye
of
Jeremy
Stoll
at
the
Indiana
vi
University
Writing
Tutorial
Services
who
has
taught
me
a
great
deal
about
effective
communication.
To
thank
my
mother,
Debbie
Miller,
for
all
of
her
support,
dedication,
and
sacrifice
throughout
the
years
would
be
impossible,
so
instead
I
will
thank
her
for
her
editorial
prowess.
My
father,
Donald
Miller,
and
stepmother,
Mydra
Miller,
have
also
been
unflagging
in
their
support.
To
the
rest
of
my
family,
thank
you
for
embracing
me
for
the
academic
I
am
–
you
have
made
me
who
I
am
today.
And
to
my
husband,
Cameron
Griffith:
You
have
been
with
me
from
week
one
of
this
trek
through
graduate
school.
This
process
has
not
always
been
easy,
but
having
a
partner
by
my
side
has
made
it
much
more
enjoyable.
Thank
you
for
everything;
you’re
the
best!
vii
Preface
Contrary to what most capoeiristas expect, my academic interest in capoeira
predated my actual participation. As an undergraduate anthropology student, I
approached Dr. Thomas A. Green looking with a very ill defined idea of what it
meant to study performance as an anthropologist. With a very rough introduction to
the art, he sent me off to Austin, TX for my first capoeira class. Apparently, trial by
fire is a viable pedagogical technique. At first I was intimidated and overwhelmed,
but once I had gotten my first taste of participant-observation fieldwork, I was
hooked. Since then, I have continued an intensely participatory stance towards my
research on capoeira. I have now played capoeira for approximately six years, and
my bodily engagement with the art has profoundly shaped this work. In fact, my
body taught me things about capoeira that my mind was not ready to grasp.
Maintaining a superficial Cartesian division between mind and body impoverishes
our overall learning experience; “embodiment is what makes the knowledge
experientially real” (Strathern 1996:164).
Therefore, one of my goals in writing this work has been to convey the sensuality of
experience that is central to learning a practice like capoeira.
For an anthropologist, capoeira is like a dream come true. It combines music,
dance, sparring and acrobatics into one ritual that can be used for resistance or
celebration, for politics or play. What intrigued me the most, however, about my
initial introduction to capoeira was the intense dedication of its practitioners.
Capoeira was much more than a pastime to them; it was a way of life. I have seen
viii
practitioners uproot their lives, quit their jobs, and leave their partners all in service of
becoming better capoeiristas. This is particularly striking when I consider that
capoeira originated with Afro-Brazilian slaves, and authentic capoeira continues to
be associated with being black and Brazilian. Most of the individuals in my study do
not fit these parameters.
When I moved to Bloomington, Indiana in 2004, I met some local
capoeiristas who had just returned from a trip to Bahia with their teacher, Mestre Iuri
Santos. Bahia, a state located on the Northeastern coast of Brazil, is popularly known
as the cradle of capoeira, and serious practitioners are expected to make a journey
there at some point during their training. For some, their trip may be as short as two
weeks; others stay in Bahia for a matter of months or even a year. Nearly every
conversation I had with these individuals referenced Bahia, and I was impressed with
how formative this trip had been for them. My decision to engage in multi-sited
fieldwork both in Bloomington, Indiana and in Salvador da Bahia, Brasil was a direct
result of this early introduction.
During the five-year domestic phase of my research, I trained with the local
capoeira group, participated in demonstrations and performances, and conducted
unstructured interviews with group members. During the international phase of my
research, I spent a cumulative eight months in Salvador da Bahia training capoeira,
interviewing both Brazilian and non-Brazilian capoeiristas, and doing archival
research. The twenty-six interview subjects come from a variety of national and
racial backgrounds; some are newcomers to capoeira and others are accomplished
masters with their own academies. Though their individual characteristics make them
ix
quite diverse, they are united by the passion they feel for capoeira. In my opinion,
they all have an equally valid claim to ownership of this genre. However, not
everyone would agree. Authenticity is a hotly contested label within capoeira
discourse, and it is related to race and nationality as well as many other things,
particularly execution of proper form. Therefore, the focus of my work is the process
by which non-Brazilian capoeiristas go about augmenting their authenticity,
strategically deploying their cultural capital in order to claim legitimacy within the
social field.
x
Lauren Miller Griffith
Capoeira Pilgrims: Negotiating Legitimacy in a Foreign Field
Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that has survived decades of marginalization, but now has a
wide following in Brazil and throughout the world. Capoeira resonates with nationalistic and racial
identities, but also speaks to people outside of Brazil and the African Diaspora. Competing claims
about who owns capoeira lead to questions of authenticity. Apprenticeship pilgrimage is one way
non-Brazilian capoeiristas can augment their authenticity. Pilgrims travel to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
to train with legendary masters and to absorb the history and aura of the city that figures so
prominently in their cosmology. In Brazil, pilgrims must negotiate their legitimacy vis-à-vis local
capoeiristas. I present a typology to explain the different ways pilgrims can argue for their legitimacy.
Existential authenticity refers to a feeling of fit between an individual’s identity and a specific practice.
This motivates pilgrims to claim legitimacy. Gaining legitimacy is predicated upon acceptance into a
legitimate peripheral participation role. Pilgrims rely on two categories of cultural capital, traditional
and charismatic, to claim a legitimate peripheral participation role. Traditional claims to authenticity
are those inherent in the individual such as race, ethnicity, and lineage. Some capoeira groups restrict
participation to African descended people; however, these groups represent a minority and most
academies accept students from a variety of racial backgrounds. Charismatic claims to authenticity are
the non-commodifiable proclivities of an individual, such as attitude, that facilitate their acceptance
into a group. Attitude was the most highly valued characteristic by the capoeiristas in this study. In
particular, humility, openness, and dedication were key predictors of a pilgrim’s success. Sufficient
capital in these categories allows pilgrims to become apprentices, a learning arrangement that goes
beyond the superficial teacher-student relationship present in mass classes taught through mimicking.
Some, but not all, pilgrims assume this role. Those who do gain access to an embodied knowledge that
cannot be commodified. This knowledge allows pilgrims to master the complex form of capoeira,
which demands a balance between doing the movements correctly and doing the movements with
style.
xi
Table
of
Contents
Acknowledgements .................................................................................................................v
Preface ...................................................................................................................................... vii
List
of
Tables
and
Figures .................................................................................................xiii
Chapter
1­
Introduction
&
Historical
Overview.............................................................1
Pilgrimage ...........................................................................................................................................2
Styles
of
Capoeira ........................................................................................................................... 12
Historical
Developments ............................................................................................................. 17
Capoeiristas
and
Authenticity.................................................................................................... 24
The
Future
of
Capoeira................................................................................................................. 29
Chapter
2:
The
Research
Question
&
Scholarly
Context ......................................... 34
Scholarly Context............................................................................................................................. 37
Means of Discussing Social Groups ........................................................................................................ 37
Commodification
and
Authenticity .......................................................................................... 47
Authenticity
and
Legitimacy ...................................................................................................... 50
Existential Authenticity................................................................................................................................ 58
Traditional Claims to Authenticity........................................................................................................... 65
Charismatic Claims to Authenticity......................................................................................................... 73
Formal-Legal Claims to Authenticity...................................................................................................... 79
Conclusion ......................................................................................................................................... 82
Chapter
3­
Methodology,
Location,
and
Study
Participants ................................... 86
Methodology .................................................................................................................................... 87
Theoretical
Orientation
to
Research
Methods ................................................................................ 89
Domestic
Fieldwork .................................................................................................................................... 92
International
Fieldwork ............................................................................................................................ 94
Data
Collection .............................................................................................................................................. 97
Research
Location.......................................................................................................................... 99
Participants .....................................................................................................................................102
Conclusion .....................................................................................................................................................104
Chapter
4­
Traditional
Forms
of
Cultural
Capital ................................................... 110
Race
&
Nationality .......................................................................................................................112
Lineage.............................................................................................................................................137
Gender .............................................................................................................................................146
Conclusion ......................................................................................................................................155
Chapter
5­
Charismatic
Forms
of
Cultural
Capital .................................................. 157
Attitude............................................................................................................................................158
Demonstrating
Attitude
in
Performance .........................................................................................163
Manifestations
of
Attitude ........................................................................................................167
Learning
Portuguese.................................................................................................................................167
Capoeira
Travel ...........................................................................................................................................175
Volunteerism................................................................................................................................................183
Dating ..............................................................................................................................................................187
Skill ...................................................................................................................................................191
Musical
Skill..................................................................................................................................................200
Conclusion ......................................................................................................................................204
xii
Chapter 6- Formal Claims to Authenticity .................................................................... 208
Emic Understandings of Form ....................................................................................................212
Reconciling Authenticity and Innovation .................................................................................215
Legitimate Peripheral Participation ..........................................................................................218
Mass
Classes
and
Standardization..........................................................................................225
Classes
at
FICA...............................................................................................................................227
Things
That
Cannot
Be
Taught ................................................................................................231
Defining the Aesthetic: “Objetividade e beleza são as chaves.”...........................................234
Agressividade v. Objetividade.....................................................................................................241
Breaking Form................................................................................................................................245
Conclusion .......................................................................................................................................249
Chapter
7­
Conclusion ...................................................................................................... 252
Benefits to the local community ..................................................................................................260
Information
Exchange..............................................................................................................................261
Financial
Benefits.......................................................................................................................................264
Implications for Future Study.....................................................................................................267
Glossary................................................................................................................................. 272
Works
Cited.......................................................................................................................... 275
Curriculum
Vitae ................................................................................................................ 284
xiii
List
of
Tables
and
Figures
Figure
1
Comparison
of
Lindholm's
typology
to
Griffith's
typology .................................57
Figure
2
Theoretical
Model
for
Claiming
Legitimacy...............................................................83
Figure
3
Luda
has
just
completed
the
card
sort
activity
and
is
reviewing
her
answers.
Photo
by
author. ........................................................................................................81
Figure
4
The
colorful
mural
depicts
several
deities
from
the
Afro‐Brazilian
religion
Candomble.
Photo
by
author. .................................................................................82
Table
1
Demographic
details
of
interview
subjects ..............................................................106
Table
2
Quick
reference
guide
for
interview
subjects'
unique
position
in
this
study.................................................................................................................................................107
Table
3
Lineage
Diagram...................................................................................................................109
1
Chapter
1‐
Introduction
&
Historical
Overview
Iê!
Bahia minha Bahia
Capital é Salvador
Quem não conhece a Capoeira
Não pode dar seu valor
Capoeira vem da África
Foi Africano que inventou
Todos podem aprender
General e também doutor
Quem desejar aprender
Vem aqui em Salvador
Procure o Mestre Pastinha
Ele é o professor
Camaradinha...
Iê!
Bahia, my Bahia
Capital is Salvador
He who doesn’t know Capoeira
Cannot give it its value
Capoeira came from Africa
It was an African that invented it
Everyone can learn
General and doctor too
He who wants to learn
Come here to Salvador
Find Mestre Pastinha
He is the professor
My dear friend…
This traditional song, a ladainha, is often sung at the start of a capoeira event. It
was the first ladainha I ever learned, and I recited it as poetry before I learned its proper
rhythm. For me, this song exemplifies what it means to be a capoeirista, particularly in
this era of globalization. No longer is this martial art restricted to poor, Afro-Brazilian
men; it is equally available to generals and doctors provided they are willing to learn. As
suggested in this song, many practitioners believe that the best way to learn capoeira is
by training in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. The city of Salvador, sometimes referred to
simply as Bahia, is known domestically and internationally as a bastion of traditional
African culture. For the non-Brazilian capoeirista, making a pilgrimage to Bahia has
become an almost essential part of their advancement within the social field.
2
Pilgrimage
Yuiko Fujita uses the term cultural migrant “to describe people who migrate for
cultural purposes other than economic and political ones in the globalizing world today”
(Fujita 209:11). This is a useful distinction between people who migrate for economic
purposes, but it does not entirely capture the motivation behind the type of travel done by
non-Brazilian capoeiristas. Cultural migrants are undertaking long-term moves, whereas
the capoeirista will make one or a series of much shorter visits. Furthermore, these
capoeiristas are travelling with the intent of learning a skill from a specific person or
group of people (local mestres). Therefore, I label this type of travel apprenticeship
pilgrimage, which I define as a specialized form of travel engaged in by individuals who
feel compelled to deepen their connection to the source of a cultural practice by visiting
that site and studying with a teacher in that site.
Pilgrimage is a specialized form of tourism, as both involve travel for recreation
or re-creation purposes. The World Tourism Organization broadly defines tourism as
“[t]he activities of persons traveling to and staying in places outside their usual
environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other
purposes” (WTO 1995:1).1 Pilgrimage clearly falls under this designation, yet the
defining feature of pilgrimage as it is used in my work is the compulsion felt by members
of a social field to engage in specific activities at a specific site or set of sites in order to
gain rewards. These rewards may be spiritual, as is the case with traditionally conceived
religious pilgrimage, or they may be related to one’s credibility and legitimacy, as is the
case with apprenticeship pilgrimage. In his review of sport tourism as secular
1
This
defines
tourism
as
a
temporary
undertaking,
though
sadly
it
does
not
speak
to
the
voluntary
nature,
which
would
be
necessary
to
differentiate
tourism
from
someone
seeking
refuge.
3
pilgrimage, Gammon acknowledges both the sacred and the profane permutations of
pilgrimage, but argues that “[w]hichever understanding is used, each application of the
term will include a journey of some kind to a place (or places) which holds personal
and/or collective meaning to the ‘pilgrim’ (Gammon 2004:40).
Nolan and Nolan make a distinction between religious pilgrims and religious
people visiting sacred sites but do not provide their readers with the basis for making this
distinction (1992:69). Some scholars have tried to distinguish pilgrims from tourists
based on the places they choose to visit (ibid:70), but this is not sufficient as the places
both religious and secular pilgrims choose to visit may be “flexible” rather than “fixed”
(Glazier 1983). Scholars’ interpretations of pilgrimage have become increasingly broad,
revealing the complex interplay of the sacred and profane that happens in tourism.
Pilgrimages are no longer limited to religious travel, and not all religious tourism
is pilgrimage. According to Gammon, the physical demands of pilgrimages in general
have decreased over time, and today pilgrims use many of the same means of physical
conveyance as do regular tourists (2004:31). In this sense, pilgrims have become more
like tourists than in previous eras. MacCannell, on the other hand, is famous for noting
how tourists have become like pilgrims, stressing the compulsion modern tourists feel to
visit specific sites like the Eifel Tower or Disneyland (MacCannell 1976:43, see also
Moore 1980). Digance, like MacCannell, adopts a broad view of pilgrimage and
identifies the pilgrimage site as a place "that is revered and sacred within their own
individual cosmology or belief system" (Digance 2003: 144). This type of definition
allows us to view Castaneda’s New Age visitors to Chichen Itza (Himpele and Castaneda
1997) or non-Brazilian capoeiristas in Salvador as pilgrims as long as their destination is
4
somehow integral to their identity. Like the traditionally conceived religious pilgrim,
these individuals are also concerned with the goal of spiritual rebirth and establishing a
new identity (Digance 2003:148). Therefore, it may be most fitting to determine whether
or not a touristic practice is a pilgrimage on a case-by-case basis using the individual’s
stance towards the site rather than the site itself as the criteria for our evaluation (see
Berger 2010 on the concept of stance in performance).
The transformative nature of pilgrimage should be stressed in any situation,
whether religious or secular. As noted by Turner, the tripartite scheme of ritual, which
involves separation, liminality, and reincorporation, is an essential element of pilgrimage
(Turner 1973). Pilgrims may enter into communitas with there brethren, during which
markers of social status are stripped away. Though Turner himself was hesitant to extend
the label ‘pilgrim’ to many of those whom I would classify as such, it is possible to find
examples of communitas among secular pilgrims. For example, Claudia Bell found that
among New Zealanders on extensive travel abroad stays, status markers are largely
stripped away, if only because New Zealanders on the OE only carry as much with them
as can fit in a backpack (Bell 2002:147).
Many of the foreign capoeiristas involved in apprenticeship pilgrimages
experience a personal transformation. As Julie says, “it is something more than just a
tourist trip for some of us, for a lot of us.” Confirming Turner’s expectations, she entered
a liminal state the moment she first stepped foot in Brazil. Describing this experience,
she said:
That very first night I remember I wrote in my journal I felt like I had jumped into the deepest pool
I had every jumped in and realized how far it was to the surface…I had no idea where I was going
to go, but I felt like I was in deep. It was disorienting and threatening…All these new experiences
all at once, the language, being with another family that’s not mine, everyone’s so excited to see
one another and I’m over in the corner not knowing what to say or even how to say it. But I think
5
overall what I quickly realized is that a capoeirista is a capoeirista no matter where, and I
realized I could go to a roda or go to a training or I could hang out with a capoeirista and we had
more in common that I have with most Americans because I am so passionate about capoeira.
Despite feeling out of her depths, she soon regained confidence based on her identity as a
capoeirista. Whether others shared her perspective or not, she is describing a moment of
communitas in which other identities were stripped away and everyone was equal under
the banner of capoeira.
The intense social pressure for one to engage in specific forms of travel should
also be considered in any evaluation of pilgrimage practices. For instance, Bell identifies
the “overseas experience” (OE) as a right of passage among middle-class New Zealand
youth (Bell 2002:143). Though it is not obligatory, there is a strong pressure for
individuals to complete this journey (ibid). These individuals, generally in their twenties,
tend to travel for a period of time ranging from one to five years, though they always
intend to return home after their journey is complete (ibid:144). The OE experience has
become so commonplace that it is an unmarked category; whereas not making such a
pilgrimage deviates from the norm (ibid:145). Bell justifies her use of the term
pilgrimage to describe the OE because it has become a rite of passage among New
Zealanders and pervades the national discourse (ibid:146).
In an increasingly secular society (Kosmin et. al. 2001:5), the concept of secular
pilgrimage is a way to valorize the transformative experiences of individuals who
organize their worldview by non-religious principles and do not have traditional religious
pilgrimages as an option for personal re-creation. For some individuals, the center of
their worldview will be a specified religious destination, but for others it may be a
cultural icon such as national monuments or an elective centre that individuals select for
themselves (Cohen 1979:180). Using the designation ‘secular pilgrimage’ indicates that
6
this type of travel is indeed “endowed with a different significance” than general tourism
for recreational purposes (ibid:181).
During 2008, I too was making a pilgrimage, completing the rite of passage that
would transform me from a student to a professional anthropologist. Bahia has a rich
tradition of social research and has played an important role in present understandings of
the legacy left by the transatlantic slave trade. As the capital of Brazil from 1549 to 1763
and hub of commercial activity during the colonial period, Bahia received a
disproportionately high number of African slaves. Among other things, these slaves
brought with them their martial, music, and dance practices. Over the years, many
anthropologists have done research in this city, and it was with a sense of reverence that I
set out to follow in their footsteps.2
Racial relations have been a constant theme of social research in Bahia and Brazil
in general. As early as the nineteenth century, travelers to Brazil were remarking upon
the racial makeup of the local population (Maio 2001). Gilberto Freyre, a Brazilian
scholar who trained in the United States under anthropologist Franz Boas, contributed
greatly to Brazil’s reputation as a racial democracy. Freyre’s work in the first half of the
twentieth century, particularly in his landmark book The Masters and the Slaves, was
revolutionary in its valorization of the contributions Africans had made to the national
culture of Brazil. This work was well received at the time of publication in 1933 (see
Martin 1934). In retrospect, however, this work presents an overly paternalistic view of
2
In
addition
to
the
many
researchers
that
have
focused
on
the
cultural
practices
of
Bahia,
several
artists
have
referenced
Bahia
in
their
work.
For
example,
Jorge
Amado
set
many
of
his
novels
in
Bahia
and
even
wrote
capoeiristas
into
some
of
them.
Artists
Rugendas
and
Debret
were
both
well
known
for
their
renderings
of
Afro‐Bahian
festivals
and
cultural
practices.
Nelson
Pereira
dos
Santos
referenced
Bahia
and
Candomblé
in
his
films.
Even
Michael
Jackson
established
a
connection
with
this
hub
of
African
culture
by
performing
in
the
Pelourinho
square
with
the
Baian
percussion
group
Olodum.
7
slavery, downplaying its harsh and oppressive practices. Nonetheless, the idea of racial
democracy was given weight by his report, and other scholars recommended that North
Americans look to Brazil as an example of how racial relations could be reconfigured
(see Diffie 1946).
By mid-century, UNESCO had taken note of Brazil as an intriguing site for
studying racial relation and initiated an investigation that would take place in various
regions of Brazil, including Bahia. The book Race and Class in Rural Brazil, edited by
Charles Wagley, was the product of this UNESCO sponsored work. Harry Hutchinson
was responsible for the chapter on Bahia (Hutchinson 1952). Like Freyre, he credited the
intimate personal relationships that developed during slavery between master and female
slave, between nanny and charge, etc. as the primary cause of the relatively congenial
relationships between people of different races in Bahia (ibid:17). Hutchinson
recognized that race was important in emic classifications and “[a] distinction between
Negro and white is always kept in mind when classifying an individual” (ibid:27).
However, he continued to stress the difference between Brazilian and American (U.S.)
ways of classifying people. Whereas the line between black and white in the United
States was undeniable, he said in Bahia, “this ‘line’ is recognized rather than drawn”
(ibid). Thus, Hutchinson’s work represents an intermediate position between that of the
romantics like Freyre and the realists who have now begun to dispute the myth of racial
democracy.
Recent studies have called into question the long-held doctrine of racial
democracy. This is particularly evident in the writing of Robin Sheriff, who argues that
life in Brazil is often black and white (Sheriff 2001). While many terms, such as pardo,
8
mulato, negro, moreno, etc., do exist for descriptive purposes, social interactions are
more often thought of in bi-racial terms. Sheriff pays particular attention to the palpable
silence on the topic of racism noting that these discourses only become visible during
times of heightened reflexivity such as Carnaval. Though this ethnographic evidence
comes from Rio de Janeiro, the implications are far reaching and can be used to re-read
racial interactions in other Brazilian cities like Bahia.
There is also a rich tradition of research on religion in Bahia. Melville Herkovits,
Edison Carneiro, Ruth Landes, Roger Bastide, and Pierre Verger for example, each
brought scholarly attention to Candomblé, a spirit possession religion closely related to
Cuban Santeria and Haitian Vodou.3 Herskovits was in search of Africanisms in the
Americas, and his ideas about cultural preservation continue to inform contemporary
debates. In his role as a Brazilian intellectual, Edison Carneiro was ideally positioned to
inform the elite’s growing interest in regionalism, a movement that brought attention to
the various contributions different groups, particularly Afro-Brazilians, made to the
cultural fabric of the nation. Carneiro also played a role in introducing Ruth Landes to
the subject of Candomblé, which would become her primary intellectual legacy. Her
book, The City of Women (Landes 1947), presents this religion as an alternative sphere of
social life controlled almost exclusively by women. Jim Wafer’s 1991 book, The Taste of
Blood, however, complicated Landes’s simple male/female dichotomy by exploring the
role homosexual men play in Candomblé temples and rites.
3
The
embodied
practices
of
African
derived
religious
ceremonies
such
as
these
serve
to
unite
community
members
(Daniel
2005:265).
Candomblé
allows
congregants
to
focus
on
the
present
and
strategically
use
their
faith
to
deal
with
present
conflicts
rather
than
concern
themselves
with
the
idea
of
an
afterlife
(Landes
1947:89).
During
slavery,
Candomblé
served
as
a
counter‐hegemonic
tool
to
maintain
an
African
identity
despite
the
requisite
baptism
a
slave
received
upon
arrival
in
Bahia.
It
was
through
the
efforts
of
the
rural
blacks
who
were
attempting
to
strengthen
the
link
with
their
past
that
Candomblé
was
able
to
flourish
in
northeastern
Brazil
(Landes
1947:ix).
9
Bastide’s work explored the legacies of slavery. He attributed both the
“rejuvenation” of an African identity and the “erosion” of specific ethnic traditions to the
constant influx of new slaves brought from West Africa to Brazil (1978). Pierre Verger,
was a close friend and colleague of Bastide. Both shared an interest in Brazil and Africa,
and both had travelled widely throughout the world. Verger’s photos of life in
Northeastern Brazil are iconic, and The Pierre Verger Foundation (est. 1988) in Bahia has
assumed responsibility for maintaining an archive of his work and for supporting a new
generation of researchers interested in the region (Luhning 2002).
The Catholic brotherhoods and sisterhoods in Bahia that began during the era of
slavery and continue to the present have also been popular areas of study for social
scientists. These associations were fundamental in preserving traditional African belief
systems (Bastide 1978:54). Although nominally Catholic, the separateness of these
groups provided a space in which Africans and their descendants were able to practice
their traditional religions. More recently, Stephen Selka has conducted research on the
Sisterhood of the Good Death in Cachoeira, a small town located in the area known as the
Recôncavo, which surrounds the city of Salvador. Selka portrays the sisterhood as an
ambiguous entity that uses their position between Catholicism and Afro-Brazilian
religion to maximize political and financial support from both sectors (Selka 2008). This
is particularly visible during their annual festival in August, during which members of the
black movement hang their banners alongside more conservative white politicians who
have long patronized the sisterhood (ibid). The influx of African-American heritage
tourists and patrons further complicates the sisters’ position within transnationally
negotiated definitions of blackness and political activism.
10
The arts and public festivals have long been prominent themes in researchers’
reports on Bahia. Of particular interest has been the connection between traditional
Candomblé rhythms and locally created musical forms (see Sansone 2001:152). Among
these popular styles with Candomblé roots is afoxé, which uses the ijexá rhythm (Moura
2001:168). Cultural icons Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil likewise drew upon
traditional themes when they created the musical style known as Tropicália (ibid:163).
Other locally generated styles include pagode, Axé, and samba-reggae. Perhaps the bestknown musical tradition in Bahia is that of the blocos-afro. These percussive groups
were originally created to march in the annual Carnaval parade, but their activities have
expanded into education and community advocacy. Milton Moura identifies the blocoafro Olodum as an example of Paul Gilroy’s conception of the black Diaspora “as a
transnational Atlantic civilization” because they present a “disporic notion of Africanity”
(ibid:168). Alongside Baians musical virtuosity is there expertise in dance, which
Barbara Browning explores in her book Samba (1995).
More rare are studies like Sansone’s that examine the unseen music scenes of
Bahia youth who are struggling to construct an identity that falls outside of the traditional
Afro-Baian identity. Sansone defines this as “a sweetened and ethnically nonconflictural
form of blackness centered on a specific combination of happiness, cordiality towards all,
and consumption” (Sansone 2001:144). Funk dances, which are generally ignored by the
local media, give Baian youth the opportunity to do this, particularly as they draw upon
symbols of the U.S. black power movement (ibid). The hegemony of U.S. black culture
within the overall arena of racial identity is a perennial theme of Sansone’s work. One
particularly insightful aspect of his work is the recognition that young Afro-Baians are
11
turning towards the United States as inspiration for their own upward mobility whereas
previous generations looked to Africa as the ultimate source of Afro-Baian culture
(ibid:149).
Within the area of Baian performance, there is a wealth of scholarly interest in
capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art that figures centrally in the present work. Greg
Downey in particular has become an influential writer, admired both by researchers and
by practitioners of capoeira for his first-hand look at training in Bahia. His
phenomenological approach charts the changes one goes through as a result of his or her
commitment to becoming a capoeirista (Downey 2005). The booming interest in
capoeira has been accompanied by expanded scholarly interest in the topic and now
some researchers, such as Matthias Assunção, have begun partnering with capoeira
mestres (masters) in their research endeavors. Assunção and Mestre Cobra Mansa are
collaborating on an ongoing project that looks for martial forms in Angola with parallels
to capoeira. Of course, their search may be complicated by the fact that Brazilian
capoeira is now taught in Africa, thus completing its journey back home after hundreds
of years.
Studies of performance often intersect with one or both of the two thriving areas
of research described above: race and religion. As Selka says of the blocos-afros:
“[a]lthough these groups are centered in cultural practice, their members often explicitly
frame their activities in terms of antiracism (Selka 2008:85). Capoeira is no different.
While the religious aspects of participation in capoeira are largely muted in most
academies, they do persist in the gestures made at the foot of the berimbau, in the
traditional songs that praise the orixás (Candomblé deities), in the beads and amulets
12
worn by some players, and in the candles burned and offerings served by certain masters.
Race too is a prevalent theme within the practice of capoeira. Though often swept aside
by the practitioners themselves, race has influenced everything from the development of
the two major styles to relationships between participants.
Styles
of
Capoeira
Since its creation, the “dance, fight, game” known as capoeira has been a global
phenomenon. An amalgamation of African traditions and aesthetics, capoeira developed
into its present form in Brazil. The date of capoeira’s birth cannot be definitively stated,
but the process of its development almost certainly coincided with the arrival of African
slaves on Brazilian shores. Beginning in the 1970s, entrepreneurial Brazilians
transported capoeira to Europe and North America where it has taken root and
flourished. With the advent of the internet, a virtual community too has blossomed.
Multi-lingual web sites, chat rooms, listservs, books and magazines in addition to mobile
networks of teachers and students creates an imagined community of a scale far beyond
Benedict Anderson’s original conception. With so much of the art’s development now
taking place outside of Brazil, and many instructors declaring themselves mestres
(masters) without official recognition from their own teachers, the authenticity of
capoeira abroad has been called into question.
The terms authenticity and legitimacy are both loaded with baggage from how
they are used in lay language, but within the context of my work they have very specific
meanings. Authenticity is a judgment call made by individuals both inside and outside of
the social field. It is often charged with emotion and may be based on stereotypes.
Legitimacy, on the other hand, is a status one achieves by strategically deploying cultural
13
capital and mastering the formal requirements of a genre. Only those within the social
field who are familiar with the rules of the game have the authority to determine an
individual’s legitimacy (see below for further discussion).
There are two styles of capoeira, Angola and Regional, and while I interviewed
practitioners of both styles, my participant observation was with an Angola group so I
focus on their style of play. First of all, capoeiristas do not spar, fight, or dance
capoeira; they “play” (jogar or brincar in Portuguese). Practitioners are called
capoeiristas and their masters are called mestres. They play capoeira in a circle called a
roda. At the front of the roda is an orchestra composed of 3 berimbaus, 1 or 2 pandeiros
(tambourines), an atabaque (drum), an agôgô (double-cowbell) and a reco-reco (scraping
instrument).4 The berimbau is the most revered instrument in the capoeira orchestra. It
consists of a wooden bow with a wire stretched across it. The wire is removed from the
inside of a tire. Affixed to the bow is a hollow gourd, which acts as a resonating
chamber. Striking the wire with a stick called a baqueta while holding a smooth stone or
old coin in one of three positions determines the pitch. A basket rattle looped over the
middle and ring fingers accompanies this percussive sound.
The weekly performance of the capoeira ritual begins with two players kneeling
in front of the berimbau, sometimes making religious signs such as crosses on their
bodies or on the ground, while someone sings a solo to commemorate people and places
dear to capoeira.5 After a short call and response song praising God, old mestres, the city
4
These
terms
are
West
African
in
derivation;
the
same
terms
are
used
for
musical
intruments
in
Candomblé,
the
African
derived
spirit
possession
religion
that
thrives
in
Bahia.
5
Capoeiristas
refer
to
rodas
as
rituals,
and
they
do
have
many
characteristics
of
a
ritual.
For
example,
sometimes
a
special
incense
is
used
to
cleanse
the
space,
a
special
order
of
events
is
followed,
and
players
make
symbolic
gestures
on
the
ground
and/or
their
body
during
play.
However,
most
enactments
of
this
ritual
do
not
result
in
a
transformative
advancement
from
one
stage
to
another.
14
of Bahia, or anything else, the players cartwheel into the center and begin a playful,
embellished physical dialogue in which they plan their ‘questions’ and ‘answers’ with the
foresight of champion chess players. Players trade questions and answers in these
improvised conversations.6 There are no points awarded, but capoeiristas believe that
one player wins when the other runs out of responses to her attacks.
As the designated hour approaches, a dedicated student places the instruments in
their appropriate place. The three berimbaus occupy a privileged place in the center of
the bench. Students are scattered about the room, stretching, practicing their handstands,
and talking in small clusters. Gradually, some of the players begin to take a seat in the
orchestra. Taking the cue, others follow suit. Soon every instrument has been claimed,
and the remaining capoeiristas sit in a ring around the orchestra. Two capoeiristas squat
in front of the berimbaus, waiting for the appropriate moment to enter the circle and
begin their game. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, the gunga berimbau calls the room to
order. Ching, ching, dong, ding [rest], ching, ching, dong, ding [rest], the gunga starts
the rhythm. The medio chimes in next: ching, ching, ding, dong [rest], ching, ching, ding
dong. Now the viola: ching, ching, ding, dong, dong, ching, ching, ding, dong, dong.
Now that the three berimbaus are in harmony, the pandeiros (tambourines) begin. The
mestre (master) belts out a loud “Iê,” stretching the second syllable out over two or three
seconds. His voice jars us into attention, signaling a break between the profane and the
sacred. The students sitting in a circle create a physical barrier between the ritual space
and the rest of their environment; the music activates this space. The mestre sings a
litany that evokes the ancestors and tells a story about the city of Bahia. A pilgrim closes
6
Though
this
metaphor
is
generally
taken
for
granted
by
most
capoeiristas,
the
questions
are
the
attack
moves
and
the
answers
are
either
escape
moves
or
counter‐attacks.
15
her eyes and lets the memories of these places wash over her. As he finishes this song, he
starts a call and response song. As this song begins, the other percussive instruments
begin to play. “Long live God,” the capoeiristas sing, and the two players at the foot of
the berimbau open their arms towards the sky. “Long live my mestre,” they continue,
“the one who taught me.” The two players gesture towards their teacher. The mestre
starts to lead a new song and lowers the gunga to the ground, signaling to the two players
that they may begin.
One player touches his fingertips to the ground and then to his forehead; the other
crosses herself.7 The players tentatively edge away from the orchestra, trying to sense
what the other will do. The brief stalemate is broken when one player presses her weight
into her hands, balancing on one leg while the other sweeps in a circular motion. Her
opponent dodges, extending his body as close to the ground as possible, dreadlocks
puddled on the floor. From this position, he propels his body into a headstand, completes
a 360-degree spin and ends the movement by lowering his legs into an outstretched “V”
on the floor. To avoid this trap, his opponent does a cartwheel over his legs. She pauses
in mid-air, holding a handstand position for a fraction of a second before crashing to the
ground. The onlookers erupt into laughter and the mestre immediately switches to a
different song: O facão bateu em baixo, A bananeira caiu (The machete struck low, The
banana tree fell). For those in the know, the mestre’s song choice underscores the girl’s
folly, comparing her to a banana tree that has just been felled. Dusting herself off, the
girl gets up, and the two players resume their game. The spinning, leaping, kicking and
dodging continues under the watchful eye of the mestre who is always ready to enhance
7
Players
may
perform
a
number
of
different
gestures
to
show
their
respect
before
entering
the
playing
space.
This
may
or
may
not
signal
a
particular
religious
affiliation,
normally
either
Candomblé
or
Christianity.
16
the spectacle with an appropriate song. He is also responsible for calming the players
down if their game becomes too heated. Gasping and sweating, the players eventually
hear the gunga calling them back to their starting positions. With a brief handshake or
hug, the two players exit the ring and two more take their place.
There are both technical and ideological differences between the Regional and
Angola styles of capoeira, but they share many similarities as well (see Miller n.d.b).
Both styles incorporate instruments and singing in their play. Many of the same songs
are used in both styles, but they are sung faster in Regional than they are in the Angola
style. The basic step in both styles is the ginga, a swaying motion from which many
movements originate and a neutral stance to which players may return at any moment
during the game. Despite these similarities, visually, the two styles are readily
distinguishable from one another. Capoeiristas in the Regional style wear white clothing
for their training. Angoleiros, on the other hand, often wear black pants and their
academy’s t-shirt, the color of which often signifies their lineage. Regional players wear
a colored belt to denote their rank; however, there is no standardized color system and the
schema varies from one academy to the next. Angoleiros wear no such belts. Capoeira
Regional, in general, is played at a much faster pace than is Capoeira Angola. The body
is also held more upright in Capoeira Regional and players focus on fast, high kicks,
often executed from a spinning base. Arial movements such as back flips or back
handsprings are not uncommon in this type of play. Angoleiros keep their movements
much closer to the ground and the most common attack movements are kicks, spinning or
straight, executed from a crouched position with one or both hands on the ground for
support. Evasive movements are kept very close to the floor and require more strength
17
and control than speed. However, Angola players do occasionally return to a standing
position, particularly during the chamada, which is an interlude during play that is
sometimes incorrectly used as a recovery period, but traditionally has greater
significance. It is a particularly sophisticated, ritualistic aspect of the capoeira game
unique to the Angola style. Deceptiveness is key to understanding the aesthetics of
Capoeira Angola and the Janus-faced survival strategies necessitated by slavery persist in
today’s practice of the art (see Brough 2006).
Historical
Developments
Legend holds that African slaves brought capoeira to Brazil; however, debate
rages among capoeiristas as to whether slaves brought a fully developed martial system
or merely the seed of what capoeira would become. None of the popular theories on the
origins of capoeira can be indisputably proven (see Asunção 2005). However, the
validity of a particular folk history, particularly in the context of martial training, is
irrelevant (Green 2003a:1). It is far more useful to examine how such narratives are
employed and why they have continued salience in the modern world. For example, the
claim that capoeira is a Brazilian-made institution can be partially attributed to the desire
of many mestizos to distance themselves from anything with African or Indigenous
origins (Assunção 2005:14; see also Chapter 4). Capoeira origin myths tend to
incorporate one or more of the following traits, depending upon an individual’s particular
agenda: central African origin (Angola), origin among indigenous Brazilian peoples,
development as a tool for maroon slave communities, and martial practices being
disguised as dance. Concealing the true martial nature of African defensive systems was
18
common in the New World (Green 2003b:130), and was the result of whites’ fear and
mistrust of their African slaves.
During the colonial period, a general climate of fear and discontent led to the
government imposing restrictions upon the practice of capoeira. Whites’ fears of blacks’
diversions ran deep and were intensified by slave revolts and disturbances throughout the
Caribbean, such as the St. Dominique rebellion (Taylor 2005a:277). However, the vices
of capoeira were not publicly debated nor was it policed until after the Portuguese court
moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1808 (Assunção 2005:9). Once the Portuguese royal court
arrived in Rio, fears about capoeiristas increased, along with concerns about foreign
spies and court conspiracies. As a result, vadiagem, the art of loafing, a term sometimes
used synonymously with capoeira, came under fire from the police force, headed by
Paulo Fernandez Viana (Taylor 2005a:306-7). An ordinance passed in 1830 forbade
drumming and other forms of entertainments for both enslaved and free blacks, but not
until 1890 was the criminal code established that specifically outlawed capoeira and
imposed strict, sometimes deadly, punishments for being caught playing capoeira. The
Criminal Code of 1890 (Articles 402-404) threatened capoeiristas with a two to six
month jail sentence. The 1890 sanction was due in large part to capoeiristas’
employment by politicians as bodyguards and ballot stuffers, which resulted in
“render[ing] elections farcical” (Assunção 2005:93). The Republic, instituted in 1889,
cracked down on capoeira in part because it was associated with the political corruption
of the Empire (ibid:94). Interestingly, in Bahia, practicing capoeira was never explicitly
cited as a reason for arrest (ibid:120). Many capoeiristas in Bahia relied upon the
influence of powerful patrons and the blind eye of the police to keep them out of prison
19
(ibid:122). Despite this fact, the severe punishments accorded to capoeiristas figure
prominently in the narratives many Baian capoeira instructors pass on to their students
and audiences in the United States. Fear of persecution during this period led to an
emphasis on the more ludic aspects of capoeira as it was played in conjunction with
general sociability, drinking, and gambling (Almeida 1986:29).
In the early 1900s, Brazilian authorities were ambivalent about capoeira. While
being able to see it as a martial art fit for the elite, they also saw it as an unregulated
practice characteristic of the lower classes (Talmon-Chvaicer 2008:114). Nonetheless, as
early as 1910 there were pleas for capoeira to become part of Brazil’s national education
and military training, though this request was denied by Parliament on the basis of it
being Brazilian (Talmon-Chvaicer 208:113). During this time period European culture
was exulted far above anything Brazilian. However, a few individuals, like Sinhozinho
in Rio de Janeiro, began to institutionalize capoeira despite its prohibition (ibid).8
By the 1920s, around the time Gilberto Freyre published his Regionalist
Manifesto, the term ‘Regional’ had come into vogue. Regionalist “stood for popular folk
culture associated with Brazil’s regions, often the Northeast” (Taylor 2005b:20).9
Capoeira was still illegal at this time, but the discourse of folklore was becoming
prevalent, which may have encouraged government officials to turn a blind eye to this
practice. The 1890 penal code prohibiting capoeira was generally not enforced after the
1930 revolution (Taylor 2005b:20).
In the 1930s, when Getulio Vargas assumed power, there was a turnabout in the attitude
of intellectuals and the authorities to capoeira, as well as on the part of the lower classes
8
Sinhozinho’s
contributions
to
capoeira
are
only
beginning
to
come
to
light
because
of
widespread
erroneous
beliefs
that
capoeira
in
Rio
de
Janeiro
was
extinguished
because
of
official
prohibition. 9
Because
many
of
Mestre
Bimba’s
students
were
well
educated,
it
is
likely
that
they
would
have
been
steeped
in
this
same
discourse
of
“regionalism”,
which
could
have
provided
the
inspiration
for
his
term
Capoeira
Regional.
20
(mainly blacks). The intention was to integrate blacks into Brazilian society, to legitimize
and nationalize their culture, thereby reducing their antagonism toward the privileged
classes (Talmon-Chvaicer 2008:114).
While the legalization of capoeira coincided with the establishment of Brazil’s Estado
Novo in 1937 (Taylor 2005b:17), as Talmon-Chvacier suggests, this move was more
about appeasement than really valorizing African contributions to Brazilian life. It also
provided revenue for the state and for the generation of mestres born in the 1920s and
30s; giving performances sponsored by the Bahia Tourism Office conferred upon them a
certain measure of prestige (Capoeira 2006:43). It was also at this time that Baian
capoeira mestres first attempted to organize (Cruz 2006:22), but their attempts did not
lead to any long-term coherence of the field.
Afro-Brazilian arts like capoeira had to be disciplined and brought into line with
the aims of the Estado Novo period by “modernizing and emphasizing their ‘morally
uplifting’ tenets” (Taylor 2005b:22). This created the perfect situation for Mestre Bimba
(born Manuel dos Reis Machado, 1899-1974) to bring his version of capoeira to the fore.
Mestre Bimba’s is remembered largely because he incorporated movements from
batuque10 and Asian martial systems into capoeira. He also introduced the use of colored
scarves to distinguish between students’ levels.11 Bimba’s early students were drawn to
the efficacy of his capoeira, which he had used successfully in mixed martial arts
competitions, and were less interested in the folkloric or cultural aspects (Taylor
2005b:23). The establishment approved of his capoeira because he systematized
pedagogy and required that his students either be gainfully employed or enrolled in
school (see Reis 2004:201).
10
Batuque
was a martial dance/game practiced by African and Afro-Brazilian men, and is widely
considered to be a precursor to capoeira.
11
Today
colored
belts
serve
the
same
function
in
Capoeira
Regional,
but
no
such
system
exists
for
Capoeira
Angola.
21
Public opinion regarding capoeira underwent significant change during the 1930s
and 1940s. In 1936, A Tarde, the major Salvador newspaper that had disparaged
capoeira throughout the previous two decades, argued for the development of capoeira
as a national fight, much like jujitsu was for Japan or pugilism for the United States
(Inaguração 1936). By 1948, A Tarde was applauding the “traditional” and “picturesque”
capoeira that took place at an important religious festival (Alegria 1948). Within a
relatively short amount of time, capoeira had gone from something that the public feared
to a quaint symbol of a bygone era to be idealized during public festivals. However,
despite this praise, the public at large continued to disparage the quotidian practice of
capoeira.
In the 1950s, Mestre Bimba was becoming more widely recognized in Bahia and
throughout Brazil. In 1953, Mestre Bimba’s fame was augmented when Brazilian
president Getúlio Vargas (1882-1954) proclaimed that capoeira was Brazil’s national
sport (Talmon-Chvaicer 2008:123). This, along with the overall discourse of nationalism
that pervaded Vargas’s regime, led to the hegemonic view of capoeira as a distinctly
Brazilian invention. However, another school of thought credits Africa with the
invention of capoeira. Concurrently with Mestre Bimba’s rise to fame, another
capoeirista was gaining a following in Bahia and beyond. Mestre Pastinha (born Vicente
Ferreira Pastinha, 1889-1981) learned capoeira as a child from an African slave. Mestre
Pastinha opposed the mixture of capoeira with other systems and became the figurehead
of capoeira purists. Throughout his career he dedicated himself to preserving the African
traditions in capoeira and was revered by local intellectuals such as Jorge Amado.
22
The late 1960s ushered in a new era of institutionalization for capoeira,
particularly with the first national Brazilian capoeira meeting held in 1968. In this time
period, leftist university students in São Paulo saw capoeira as the very embodiment of
Brazilian authenticity (Assunção 2005:178). In Bahia, however, capoeira was already
being commercialized on an ever-grander scale. Since 1960, when guides first began
introducing outsiders to this unique blend of African and Brazilian cultures, capoeira has
become one of the chief touristic attractions in the city of Salvador. Following Mestre
Pastinha’s trip to Africa in 1966 to exhibit capoeira at the First World Festival of Black
Art, visiting his academy became obligatory for tourists visiting Salvador (Lyrio 2007).
When Mestre Waldemar began decorating his berimbaus with all colors of the rainbow,
this instrument, quasi-sacred for some practitioners, became ubiquitous in tourist shops
(ibid). The colorful berimbau has now become a recognizable symbol of the city and
features prominently on postcards, graffiti, and storefronts.
For many years, Regional academies were far more prevalent than Angola
academies, and after the mid-1960s, Pastinha’s academy may have been the only one
dedicated to Capoeira Angola (Taylor 2005b:110). The 1970s marked a period of
retrenchment for Capoeira Angola, particularly when Pastinha was forced to vacate his
academy in the historical district known as the Pelourinho.12 After his departure,
Capoeira Regional became more visible and prevalent throughout Brazil. This was in
part thanks to the new military government, which assumed power in 1964. The military
government stressed the importance of sports and physical education, and they took an
interest in unifying the diverse capoeira groups that had emerged since the end of its
12
The
Pelourinho
is
the
historical
center
of
Salvador,
named
for
the
pillory
where
slaves
were
sent
to
be
whipped.
Today
it
is
a
UNESCO
World
Heritage
Site
and
features
shops,
hotels,
restaurants,
and
capoeira
academies
that
are
housed
in
restored,
pastel‐colored
colonial
buildings. 23
prohibition (Talmon-Chvaicer 2008:123). The Programa Nacional de Capoeira,
organized by the military at the end of the 1960s, and the Departamento Especial de
Capoeira, organized in 1972 by the Federaço Brasileira de Pugilismo, were two attempts
at unification. These organizations dictated objective standards such as the levels of
advancement within capoeira and a belt system to indicate rank based upon the colors of
the Brazilian flag (ibid). Their efforts were largely unsuccessful and today infinite
variation exists between different academies.
Already in the 1970s issues of legitimacy plagued the capoeira community. In
Rio de Janeiro, a board of examiners made surprise visits to capoeira academies in order
to evaluate the teacher and his13 academy. By 1984 an official capoeira organization, the
Cariocan Confederation, began operating in Rio and within three years there were
rumblings that non-confederation teachers should be banned from teaching (Taylor
2005b:133). Despite many such attempts at unifying capoeira, this remains a contentious
issue today, and few federations have had any success. The 1970s also saw the
expansion of capoeira beyond the borders of Brazil. Talent mobility led to the physical
equivalent of a ‘brain drain’ as some of the most talented young capoeiristas left Brazil,
which is similar to what happened when top Brazilian soccer stars were recruited by
teams in the Northern hemisphere (Silva 2006). Regional was the first style to take root
abroad, but in the intervening years, Angola too flourished and has continued to do so up
through the present.
Mestre Pastinha passed away in 1981, impoverished and alone after the
government appropriated his training space. Nonetheless, Capoeira Angola grew steadily
13
At
this
time,
capoeira
classes
were
almost
exclusively
taught
by
males.
Throughout
this
work,
the
unqualified
use
of
the
masculine
pronoun
is
intended
to
reference
the
hegemonic
dominance
of
males
in
capoeira.
24
during the 1980s thanks to the work of Mestre Moraes and his Grupo de Capoeira
Angola Pelourinho (GCAP). The establishment of GCAP also drew Mestre João Grande
out of retirement and made it possible for him to take Capoeira Angola to the United
States in 1995. Mestre João Grande is one of the legendary capoeiristas who rose to
prominence under the banner of Mestre Pastinha’s academy. In 1994, GCAP organized
‘The First International Encounter’ for capoeiristas. This event brought North American
and European capoeiristas to Salvador, the epicenter of the capoeira community, where
they encountered legendary mestres and local capoeiristas (Assunção 2005:189). Today,
international encounters such as these are extremely common with one being advertized
in the Salvador cultural guide nearly every month. International capoeira encounters also
take place throughout the rest of the world. These events “[allow] for an actual and
imagined closeness between widely separated capoeiristas” (Miller n.d.b).
Capoeiristas
and
Authenticity
The global capoeira boom created many economic opportunities for Brazilian
capoeiristas wanting to live and teach abroad. However, not all of these instructors were
formally graduated by a mestre, raising the issue of legitimacy once ties with Brazil have
been severed (Assunção 2005:192). Brazilian capoeiristas tend to focus their critiques
on the legitimacy of teachers who go abroad and set up their own academies without
sufficient training. The increased demand for capoeira instructors both within Brazil and
internationally created a situation in which many players adopted the term mestre without
having the lineage to back up their claim. Scholars such as Almeida (1986), Assunção
(2005), Downey (2005), Taylor (2007), and others have repeatedly acknowledged these
concerns. In general, an individual is not recognized as a mestre until he has trained for
25
twenty to twenty-five years. However, some mestres award their students a mestre title
of their own much earlier, around the ten-year mark. Others are granted the title as a
token that bolsters their credibility when they go abroad to teach (Taylor 2005b:237).
Often, these titles reflect a monetary relationship made between mestre and apprentice
rather than the new mestre’s skill (ibid). Furthermore, there are the so-called ‘VARIG
mestres’ nicknamed such in homage to the national airlines. These ‘mestres’ award
themselves the mestre title while in route to their new country where they hope to make a
living teaching capoeira.
There is little consensus in the capoeira community about how to solve this
problem. Nestor Capoeira asserts that an authoritative confederation “would be the only
way to legitimize capoeira,” yet he recognizes that “this reasoning is very bizarre
because it is the decentralized and ‘anarchic’ capoeira system that allowed or even
encouraged [capoeiristas] to progress from street thugs into internationally respected
‘educators’ in less than a hundred years” (Capoeira 2006:98-9). Because authority in
capoeira was so de-centered, it was resistant to governmental oppression, operating
underground until the social climate was more amenable to its growth. Today, this
history is made manifest in the skepticism many capoeiristas feel towards self-titled
mestres. In short, the same Machiavellian attitude that allowed capoeira to continue in
spite of governmental persecution is now looked down upon because capoeiristas are
seeking legitimacy in the form of official recognition.
The legitimacy of self-titled mestres will be an important issue for the capoeira
social field in general, but non-Brazilian capoeiristas’ tend to be more concerned with
their own legitimacy as practitioners of a black, Brazilian art form. Understanding this
26
sensitivity is at the heart of the theory developed throughout this work.14 Many white
European and American capoeiristas harbor insecurities about their ability to embody an
Afro-Brazilian art. This concern with the body is central because the body is “the
medium through which the meanings and values of any social system become
internalized as categories of individual experience and identity” (Comaroff 1985:124).
Mestre Accordeon’s solution for this issue is for his American students to study
the history of capoeira and revere its rituals and traditions as well as learn its philosophy
and movements (Almeida 1986:4). Browning considers this “literal embodiment of a
tradition” that happens during a capoeirista’s training to be “perhaps the most important
lesson” that a student learns (Browining 1995:xv). Attuned to the changes taking place in
“Westernized capoeira”, a group of Canadian capoeiristas tried to authenticate their
practice by “reading all they [could] about Afro-Brazilian culture, becoming fluent in
Portuguese, and making ‘pilgrimages’ to Brazil.” (Joseph 2006:10). Pilgrimage to Bahia
in order to train with the old guard of Brazilian masters forces foreigners to negotiate the
complex territory of culture clash in martial arts academies and lays bare the various
components of legitimacy in capoeira. Anticipating conflict over their legitimacy, capoeiristas outside of Brazil are
acutely sensitive to the reputation of their style, lineage, and academy. Capoeira Angola
is often labeled the more “authentic” or “African” of the two major styles. Taylor paints
14
Understanding
the
issue
of
race
within
the
context
of
capoeira
is
complicated
by
the
diversity
of
voices
involved
in
the
debate.
Although
we
are
increasingly
coming
to
realize
that
racial
relations
are
not
as
harmonious
in
Brazil
as
once
thought,
Brazilian
ideas
about
race
are
different
from
American
conceptions.
The
racial
exclusion
seen
in
some
American
(U.S.)
capoeira
groups
that
prohibit
white
participation
is
absent
from
Brazilian
practices.
African
Americans
who
claim
affinity
with
Brazil
based
solely
on
race
may
come
into
conflict
with
Brazilians
of
all
races
who
resent
such
presumptions
(Downey,
personal
communication
2005).
Furthermore,
when
we
consider
the
inclusion
of
capoeiristas
from
countries
other
than
Brazil
and
the
United
States,
we
must
recognize
that
they
too
bring
their
own
notions
of
race.
27
an interesting picture of the generational dynamics within Capoeira Angola. He points to
the older mestres’ greater experience as what makes them more tolerant of different
capoeira groups, whereas the younger students are more prone to misunderstanding and
quick to assume that groups that are different are inherently inferior.
This has created an exclusivist attitude among some Capoeira Angola students, as if they
are in some way VIP inheritors of the authentic capoeira, and that anyone wearing a
cordao or doing acrobatic techniques in the roda is in some way not quite as ‘real’ and
true to the original as they are. The ‘more Angola than thou’ way of thinking of a small
percentage of Capoeira Angola’s new generation of international students is surely an
unfortunate characteristic (Taylor 2005b:147).
His original assumption about generational behavior may be true, but evidence for this
position is not provided to his readers. His comments on the exclusivist attitude speaks to
the complicated quest for authenticity, but may also speak to his group’s position outside
this taken for granted dichotomy of Regional v. Angola, which raises insecurities in many
capoeiristas who play a budding style labeled Capoeira Contemporania. One female
pilgrim in particular thought Capoeira Angola was reactionary and overly defensive
about the popularity of Capoeira Regional saying, “Regional is fighting so Angola must
be ludic; Regional allows no shirt so Angoleiros have to tuck in their shirts; Regional
wears their pants low and sexy so Angola wears their pants up high.” With the
proliferation of idiosyncratic styles growing exponentially in the United States and
Europe, a new generation of capoeiristas is starting to refute this dichotomy, but many
groups’ insecurities are evident in their hypersensitive adherence to traditional practices.
Concerns over authenticity may be less pressing for Brazilians who interpret
capoeira as a living tradition, subject to change over time. In Brazil today, capoeira
exists simultaneously as a vital activity for many locals, especially poor children who
claim it as a central part of their identity, and as a capitalistic venture with academies,
tour agencies and shopkeepers promoting their capoeira related offerings to visitors.
28
Often capoeiristas will appear in the streets in touristic areas under the guise of playing
capoeira; however, these individuals typically play the instruments halfheartedly, show
off a few of their flashier kicks and flips, and then pass the pandeiro, using the upturned
tambourine as a clever way to gather donations from onlookers. To most foreign
capoeiristas, this is not capoeira. Uninitiated tourists, on the other hand, enjoy these
displays and most give willingly to street performers, who count this as a substantial
portion of their livelihoods.
Guidebooks such as Lonely Planet (Green 2005:432) dedicate small sections to
gloss this attraction for their readers, invariably recounting the same myths that were
decried above. They provide a much-abbreviated list of some of the academies where
tourists can take classes and even guide tourists away from the highly visible street acts
in the Terriero de Jesus square warning them:
Be wary of motley bands of hotshots playing capoeira on the Terriero de Jesus. Not only
can you see better capoeira elsewhere, but if you even so much as bat an eyelash in their
direction, they will come scurrying across the plaza demanding a contribution (ibid:416).
While this caution is well founded, guidebooks vilify these performers because they are
staging authenticity, which reveals the books’ bias toward a particular kind of
authenticity. Ignoring the book’s warning, I found the capoeiristas in the Terreiro de
Jesus square to be a convivial bunch quite willing to share their stories. They even
offered to buy me beer rather than the other way around, as is the expectation in most
foreign/local interactions.
While chatting with these men in the plaza, they stressed the marginalization of
capoeiristas in Brazilian society. Describing the days when the police heavily persecuted
capoeiristas, two of the capoeiristas lifted their shirts and pant legs to show off the scars
from when they had been beaten or had their instruments broken over their own bodies.
29
Their scars could just have easily come from drunken brawls, and such deft hustlers
surely know how to make the most of foreigners’ sympathies, but this conversation
conveyed their sense of being witness to changing times for capoeira. In the past,
capoeirista was synonymous with vagabond, but now it may provide a way out of the
favela (slum). Once, capoeira was hidden from view; now it is held up as a national
symbol. Non-Brazilians’ increased exposure to capoeira, through tourism and migration,
has caused a number of changes for Brazilian capoeiristas.
The
Future
of
Capoeira
Capoeira in Brazil recently entered a new period. On July 15, 2008, the Instituto
do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional (Institute of National Historic and Artistic
Patrimony - IPHAN) announced that capoeira would become Brazil’s fourteenth
documented cultural practice with the title ‘immaterial cultural patrimony.’15 The
municipal plaza erupted into a giant roda as capoeiristas from all over the city came out
to celebrate the news (Lemle 2008). The pronouncement makes some big promises to
capoeiristas by committing the government’s efforts to the preservation of this
representative Afro-Brazilian practice (Carmezim 2008). For one, it promises to reverse
the discriminatory practice of requiring capoeira instructors in schools and universities to
hold a diploma in physical education. As Nestor Capoeira points out, capoeira has
already spread well beyond the borders of Brazil so its existence is not threatened, but
older mestres in Brazil do find it difficult to pass on their knowledge because of this
requirement (Capoeira 2008). Remembering that the traditional knowledge bearers are
15
In
many
places,
this
is
referred
to
as
intangible
cultural
patrimony.
30
Afro-Brazilians who came of age in the early to mid 1900s16 and came from humble
backgrounds, very few of them had access to higher education17. The proclamation also
promises to protect the biriba wood from which traditional berimbaus are made.
This proclamation elicited strong, but mixed, reactions from the capoeira
community. Most capoeiristas seemed to think that this action by the government was
overdue, particularly because of the international popularity of capoeira. Mestre
Paulinho Sabia, who has taught for 32 years pointed out the necessity of carving out a
place of respect for capoeira in Brazilian society saying that while capoeira is highly
valorized as a profession in Europe, it continues to be “clandestino” (clandestine) in
Brazil (M. Ribeiro 2008). The spread of capoeira to other countries, aside from
spreading capoeira as part of Brazilian culture, valorizes mestres as part of the Brazilian
cultural patrimony (Lima 2007).
While everyone from legendary mestres to the restaurant worker who casually
trains with a local academy was absorbed in this news, their discourse centered on some
unexpected topics. Local buzz focused on two major themes: 1) that foreign interest in
capoeira was a motivating factor for the pronouncement, whether one looks at it as
legitimizing capoeira in the eyes of middle-class Brazilians or as a threatening
appropriation of Brazil’s intellectual property, and 2) the pronouncement is a way for the
Brazilian government to make reparations for the years of persecution and
marginalization of capoeira. The second theme dialogues with the myth of racial
democracy, valorizing Afro-Brazilian culture in a superficial way while simultaneously
16
Mestre
João
Pequeno,
the
oldest
living
capoeirista,
was
born
in
1916.
17
Although
coming
from
humble
backgrounds,
both
Mestre
João
Pequeno
and
Mestre
Joao
Grande,
the
two
best‐known
inheritors
of
Pastinhas’s
legacy,
have
both
received
honorary
doctorates
for
their
work
with
capoeira.
31
divesting capoeira of its blackness by naming it as the patrimony of all Brazilians. Not
only does this give Brazil another national symbol, but it also paves the way for increased
commercialism.
In many ways it seems that Brazil is caught between dueling desires, to sell their
culture as uniquely Brazilian while also proving that they are equal to the rest of the
world in terms of progress and modernization. Informal interviews and archival research
suggest that this pronouncement of capoeira as part of Brazil’s cultural patrimony may
have more to do with global pressures and commodification of culture than respecting
Afro-Brazilians’ intellectual property.
Temos que reconhecer que em alguns lugares na Europa e nos Estados Unidos, nossos
capoeiristas são melhores tratados e recebidos do que no Brasil. Queremos mudar isso.
--Juca Ferreira, Minister of Culture
We have to admit that in some places in Europe and the United States, our capoeiristas
are better treated and received than in Brazil. We want to change this. -- Juca Ferreira,
Minister of Culture
Ferreira, like many Brazilians, recognizes the immense popularity of capoeira throughout
the world. Mestre Russo, who attended the events surrounding the pronouncement,
credits foreigners’ recognition of capoeira as the impetus for the government pledging
their support for capoeira (Lemle 2008). While the pronouncement does valorize
capoeira, it also points to the ironies of global culture. At the same time that foreign
capoeiristas are trying to claim their own legitimacy among Brazilian capoeiristas,
foreign interest valorizes capoeira in the eyes of the Brazilian government and population
at large.
In the discourse that circulated immediately after the pronouncement, there was
also an undercurrent of fear that foreigners were taking ownership of Brazilians’ cultural
heritage. Mestre Boa Gente was quoted as saying that “already abroad there are people
32
who are very interested in appropriating an asset that is ours” (Carmezim 2008). On the
other hand, it was argued that the recognition would guarantee Salvador’s cherished
position at the center of the capoeira cosmology and would allow Brazilian capoeiristas
to regulate diffusion of this tradition (P. Ribeiro 2008). For his part, Mestre Curio
remained skeptical that the pronouncement would change anything for capoeiristas,
charging that the government wants to take their cut while denying the capoeira mestres
respect (ibid). Fear of losing their art to foreign interests is a powerful catalyst, but it
appears that foreign interest in capoeira generally, whether benign or exploitive,
provided the impetus for the Brazilian government to protect their cultural heritage.
The Ministry of Culture partnered with Petrobras and the Gregório de Mattos
Foundation to offer grants in support of capoeira related research initiatives. By way of
introducing their new initiative, they ask “[h]ow could Bahia define what is capoeira, if
capoeira defines what it is to be Bahia?” (MinC 2007). Referencing Geertz, they
acknowledge that capoeira, like the Balinese cock fights, conveys much about the
worldview of Brazilians, especially as we read the experience of people in Salvador, in
the rural areas surrounding Salvador, and in the state of Bahia (ibid). Indeed, reading this
physical form does tell us a great deal about the people and worldview that created it;
their interactions with foreigners in the context of globalization tells us even more about
who they are today and what capoeira will become in the future.
In the chapters that follow, I will use the ethnographic data from my work with
capoeira pilgrims to articulate a theoretical model for the acquisition of legitimacy. In
Chapter 2, I review the present literature on communities and authenticity. Chapter 3
introduces the reader to my field site, research methods, and research participants. The
33
next three chapters each look at one facet of my model: tradition (Chapter 4), charisma
(Chapter 5) and form (Chapter 6). Finally, Chapter 7 discusses the future implications of
my work.
34
Chapter
2:
The
Research
Question
&
Scholarly
Context
For non-Brazilian capoeiristas, pilgrimage to Bahia is a means of asserting their
authenticity within this genre. For many scholars, authenticity and commodification are
in direct opposition with one another (see Jensen 1998). In this view, commodities are
inherently inauthentic, and authenticity has no market value.18 In some ways, this
position resonates with the capoeira community. Money does not buy legitimacy, but
economic exchange is also not absent from capoeiristas’ engagement with the local
community. Capoeiristas accept a baseline degree of commodification; it is common
practice in Brazil and abroad for students to pay for capoeira classes. However, the
purpose of the pilgrimage is to gain access to knowledge and experiences that are not
available for purchase.
There is an economic motivation for local capoeiristas to host pilgrims in their
academies, but there is less monetary incentive for them to grant non-Brazilians access to
the backspaces of their culture. This access is available only to those pilgrims that meet
sufficient criteria. When these pilgrims enter the local capoeira scene in Salvador, they
must negotiate their own legitimacy as members of this tradition vis-à-vis the standards
established by the local capoeira community. In using capoeira as an illustrative case
study, my research offers a theoretical model to explain how individuals achieve
legitimacy and authority within a social field outside of their own cultural milieu.
Initially, I was skeptical that capoeira pilgrims would be granted legitimacy by
local capoeiristas unless they were skilled enough to withstand locals’ aggression in the
18
However,
once
a
commodity
has
been
labeled
as
authentic,
its
market
value
inevitably
rises.
35
roda. When training in the United States, I have been told that foreigners must train hard
in preparation for their visit to Bahia because Brazilian players will test them and try to
humiliate them in the roda, possibly even injuring them. Similarly, Janelle Joseph
stresses the latent violence in Brazilian capoeira and compares this to the ludic form of
capoeira practiced among her research population in Canada. She says, “Canadian
players are reminded that when they encounter ‘real’ Brazilian capoeira, they must be
prepared for a fight” (Joseph 2006:62). The capoeiristas in Joseph’s study trained
vigilantly to prepare for potential encounters with Brazilians.
Brazil and Brazilian capoeira are positioned as the standards against which
foreigners must measure their practice. From this perspective, foreigners might approach
Brazilian rodas with trepidation knowing legitimacy would only be bestowed if he or she
could withstand the competition. However, in my own experience in Brazilian rodas
during 2005 and 2006, foreigners were coddled until they had proven their abilities.19 In
this case, an attitude of humility led to tolerance, and exhibition of skill led to acceptance.
There is a possibility that some black Brazilians might resent white foreigners’ greater
freedom to move between places and cultures, but I approached my 2008 fieldwork with
the hypothesis that attitude and execution of proper form would be the two most
important factors for foreigners seeking to gain legitimacy within the local capoeira
community in Salvador da Bahia. Attitude20 indeed proved to be the most highly valued
19
In
2005
and
2006
I
only
encountered
female
capoeira
pilgrims,
which
may
have
given
me
a
skewed
view
of
this
phenomenon.
In
general,
foreign
women
are
handled
gently
in
the
rodas
whereas
foreign
men
are
much
more
likely
to
receive
harsh
treatment.
20
The
term
attitude/atitude
is
essentially
the
same
in
English
and
Portuguese.
The
most
commonly
referenced
aspect
of
one’s
atitude
is
being
aberto
(open).
In
an
interview
conducted
in
English,
Mestre
Iuri
Santos
has
also
used
the
phrase
“showing
your
real
face”
to
express
this
sentiment.
Our
discussion
encompassed
both
the
outgoing
nature
associated
with
being
aberto
and
the
idea
that
this
posture
should
be
genuine,
not
contrived.
Of
course,
judging
the
genuineness
of
someone’s
attitude
carries
the
same
baggage
as
has
been
described
throughout
my
discussion
of
authenticity.
I
operate
36
trait by the capoeiristas themselves, and the importance of this was readily evident in
their daily interactions. Among the capoeiristas I interviewed, execution of proper form
was generally believed to be less important than attitude; however, the latter remains a
valuable indicator of the status a foreign capoeirista will be granted. In actual practice,
adopting a socially sanctioned attitude within the capoeira academy paves the way for
foreigners to achieve proper form and gain legitimacy in the eyes of the social field at
large.
My research is grounded in the lived experience of a particular community, and
also provides the basis for articulating the process by which individuals claim legitimacy
in a contested social field. Here the terms legitimacy and authenticity are closely related.
I use the term authenticity in reference to an intangible essence attributed to people,
performances, or works of art while reserving the term legitimacy for the strategic
jockeying for position within a social field. Although ‘authenticity’ features prominently
in capoeiristas’ discourse, this is a value judgment based on being a “real” or “true”
capoeirista, hence subjective and hard to define. Approaching capoeira from the
position of legitimacy within an economy of authenticity, on the other hand, equips us to
say why particular notions of authenticity become dominant and how one claims that
status.
Academic studies of authenticity abound, but most stop short of providing us with
a concrete strategy for understanding what it means to the people studied. I will briefly
review some of these studies, arguing that they can all be organized into a typology, or an
under
the
assumption
that
gauging
the
genuineness
of
someone’s
attitude
is
an
individual decision,
but
including
or
excluding
someone
from
group
activities
based
on
that
assessment
will
reflect
the
opinions
of
those
most
central
to
the
group’s
organization. 37
economy of authenticity, based on Weber’s conception of authoritative leadership. The
currencies involved in this economy of authenticity can be classified into three categories
based on Weber’s typology of authoritative leadership, which are tradition, charisma, and
formal-legal rationality, with the addition of a category labeled existential authenticity,
referring to the feeling of ‘fit’ between an individual and his or her lifestyle.
Scholarly Context
In this section, I will first review the various ways in which social groups or
communities have been discussed: as imagined communities, social fields, subcultures,
neotribes, and scenes. I argue that capoeira is best described as a scene when referring to
more or less bounded, local groups or as a social field when referring to the widespread,
often impersonal and stratified collective of capoeira players. Then I move on to discuss
various concepts of authenticity, with interdisciplinary implications for the fields of
music, tourism and race. The theoretical framework for this work is systematic study of
an economy of authenticity in which social actors use cultural capital, defined by the
standards of the community, to advance within the field or scene.
Means of Discussing Social Groups
Different levels of community interactions take place among capoeiristas. Long gone
are the days when everyone knew one another personally.21 Now the capoeira
community is fractured temporally, geographically, and linguistically. It is so large, that
most members will never have face-to-face interactions. In this way, the capoeira
21
In
fact,
it
is
doubtful
that
the
social
field
was
ever
this
small
and
concentrated,
but
nostalgia
for
this
imagined
past
is
common
in
capoeira
discourse.
What
has
changed,
however,
is
the
way
that
capoeira
is
taught.
In
the
past,
novices
approached
mentors
in
the
streets
and
learned
capoeira
informally
from
them.
This
has
had
significant
repercussions
for
the
social
field
and
is
addressed
explicitly
in
Chapter
6.
38
community is similar to nations as discussed by Benedict Anderson. Anderson calls
these communities imagined “because the members of even the smallest nation will never
know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of
each lives the image of their communion” (Anderson 1983:6). Despite not knowing one
another, members of an imagined community have a sense that fellow members are
engaging in similar activities at the same time as them no matter where they actually
carry out their lives (ibid:26). Advances in technology, beginning with print capitalism,
enable citizens to think of one another in these terms (ibid:36). The prevalence of the
Internet throughout the capoeira community intensifies this feeling of shared
participation with websites, chat rooms, and social networking sites like
capoeiraespaco.com or even Facebook facilitating the flow of information about capoeira
across the world. These conversations are certainly eased by the use of a common
language like Portuguese, but imagined communities can transcend speech communities
if they have a shared set of symbols. For example, the roughly drawn image of a fish is a
well-known symbol of Christianity. For capoeira, the berimbau is a ubiquitous symbol
instantly identifiable by its members. Anderson identifies religious pilgrimages as
spectacular examples of imagined community (ibid:55); in fact, foreigners from different
lands enacting the same rites at pilgrimage sites is incomprehensible without the idea of
imagined communities. The case is similar for capoeira pilgrims, who may come from
very different places and struggle to communicate, but establish intense bonds when they
encounter one another in Bahia.
Anderson’s concept of imagined communities is useful because it helps explain
capoeiristas’ sense of shared participation in a common project in spite of their diverse
39
backgrounds. However, Anderson’s work does little to explain the hierarchy of
legitimacy that has developed within the community. Bourdieu’s work on cultural
capital, social fields, language games, and habitus lends much to this discussion by
explaining how people maintain a place of power within an order (Bourdieu 1980).
Bourdieu was motivated to develop his theories because he, like the Algerian and French
peasants he studied, was caught between two worlds, seeking legitimacy on tenuous
ground. His work can be transposed to the predicament of foreign capoeiristas who are
neither complete insiders nor complete outsiders to the social field. Bourdieu has been
soundly critiqued for creating oversimplified models of human behavior that
conveniently ignored much of the historical and ethnographic context in which his
research was done (see Goodman and Silverstein 2009). While mindful of these
shortcomings, my purpose is neither to highlight his faults, nor to glorify his theory.
Rather, I see in Bourdieu a useful starting point for thinking about the ways in which
legitimacy becomes reified within a field and how newcomers manipulate their cultural
capital in order to negotiate this landscape.
Several of Bourdieu’s notions are particularly useful: cultural capital, social fields,
language games and habitus. Bourdieu used the concept of cultural capital in opposition
to economic capital, though cultural capital is often convertible into economic capital and
vice-versa (Bourdieu 1986). This notion is useful as a way to explain differential levels
of success within a social field, which is central to understanding certain capoeira
pilgrims’ success in claiming legitimacy. This work is most concerned with cultural
capital in the embodied state, which Bourdieu defines as “long lasting dispositions of the
mind and body” (ibid:47), as well as the institutionalization of these standards within a
40
social field. In this work, I treat the international capoeira community as a social field,
an arena in which individuals take up various positions of authority over time. Within
this social field, Afro-Brazilian men have traditionally held the most prestigious roles.
Treating capoeira as a physical dialogue, as is often done by capoeira insiders, the
concept of language games can help us understand the ways in which individuals learn to
use their bodies to advance within the social field. As capoeiristas use “language” games
to progress through the social field, they develop a new embodied orientation towards the
world, a habitus that changes their comportment both inside and out of the roda.
Bourdieu, however, remained skeptical of an individual’s ability to acquire a new
habitus, believing one of the problems with most pedagogy is its inability to instill in
students a ‘feel for the game’ or the ordering principles that underlie all action. In
absence of this, students mimic teachers and learn specific moves or rules but cannot see
the guiding principles behind them (Bourdieu 1980:103). Therefore, it is perhaps more
fruitful to step away from the notion of habitus and think of a performer’s comportment
in terms of a sensory re-education that accompanies a novice’s apprenticeship.
Bourdieu’s emphasis on structure as a generative force behind individuals’ actions
implies stasis; however, Silverstein draws attention to the two models Bourdieu proposed
for how change is introduced into a people’s habitus (Silverstein 2009:171). Silverstein
writes:
In the first model, social transformation transpires gradually, via the dialectical
adjustment of habitus to continual shifts in the objective, material conditions of the
surrounding social and natural environment. The growth and demise of lineages, the
success and failure of crops, the changing political relations with external powers, all
alter the landscape upon which dispositions and strategies are generated (ibid:171).
The idea of reproduction is so deeply entrenched in Bourdieu’s outline of social fields
that change would be slow indeed. However, this opens the possibility that over time,
41
foreign interest in capoeira could eventually change the habitus and power structures
within the social field. Silverstein continues by pointing out that:
The second mode is sudden, dramatic, and ultimately productive of a veritable crisis in
the established order. Processes of culture contact or political economic upheaval in
particular break the ‘fit between the subjective structures and the objective structures’
and this serve as the condition of possibility for individuals to break the stranglehold of
misrecognition and question the taken-for-granted everyday order (ibid:172).
To borrow a biological metaphor, it may be equally productive to think of change in
terms of punctuated equilibrium. Habitus reinforces deeply engrained modes of action
within a social field, but this stasis may be interrupted by moments of crisis and gradually
refined thereafter. Particular moments in the history of capoeira stand out as
revolutionary such as its prohibition in 1890, its legalization in 1937, its dissemination
outside of Brazil in the 1970s, and its pronouncement as part of Brazil’s national
patrimony in 2008. In the less tumultuous periods between intense changes, interactions
within the field are gradually refined. For example, the increasing acceptance of women
starts in the 1980s, globalization leads to increasing prevalence of foreign practitioners
and more tolerance for songs written in languages other than Portuguese, and there is an
increasing likelihood of non-Brazilians assuming leadership roles.
These moments alter the terrain of the social field, and the rules of the game must
be shifted in accord with these changes. Bourdieu’s notion of social fields explains the
perpetuation of certain individuals’ authority, but is also overwhelmingly broad.
Theorists have created various terms in an attempt to capture the defining features of a
social field. One of the most widely used terms to describe social fields that are
organized around youth, music and style is subculture. The Centre for Contemporary
Cultural Studies at the University of Brimingham in England popularized the use of the
term subculture in the 1970s. It has been used to describe the stylistic choices made by
42
youth seeking to assert their counter-cultural identity in an uncertain social world.
Unfortunately, the term subculture has been overused and “has arguably become little
more than a convenient ‘catch-all’ term for any aspect of social life in which young
people, style and music intersect” (Bennett 1999:599). Furthermore, empirical evidence
does not support the claim that youth identities are as fixed or consistent as the term
subculture implies (ibid:605). The determinant nature of Bourdieu’s use of habitus fits
more readily with proponents of subculture, which stresses stability in people’s
disposition based on their class, versus proponents of lifestyle, which see the potential for
creativity, reflexivity, and even irony in consumers’ identity building projects.
Therefore, I find the various terms coined for performance-based identities to be more
useful than subculture. These include lifestyle, neotribe, and scene.
In terms of lifestyles, the rise of a consumerist economy encouraged people to buy
goods that would exhibit their identity (see Chaney 1996 and Taylor 1992). Here,
however, two divergent explanations emerge. On the one hand, this could be construed
as an individual project, conspicuous consumption used to display personal authenticity.
On the other hand, consumption may be a symptom of one’s social class, an outgrowth of
habitus. During the rapid expansion of the leisure market, many people feared that
producing leisure goods for the masses would lead to a homogenized diet of cultural
goods (books, movies, etc.), but these fears proved to be unfounded (Chaney 1996:24).
In fact, different groups consume different leisure goods based on their lifestyles, as in
Bourdieu’s work, which looks at the dialectic between social structure and individual
action, albeit with limited agency. Individuals’ actions are not mere executions of the
behaviors dictated by society, but creative projects working within the confines of those
43
rules. While strategic, these performances of competency go unnoticed by the social
actors themselves because the system is naturalized. Habitus, the generative grammar for
social action, generates tastes and, by extension, lifestyles (Chaney 1996:60). Ascribing
to a lifestyle implies knowledge about consumption and “the knowledge of how to
discriminate within a world of goods is a further form of capital, this time symbolic, that
generates equivalent or even more substantial rewards” (Chaney 1996:57). This leads
David Chaney to conclude that consumerist choices within a lifestyle will form a
consistent whole, but those with sufficient cultural capital have the freedom to
experiment with the boundaries of taste (1996:63-64). Chaney points to one of the
weakness in Bourdieu’s ideas, the assumption “that there is a pre-existing and
unchanging hierarchy of codes – or perhaps more accurately, it is to presume that culture
is an inescapable environment which envelops social action in the way that social
structures envelop individual experience” (Chaney 1996:67). This position is
increasingly untenable in a world where people have available to them a wealth of
potential lifestyles, capable of being claimed via consumption.22
While pointing out the utility of cultural and social capital as theoretical concepts,
Chaney prefers to focus on the creativity of individuals engaged in claiming a lifestyle.
The concept of lifestyles is a framework for exploring the creativity of identity
construction through the process of consumption, which is prevalent in modern society in
part because of the increased fluidity of social class that characterized modernity.
Chaney describes lifestyles as “characteristic modes of social engagement, or narratives
22
Take,
for
example,
salsa
dancers
in
London
who
reinvented
the
rules
of
their
social
field
to
favor
charismatic,
cultural
capital
acquired
in
dance
classes,
over
traditional
factors
like
ethnicity
and
nationality
(see
Urquía
2004).
44
of identity, in which the actions concerned can embed the metaphors at hand” (Chaney
1996:92). These projects are reflexive in the sense that they display to us and to our
audience who we are, who we think we are, or who we want to be (Chaney 1996:37).
Recalling the work of Georg Simmel, Chaney argues that the need for people to
differentiate themselves comes only with a multiplicity of available styles of living
(ibid:52). And because lifestyles are, in part, a display of consumer competence, they
align with Weber’s understanding of hierarchies based on status differentials (Chaney
1996:97). In the process, identity has become more of a personal project and less of a
stable characteristic with the constant reinterpretation of goods as symbols (Chaney
1996:113). The decentralizing of leisure, aided by the development of personal
technology devices like CD players, makes this a private process whereas identity used to
be a result of communal participation in culture (ibid). Chaney argues that for those
individuals who work at belonging to a lifestyle, surface appearances are key (Chaney
1996:99). This echoes the work of Goffman whose work on the presentation of self and
particularly the division of space into front and back regions laid the groundwork for
MacCannell’s seminal 1976 work on tourists’ quest for authenticity. In fact, aligning
individual consumption with the overarching sensibilities of taste current in a lifestyle
group has taken on a quasi-sacred importance in modern life (Chaney 1996:129).
Much as Chaney (1996) does with lifestyles, Bennett links the development of
neo-tribal sensibilities with the rise in mass consumerism (1999:607). Whereas lifestyle
implies continuity in consumer choices, neotribalism emphasizes sampling and contextdriven affiliations. For example, a young Asian woman in England enjoys listening to
Bhangra music at cultural events like the Mela festival, but prefers artists like Prince for
45
her everyday listening (Bennett 1999:612). Therefore, tribalism, as described by
Maffesoli, more commonly referred to as neotribalism, is a useful term for exploring
identities that consumers claim and drop over time as they move between groups and
reconstitute themselves accordingly (ibid:606).23
The contributing authors in Andy Bennett and Richard A. Peterson’s book titled
Music Scenes (2004) chose “scenes” as their unit of analysis rather than the related
concept of subcultures because subculture 1) implies that there is a monolithic culture
from which their group deviates and 2) it implies that all participants in the subculture
conform to the same set of norms and behaviors. In reality there are different degrees to
which any given member adheres to these norms, and individuals slip in and out of these
identities with great fluidity (Peterson and Bennett 2004:3). Chaney makes a similar
point about lifestyles, writing that “[w]hile lifestyles are dependent on cultural forms,
each is a style, a manner, a way of using certain goods, places and times that is
characteristic of a group but is not the totality of their social experience” (Chaney
1996:5). While subculture is similar to lifestyle in that they both use consumption and
style to mark their difference from the mainstream, use of the term subculture implies
resistance against the mainstream whereas lifestyle does not (ibid:35). Focusing on
scenes or lifestyles allows for more agency than does a reliance on subculture as a
framework, which stresses structural conditions as a causational force in the creation of
identity groups like the Teddy Boys in post-war England (Bennett 1999:602).
Admittedly, Bennett and Petersons’s use of the term “scene” is also similar to Becker’s
23
I find it a preferable term to subculture because “the musical tastes and stylistic preferences of youth,
rather than being tied to issues of social class, as subculture maintains, are in fact examples of the late
modern lifestyles in which notions of identity are ‘constructed’ rather than ‘given’, and ‘fluid’ rather than
‘fixed’” (Bennett 1999:599).
46
formulation of “art worlds” (1982) and Bourdieu’s concept of “social fields” (1984).
While recognizing the similarity of capoeira to several of the cases described in Music
Scenes, I continue to use Bourdieu’s terminology throughout this work to refer to the
overall capoeira community in which a legitimacy hierarchy is embedded. I use the term
scene to refer to specific arenas of action within the social field.
Thus capoeira is a social field in which social actors take up various positions
over time, moving forward by manipulating their cultural capital according to their
knowledge of the rules of the game. However, it is also important to note that social
fields are not self-evident groups. A degree of invention is involved in their constitution.
Capoeiristas, like country music fans, must deal with a history that is tainted by
prejudice. In the case of country music, it has not always been easy to argue for its
legitimacy as an internally coherent genre. One way of combating this, and proving “that
a field exists” is by assembling its history (Peterson 1997:199). In an attempt to
legitimize the field of country music, industry leaders handpicked a few representative
stars such as Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, and Roy Acuff as the genealogy to which
all other true country performers could be related (ibid). Similarly, the foregrounding of
certain capoeira mestres such as Pastinha, João Grande and João Pequeno at the expense
of other, consequently lesser-known mestres, functioned in much the same way. By
eliminating ambiguity, a clear social field is defined and newer generations of
practitioners have a clear sense of where they fit in and how to market their legitimacy.
In the case of country music, disc jockeys helped to create this “collective memory…by
linking the artist, the song, or the rendition to earlier country music works, and they
helped to situate the current releases in the evolving country tradition by playing a good
47
number of older recordings which complemented the current releases” (Peterson
1997:199-200). In capoeira, this collective memory has become so deeply engrained
among practitioners, that a vast percentage remains unaware of the nuance present in the
original social field. To some, it is almost sacrilegious to suggest that Mestre Pastinha
was anything less than the world’s premier capoeirista.
Commodification
and
Authenticity
With all of this development happening outside of Brazil, capoeiristas in Brazil
question the authenticity of their foreign counterparts. Likewise, foreign capoeiristas
question their own authenticity. In essence, foreigners are using the cultural capital at
their disposal to leverage themselves into a position from which they can claim
legitimacy. Within this social field, authenticity is a value judgment about a performer;
legitimacy is the result of a strategic jockeying for position. The studies reviewed below
have interrogated the value of studying the quest for authenticity, but most stop short of
providing us with a concrete strategy for understanding what it means to the people
studied. In this section, I first review the connection between authenticity and
commodification. I then turn to various studies of authenticity, arguing that they can all
be organized into a typology based on Weber’s conception of authoritative leadership.
All of this helps to answer the question of what it means to be authentic or hold
legitimacy within a specific social field. After all, authenticity has little reality in and of
itself, but like a related term, “community”, it becomes meaningful when embedded in a
social context (Grazian 2004:32). Discussions of authenticity are almost always accompanied by references to
commodification. For Vincent J. Cheng, who studies the interplay between authenticity
48
and cultural identity, the search for authenticity “is an intrinsically hopeless quest to
‘catch’ and pin down something already defined as ungraspable” (Cheng 2004:34). Here
Cheng suggests the imagery of a butterfly being mounted for display; a thing once caught
loses the life that made it remarkable. According to this argument, once cultural products
have been fixed into a commodity, they lose the ephemeral quality or aura that made
them unique. Flooding the market with ‘authentic’ performances lowers their value and
weakens the genre’s claims to authenticity (ibid:33-34).
The commodification of authenticity has special connotations for ethnicity.
Comaroff and Comaroff refer to authenticity as “the specter that haunts the
commodification of culture everywhere” (2009:10). Many scholars have argued that
commercialization pollutes anything that is deemed ‘authentic’ and this process is
accelerated the more enthusiastically authentic items are desired (Lindholm 2008:20).
Cheng (2004), Jensen (1998), and Lindholm (2008) all adhere to this idea. Jensen goes
so far as to say that not only is the commercial the antithesis of the authentic, but it is the
death of authenticity (Jensen 1998:7). Comaroff and Comaroff, however, present an
interesting counterpoint to the widely held belief that commodification taints authentic
cultural products. In their recent book, Ethnicity, Inc., they present the case of an African
chief who is also the CEO of his tribe’s mining conglomerate. Success for him depends
upon “turning finance capital into cultural capital and vice versa. For them, in fact, the
line between the two [has] become porous to the point of dissolving” (ibid:8). This raises
the question of whether or not commodification of culture destroys authenticity.
According to one Tswana man writing in a local newspaper, it does not. He says: The commercialization of identity…does not necessarily cheapen it or reduce it to a brute
commodity. Quite the opposite: marketing what is ‘authentically Tswana’ is also a mode
of reflection, of self-construction, of producing and feeling Tswana-ness (ibid:9).
49
This is a very different way of thinking about the commodification of culture, one that
sees the potential for “ethnicity, inc.” to empower the disenfranchised and valorize their
contributions.
Using lifestyles as his theoretical lens, Chaney suggests that mass commercialism
actually drives the quest for authenticity (Chaney 1996:123). Whereas commodification
is often portrayed as the result of demand for authentic goods, be they material or
immaterial, Chaney’s focus on consumption posits the search for authenticity as a result
of commercialization. Taken together, this presents a cyclical relationship, forever
pushing ‘authenticity’ beyond the reaches of the mass consumer, which incidentally
showcases the cultural capital of those who do attain authentic goods. Their educated
tastes, again a result of their habitus, keep them ahead of the curve.
It is not just commercialization but also ease of access that leads people to
question the authenticity of a cultural practice. The Van’s Warped Tour is illustrative in
this regard. The mission underlying the tour is to give kids something productive to do in
place of loitering or delinquency. The tour places an emphasis on skateboarding and
punk music, but has increasingly been used to further corporate agendas with sponsors
like Yoo-hoo and, most obviously, the Van’s shoe company. As noted by Dowd, Liddle
and Neslon (2004), some SkatePunks think the tour has ‘sold out’, but others’ criticisms
go even deeper. For example, one of their research subjects, who attended the tour in
2002, said:
It was a fun day of music and meeting people, but it seemed like the fast-food version of
punk rock. All the bands are on short sets. It’s all very efficient. Eighteen years ago you
had to seek this stuff out. Now it’s served up in a to-go bag. It was fun but it wasn’t
genuine (ibid:162).
50
This fan associated authenticity with the hard work of seeking out ‘underground’ bands,
and making the music easy to access devalued his experience. Similarly, in his study of
blues clubs in Chicago, David Grazian found that consumers sought authenticity at the
margins of the city’s entertainment district because they were skeptical about the
commercialization of downtown clubs (Grazian 2004:32). He says that “for some
cultural consumers, this turn to a postmodern brand of slumming involves a search for the
prototypical urban community as a symbolic space of authenticity” (ibid:39).
This recalls the work of Dean MacCannell who, building from Goffman’s ideas
about backspaces, argues that tourists equate authenticity with those areas that are hardest
for outsiders to access (1976). As tourists flock to these backspaces in Chicago,
impoverished, segregated neighborhoods become “commodified tourist attractions”
(Grazian 2004:43). This case lends weight to the circular complaint that the quest for
authenticity destroys authentic experience, here the intimacy of a local bar. In much the
same way, as capoeira classes spring up in local YMCAs and strip-malls, they lose the
mystique of exclusivity and ‘hard-core’ participants are driven to seek out more extreme
forms of commitment, such as making a pilgrimage to Brazil. Authenticity
and
Legitimacy
Debates about the authenticity of identity continue to swirl around the
nature/nurture paradox.
The basic question here is: What is it, after all, that composes our genuine, authentic
personal identity? Is it our lived experience, the sum total of how we each have
(individually and collectively) lived? Or is it our cultural, ethnic, or racial heritage, an
inherited past but not one that has been necessarily lived or experienced? (Cheng
2004:178).
51
The mere invocation of the term authenticity evokes tension and defensiveness because it
only exists in relationship to inauthenticity. Attributing authenticity to goods or people
implies a hierarchy, a value-laden positionality along a continuum. The term authenticity
is problematic because it does not have an agreed-upon definition, even with respect to
inanimate objects like art. This term becomes even more problematic and imbued with
emotion when applied to people and their identities. This questions the extent to which
issues of personal authenticity and legitimacy intersect and depend upon one another for
continued salience.
Questions of ethnicity, racial identity, and cultural appropriation are increasingly
important as the world becomes more interconnected, boundaries become more
permeable, and people have more options than ever before for creating their lifestyles
(see also Cheng 2004). The implications of cultural appropriation are vast and varied,
depending in great part upon the power dynamics involved. The local and global stand in
tension with one another, reaffirming long held identities while simultaneously allowing
people to sample from the global buffet. Yet when the local becomes a commodity for
sale on the global market, Westerners who sample from far-flung cultural tables are said
to be appropriating. Despite the negative charges that could be levied against anyone
attempting to perform the Other, this practice can potentially generate an increased selfreflexivity in the performer (Johnson 2003:209).
As Rudinow stresses in his exploration of authenticity within the blues, I am
concerned with who has the “credentials” to play capoeira (Rudinow 1994:129). Earning
these credentials is not a simple process, particularly if they are associated with inherent
qualities that the individual lacks. Peterson (2005) uses the phrase “authenticity work” as
52
a way of discussing the effort it takes for individuals to conform to a socially situated
definition of authenticity that is subject to change. Peterson’s study of country music
exemplifies the concept of “authenticity work.” Signifiers of authenticity within country
music have become codified since the mid to late 1900s, and performers and audiences
alike are now aware of their importance. Legitimizing factors include a stylized accent,
particular vocabulary and grammar, and “prior rough work experience” (Peterson
1997:225). Performers lacking these markers must engage in authenticity work in order
to convince audiences of their credibility (ibid). My work enumerates these qualities for
capoeiristas, but also shows how they are deployed to claim legitimacy.
First, however, it bears recognizing that the parameters of authenticity are always
emergent and will vary greatly depending upon the time, place, and social situation in
which they occur. For example, Brazil at the turn of the twentieth century was an ideal
time for the emergence of “authentic” cultural forms drawn from the povo (people). Both
capoeira and samba moved from being marginalized practiced sequestered in the black
spaces of culture to symbols of national identity (see Vianna 1999:10 on samba).
According to Hermano Vianna, the shift samba experienced from marginal to central
cultural practiced happened in Rio de Janeiro, perhaps more specifically in the cafes
where intellectuals and artists met (Vianna 1999:15). Intellectuals like Gilberto Freyre
who promoted a discourse of miscegenation were influential in the popularization of
samba, as were the artists involved in the modernist movement who advocated the
Brazilianization of international trends. However, these were not the only groups
responsible for elevating the status of samba. The elite’s taste for the “national exotic”
also laid the groundwork for the future adoption of samba (ibid:24). Vianna articulates
53
three elements of samba’s rise to fame as a national symbol: 1) it involved different
social groups, from poor Afro-Brazilians to domestic and foreign intellectuals and elites;
2) its codification as a form and its rise to prominence happened concurrently; and 3) its
specific path was a result of the push and pull of various agendas rather than one coherent
movement (Vianna 1999:112).
Similarly, capoeira gained national attention as a result of intellectual patronage
and federal recognition in the form of Vargas’s proclamation that it was Brazil’s national
sport. But while the population at large was beginning to see particular cultural
manifestations such as samba and capoeira as symbols of authentic Brazilian culture,
definitions of authenticity were also constructed within the genre itself. These definitions
may be contested within the genre; for example, practitioners of the different capoeira
styles will conceptualize ‘authenticity’ differently. Though I interviewed members of
both the Angola and the Regional styles, and there are commonalities across these
pilgrims’ experiences, I was most concerned with defining the parameters of authenticity
for the Angola style. If one were to define the parameters of authenticity for the Regional
style, demonstrating efficacy in the roda would likely overtake concerns with subtlety
and trickery. However, many commonalities would remain, such as the necessity of
individual displaying openness and dedication to the group if they desire to become
integrated in that context. Assuming for the moment that efficacy would outweigh
malícia for Regional practitioners, one might be able to succeed within the social field
without engaging in legitimate peripheral participation because they would not need as
much time and individualized attention to cultivate the aesthetic of a malandro. Defining
authenticity within the context of Capoeira Contemporania would be more difficult as
54
it’s very existence is a challenge to the persistent claims to authenticity made by
practitioners of the other two styles. The fact that this style is gaining ground both in
Brazil (including Bahia) and abroad suggests that many people do view it as legitimate.
If we return to Bruner’s four-part typology of authenticity, we see that mere existence is
one frequently cited marker of authenticity.
Definitions of authenticity will also vary from place to place. In Bahia, the social
field is saturated with experts. This helps explain why attention to form is so essential.
Capoeiristas in this region are adept at assessing the performances based on a particular
set of formal criteria, even though they find it difficult to articulate these criteria. There
is variance from school to school, but provided that an individual performs the style of
his or her lineage, this variance does not disqualify him or her from being considered
legitimate unless the entire line is suspect. On the other hand, an audience full of novices
in Europe or the United States will be less adept at evaluating a capoeirista’s legitimacy
based on formal features. If, for example, a VARIG mestre were to find himself in such a
situation, whether or not his performance is technically correct would be largely
irrelevant. To prove his authenticity in this context, this individual may stress his race or
nationality. Being Afro-Brazilian has a certain cache in the global capoeira market (see
Chapter 4). This may explain why some white Brazilian mestres have trouble
establishing their credibility in the United States. American consumers of capoeira tend
to associate authenticity with blackness. Clearly, local definitions of and attitudes toward
race will influence these evaluations. In the Regional style, which gives primacy to
Brazilian authorship of the form, race is largely irrelevant. Because the Angola style
55
looks to Africans and the genitors of the art, and because Capoeira Angola is often used
as a tool to fight racism and racial oppression, blackness becomes more important.
Scholarly discussions of authenticity have been trapped in a dead end path of
either trying to define authenticity or listing the requisite qualities for someone to claim
authenticity. For example, Armstrong identifies three types of authenticity within rap as
a musical genre: self-expression as a way of being true to oneself, authenticity of
locality/place, and “requisite relation and proximity to an original source of rap”
(Armstrong 2004:336). As Peterson claims, authenticity is socially situated and
contextually dependent (2005), therefore, scholars need to move beyond the unproductive
trap of trying to define and redefine authenticity. Scholars must also move beyond
merely listing the traits that contribute to authenticity and try to understand how people
manipulate those traits in the form of cultural capital to move forward within a social
field. First we must establish a typology of legitimacy that encompasses the valid but
varied definitions of authenticity.
Some typologies of authenticity exist, but as Peterson has noted, present
typologies are inadequate for understanding the overall discussion of authenticity
(2005:1092). In his recent book, Culture and Authenticity, Charles Lindholm takes a
comprehensive look at issues of authenticity and calls attention to the debates
surrounding the processes used to verify authenticity. He illustrates this with the case of
famous artists’ paintings, which can either be verified scientifically or charismatically.
On the one hand, genealogical accreditation by means of technical research on
provenance and forensic proof rationalizes the value of the work and therefore
undermines the charismatic aura that is at the heart of its attraction. It becomes simply a
thing, like any other, to be studied with technical instruments and analyzed with scientific
detachment. On the other hand, accreditation by correspondence relies wholly on a
subjective sense of emotional communion with the artwork that is akin to a believer’s
faith in prophecy. This preserves aura, but, because there is no absolute guarantee that
56
the work is the sacred object that it purports to be, it also means there can be apostates
and heretics who do not recognize its charisma (Lindholm 2008:18).
The benefit of verifying an artwork’s provenance scientifically or forensically is the
irrefutability of the conclusion. However, creating a checklist of authenticity detracts
from the emotional investment we give objects with that holy grail of titles, ‘authentic.’
After all, most lay viewers gravitate towards a painting like The Scream because of its
charisma or the indescribable feelings it evokes. Regardless of the favored method of determining authorship of a piece of art,
most readers will concede that the question of authenticity is a relevant one, “but in art
forms like music there is no concrete object to worship or copy, only the act of
performance. How is authenticity measured then? Is it even relevant?” (Lindholm
2008:25). Lindholm answers his own question with “an emphatic yes” and goes on to
reference one of the key points of contention among artists and audiences with regard to
the authenticity of performance. According to Lindholm, “the debate always revolves
around two different approaches: historical/genealogical or romantic/expressive”
(ibid:25). According to the historical/genealogical approach, the performance must
adhere to the technical standards of the original or paragon to be authentic. The
romantic/expressive school of thought argues that a performance is authentic if it conveys
the same emotional essence as the model, regardless of how that performance technically
deviates from the original. This dichotomy echoes his characterization of the debate over
determining authorship of art. In both cases, he separates clear-cut, technical distinctions
from emotional ones.
I split my economy of authenticity into four categories, whereas Lindholm sees
only two. To compare my schema to his, my categories of tradition and form could be
57
collapsed into his technical/genealogical category while the category I call charisma
would coincide with the one he labels romantic/expressive. My typology also includes an
additional affective category that I call existential authenticity (see Figure 1 below).
With the exception of existential authenticity, my typology conforms to the one
established by Weber for legitimate domination. His work offers a schema of power
relations that can reliably be counted on to be authoritative; I look at how individuals
draw power and authority from the cultural capital embedded in each category. Weber
associates each type of legitimate domination with a different social form; I argue that a
single individual’s authority may be dependent upon all of these forms.
Figure
1
Comparison
of
Lindholm's
typology
to
Griffith's
typology
In my usage, these categories both reinforce and undercut one another in
interesting ways and I call attention to slippages between categories throughout my
58
explanation of the typology as a heuristic device. The next task is to
examine how each
type of legitimacy is deployed as cultural capital, enabling individuals to ascend through
a legitimacy hierarchy that is firmly embedded within a specific social field. I use
capoeira as a demonstrative case study and use ethnographic data from my 2008
fieldwork to describe this process in Chapters Four, Five and Six.
Existential Authenticity
Existential authenticity represents the affective dimension of my typology. This
refers to the feeling of fit between one’s personality and an experience or practice,
whether drawn from one’s own culture or borrowed from another. Existential
authenticity is often closely associated with the body and embodied experience because
of the seemingly incontrovertible proof physicality brings to experience. Many scholars
have discussed this type of authenticity, but refer to it in different ways. For example,
Armstrong refers to “first person authenticity” (2004:337), Taylor discusses “selfreflexivity” (1992), and Peterson writes about “authenticity to constructed self” (2005).
All of these hearken back to Goffman’s formulation of presentation of self. Existential
authenticity stands apart from the types of legitimacy that can be classified according to
Weber’s typology, but intersects with them in interesting ways. Existential authenticity is
what makes the legitimacy hierarchy matter to capoeiristas. Because they feel that
capoeira is such an integral part of who they are, they are highly invested in claiming
legitimacy.
For example, Alonzo was among those who felt that capoeira had become an
integral part of his identity; denying himself the opportunity to deepen his connection
with Brazil would have been detrimental to his wellbeing. He had reached a point where
59
“[he] was truly incapable of continuing [his] life in the United States.” His passion for
capoeira had become “all consuming” and he felt like he was “living a lie” in his nine to
five existence. One day he said, “Why don’t I just do it, all out. Get it out of my system,
kind of calm down, then maybe I can have a normal life, I’m putting this normal in
quotes….big air quotes.” For Alonzo, the only way to achieve balance and conform to
the generalized expectations of a 30-something American was to temporarily engage in
this quest.
Like Alonzo, Caroline felt that something was missing in her life back home in
the US. She said, “at this point in my life I’d rather be [in Bahia] than in the United
States. And it’s largely because of capoeira, I mean largely because of that. I don’t think
I’d necessarily be in Brazil if it weren’t for capoeira, maybe I’d be somewhere else in the
world. But I think that I have, there was an insatisfaction with living in the United States
that has kept me here again and again and will probably keep me here through the next
year. Brazil fulfils that insatisfaction with living in the United States and then capoeira
is that icing on the cake.” She sees a lot of people turning to Capoeira Angola precisely
because they are “looking for more in life than what… society offers you.” She things
this is especially true of the non-Brazilians who become capoeiristas.
Country music presents a similar case study to illustrate the importance of
existential authenticity. Because audiences had a deep emotional connection to country
music, a performer’s success hinged upon dramatizing the fit between themselves and the
idiom. Country music, in contrast to ‘pop’, is linked to the identity of both performers
and consumers. In the early days of radio, country music struggled to gain legitimacy,
both because performers rejected the refined vocal and instrumental techniques of ‘pop’
60
and because of their ‘hick’ identities. A boom in country music popularity was linked to
urbanization. As people from rural areas moved to the cities looking for jobs, country
music was their link to home and the soundtrack to their new experiences caught betwixt
and between two worlds.24 Country music was a good fit for new migrants to the city,
providing a symbolic link to their homes. However, because many of the performers
were not themselves from the country, their success depended upon a convincing delivery
of authenticating markers (Peterson 1997:218-219). In this case, the consumer’s
committed belief that country music fit their lifestyle necessitated the performers’
authenticity. The disruption associated with moving to the city motivated them to seek
authenticity in the lives of the performers.
The above case is but one example of upheaval and change motivating individuals
to seek authenticity outside of their own immediate experiences. Several scholars have
linked people’s increased interest in authenticity with modernization. Lindholm traces
the quest for existential authenticity back to Rousseau and his belief that people should
indulge the desires of their true inner selves. He also shows how this impulse has been
intensified by the alienating effects of capitalism and commercialism, which allows
objects to do the work of announcing their owner’s authentic identities or desire to be
seen as authentic (Lindholm 2008, see also Chaney 1996 on lifestyles). For his part,
Lindholm believes that “The inclination toward a spontaneous mode of expressive selfrevelation correlates with the collapse of reliable and sacralized institutional frameworks
that once offered meaning and succor” (Lindholm 2008:65-66). In other words, as
24
Being
from
the
country
carried
many
connotations,
which
were
often
negative.
As
Peterson
describes,
these
individuals
found
themselves
in
a
transitory
state,
accommodating
to
the
pace
and
pressures
of
city
life
while
simultaneously
longing
for
the
comforts
of
home
(see
Peterson
1997).
The
honkey
tonk
became
a
refuge
for
them
and
country
music
figured
prominently
in
this
setting.
61
institutionalized rituals lose their place in modern life, people initiate their own quests for
existential authenticity. Tourists exhibit similar behavior, and MacCannell links tourists’
fascination in the lives of others with modern people’s alienation from their own labor
and from the tight social bonds that were once a part of daily life (MacCannell 1976:91).
The compartmentalization of our modern life and the splintering of our various identities
leads us to romanticize the ‘simple lives’ led by others.
As a result, authenticity in the present tense is most often associated with
adjectives like rural, ethnic, and folk, rarely with the middle or upper classes.25 Country
music is a case in point. Jensen points out that those characteristics that mainstream
society might view as marginal or “corny and hillbilly” are precisely the validating
markers of authenticity in country music (Jensen 1998:13). Similarly, while poor AfroBrazilian men often occupy marginal positions in Brazilian society at large, they are
simultaneously assumed to occupy the highest rungs of the legitimacy hierarchy within
capoeira.
Following MacCannell, the sense of alienation that accompanied the rise of
modernity leaves many Westerners in search of an authentic Other that will fill this void.
Some approach this project through consumption of goods and experiences, either
through tourism or appropriation of cultural forms. Lindholm nicely sums up
MacCannell’s view of how sightseeing functions to salve the wound modernity has
inflicted upon Westerners, alienated from the fruits of their labor. He writes, “By
experiencing, collecting, and collating alternative realities, the tourist personally remakes
coherence and mends the world, at least symbolically” (Lindholm 2008:41). Sightseeing,
25
However,
this
is
not
to
overlook
the
raging
debates
about
contemporary
performance
of
classical
music
or
the
authentication
of
famous
painters’
works,
which
is
well
treated
by
Lindolm
(2008).
62
then, is similar to the concepts of lifestyles and neotribes in that all stress consumption as
part of the identity-making project. So while experience is in and of itself noncommodifiable, the means of attaining experiences are often big business.
Tourists often covet intensely physical experiences because they cannot be
commodified or denied. Such challenges can fit into an individual’s self-making project,
a part of existential authenticity, in ways that overly-constrained workaday routines
cannot (Wang 1999:363). Intense physical engagement is a pervasive orientation to
tourism, and the capoeiristas in this study are but one case. This engagement confirms
beyond any doubt for the tourist that his or her experiences are authentic because the
body as medium of experience is beyond doubt (Lindholm 2008:48). The body often
becomes central in tourists’ attempts at claiming authentic experience. This need for
bodily verification of experience may be related to various tourist behaviors like
consuming ‘exotic’ foods or even engaging in sex with locals. Some tourists seek to
alleviate the burden of modernity by intentionally subjecting themselves to the physical
hardships associated with nature or less-developed lifestyles; “tourists of this type
resemble pilgrims to a holy sight, practicing austerities along the way to ensure the
validity of their religious experience” (Lindholm 2008:42). Tourists may embrace
hardship as a way of intensified their experience. In such cases, it is the physicality of
their experiences, and the marks left on their bodies, that verifies their encounter with
otherness.
63
Edgeworkers are a special type of tourist who focuses almost exclusively on
intense bodily experience as a way of achieving existential authenticity.26 Edgeworkers
live on the margins and push themselves to complete outrageous physical tasks and flout
convention in the process. Ski bums who work at mountain resorts earning just enough
to support their ski habit might be a familiar example. These “edgeworkers generally feel
something like contempt for lesser mortals who cannot live up to their high standards,
that is, those who are overweight, soft, inept, and, worst of all, concerned about their
safety and comfort” (Lindholm 2008:49). Edgeworkers prioritize their desire for
existential authenticity over such mundane concerns as their health and physical or
financial wellbeing. Edgeworkers are common among apprenticeship pilgrims.
Many foreign capoeiristas should be classified as edgeworkers. They flout
convention by travelling to a developing country for extended periods of time, often
forgoing professional advancement at home to pursue their physical passion, and endure
many hardships they would not tolerate at home such as cramped, cheap living quarters.
If Lindholm’s characterization of edgeworkers is true, this would explain why foreign
capoeiristas are sometimes more critical of unskilled foreigners than are Brazilians.
They have pushed their bodies to the limit in order to accomplish outstanding feats of
skill and look down upon those who do not meet their same standards. The belief that
capoeira fits their personality drives many foreign capoeiristas to engage in extreme
behavior like pilgrimage; however, too many unskilled foreigners threatens the standing
of all pilgrims in the social field. They are no longer seen as unique, but as one member
of a massive category that is largely dismissible.
26
These
sensation seekers, like those who Cohen call “existential tourists”, “are the most enthusiastic
acolytes of the church of authenticity, exemplars of real life inspiring the pale souls stuck in a world
saturated with the fake and uninspired” (Lindholm 2008:51). 64
Existential authenticity is foregrounded in many studies of authenticity and is
central to discussions of cultural appropriation. In McLeod’s study of authenticity in hip
hop, “keeping it real” was a way for artists and fans alike to discuss existential
authenticity. Artists are expected to remain true to their inner self versus adopting trendy
positions to further their career (1999:140). In his review of country music, Lindholm
highlights the importance of performers communicating ‘authentic’ emotion. To address
Cheng’s question about what qualifies as part of someone’s authentic personal identity, I
believe that people get wrapped up in what they should be based on fantasies about
authenticity and inherited characteristics and fail to see the authenticity created by living
their own lives. In many cases, the emotional weight of a performance, or identity,
overshadows technical or genealogical considerations and imbues it with authenticity.
For example, audiences expect an artist’s performance “to be instinctive and unstudied,
coming directly from the heart and soul” (Lindholm 2008:37). A performance lacking
this existential authenticity would seem staged, stiff and unreal.
Edward Bruner has proposed several different definitions of authenticity, which
are useful for thinking about the various ways people interpret what comprises ‘real’
capoeira. Bruner has described four contexts in which the term authenticity is used: 1)
for a reproduction that is “credible and convincing”, 2) a reproduction that is historically
accurate, 3) the actual original item such as an artifact, and 4) “duly authorized”
reproductions or performances (Bruner 2005:149-50). For some, any capoeira is
authentic by virtue of its very existence, whether it takes place in Bloomington, Indiana
or Bahia, Brazil. This conforms to Bruner’s third definition because it is undeniably
capoeira. Others limit their view of the authentic to the capoeira visible in the
65
picturesque historical center known as the Pelourinho. Much of the capoeira here is
staged, but performers are adept at simulating authenticity. These samples are
reproductions of the actual tradition, but are “credible and convincing” nonetheless.
Navigating this fakery is often difficult for even seasoned capoeiristas, which makes
them even more invested in attaining those markers of legitimacy that cannot be
commodified.
Existential authenticity motivates pilgrims to claim legitimacy according to the
dominant definition of authenticity protected by the social field, or the “duly authorized”
standard. Gaining legitimacy is facilitated by a pilgrim’s acceptance into a legitimate
peripheral participation role. Pilgrims rely on two categories of cultural capital,
traditional and charismatic, to claim a legitimate peripheral participation role. Sufficient
capital in these categories allows pilgrims to become apprentices, a learning arrangement
that goes beyond the superficial teacher-student relationship present in mass classes
taught through mimicking. Some, but not all, pilgrims assume this role. Those who do
gain access to an embodied knowledge of capoeira that cannot be commodified.
Traditional Claims to Authenticity
Traditional forms of cultural capital allow one to claim authenticity based on his
or her inherent qualities. Drawing from Cesar Graña’s 1989 work on authenticity,
Peterson writes, “the easiest sort of authenticity work is seen in those situations in which
ascribed group membership, rather than training and passing qualifying tests, gives the
right to represent the group.” (Peterson 2005:1086). In such cases, the individual does
not need to do any additional work to qualify his or her group membership; membership
66
is automatic. Examples include, but are not limited to, race or ethnicity, place of origin,
and genealogy.
The objectification of racialized bodies primes cultural performances for
appropriation. In some artistic genres, like hip-hop, gospel, jazz, blues, or capoeira, race
is often used to authenticate an artist. The black-white dichotomy is the most relevant
example for the cases referenced here, but different genres have their own traditional
standards of authenticity. Black performances are often essentialized as primitive
spectacles and become the focus of a racist gaze (Johnson 2003:7). The marginality of
performance in the Western intellectual tradition, due in large part to its association with
the body, naturalizes whites’ fascination with an objectified primitive display. The
“colonial and racist gaze” fixes a simplified notion of what black culture is in the white
public’s mind.
Blackness is forever present in discussions of capoeira, whether capoeira is part
of a Black Nationalism statement or a problem to be explained away by white
participants.27 Capoeira originated with the slaves and was associated primarily with
Afro-Brazilians until the present. There have been, however, several notable exceptions
to this generalization, particularly in Mestre Bimba’s school.28 White privilege gives rise
to the luxury of color-blindness which some hip hop fans use “to circumvent hip hop’s
oppositional politics” (Harrison 2008:1795). However, in capoeira, this colorblindness is
often advocated by Afro-Brazilians themselves as they encourage their students to adopt
the mestres and African slaves as their own ancestors.
27
Recall,
however,
that
in
Brazil,
racial
identifiers
are
often
context
dependent
and
much
more
flexible
than
in
the
United
States.
28
In
Chapter
1
I
explore
Mestre
Bimba’s
motivation
for
limiting
enrollment
in
his
academy
to
those
who
were
employed
or
enrolled
in
school.
These
restrictions
made
his
academy
disproportionately
whiter
than
the
general
population
of
Bahia.
67
In many cases, insiders are willing to overlook questions of traditional claims to a
culture whereas outsiders are not. This was certainly the case for black and white
performers of the blues in Chicago, where musicians judged one another based on skill,
but tourists judged a club on the basis of the performers’ race (Grazian 2004). Yet,
regarding the question of who has the right to be a culture bearer for the blues, Joel
Rudinow claims that only black Americans are capable of expressing themselves in this
medium. He adds, "the meaning of the blues is deep, hidden, and accessible only to those
with an adequate grasp of the historically unique experience of the African American
community" (Rudinow 1994:132). According to this position, even if a non-African
American individual empathizes with the style, their playing will be inauthentic because
they lack lived experience in that community (ibid). However, not all scholars of the
blues have accepted Rudinow’s argument. Paul Taylor directly addresses Rudinow's
Black Blues Authenticity Thesis (BBA), objecting to his position on the grounds that
"[Rudinow] paints much too simplistic a picture of the blues idiom as a racialized cultural
space and of the subjectivities that occupy it" (Taylor 1995:313). Taylor feels the BBA
thesis can best be viewed as a statement made by audiences rather than performers, which
supports Grazian’s findings. Taylor is preoccupied with the idea of "moral response to
racial projects" and believes a white performer can indeed be authentic if he or she is
capable of witnessing to the moral pain the blues takes as its thematic starting point
(Taylor 1995:115). This is similar to white capoeiristas who identify with the plight of
Brazilian slaves.
Identifying with the pain of others is frequently used to justify cultural
appropriation. Cheng argues that non-Jewish Caucasians’ perceived lack of ethnicity
68
leads some to envy the victimhood of persecuted Jews (2004:103-118). This persecution,
most often in reference to the Holocaust, is a tragic marker of identity but nonetheless
provides the community with a touchstone for defining who they are. Cheng is
suggesting not that anyone could envy the experience, but they may envy the rallying
point that the experience provides to the Jewish Diaspora. The same might be said for
some individuals who align themselves with arts from the African Diaspora, which are
often salient reminders of the abuses suffered by African slaves.
The value capoeiristas attribute to visiting Bahia, the original cultural context of
capoeira, underscores the importance of place as a form of cultural capital. However,
place and race are often difficult to separate. For some scholars and audiences the
confluence of class and place represented by the ‘ghetto’ is a more powerful marker of
authenticity in hip hop than is race (Harrison 2008:1790), though we should remember
that the ghetto is often coterminous with blackness. Nationality in general may become
an important marker of place. Non-Brazilian capoeiristas may achieve high levels of
competence in performance but in the marketplace being Brazilian adds value to a
teacher’s product. Being Afro-Brazilian is even more valuable.
Genealogy, or lineage, is another traditional factor that may be used to bolster
one’s claim to authenticity. Speaking of the blues, Rudinow characterizes authenticity as
"the kind of credibility that comes from having the appropriate relationship to an original
source" (Rudinow 1994:129). Lineage is a ready-made way for artists to prove that they
are naturally authentic by virtue of their connections within the field, whether these
connections are biological or apprenticeship-based. Dr. Dre’s mentorship legitimized
Eminem’s presence in the rap community and facilitated his rise to prominence despite
69
his authenticity being frequently questioned because he is white (Armstrong 2004:338).
Being inducted into Dr. Dre’s artistic lineage moderates concerns about Eminem’s race.
However, it is difficult to clearly define the degree to which a lineage may be
considered a commodity. Biological kinship is noncommoditized; the cumulative weight
of one’s natural ties to the group determines their position in the kinship. Lineage, on the
other hand, may have an economic dimension. Dowries, for example, may determine
whether or not one is admitted into a lineage. Apprenticeship lineages are often
predicated upon a monetary relationship, paying for educational opportunities, but are
traditional in the sense that they become an inalienable part of the individual’s history
and changing lineages is fraught with difficulties.
Although Peterson argues that inherent qualities provide the simplest route to
authenticity (Peterson 2005:1086), traditional claims to authenticity are not always
sufficient in and of themselves to guarantee authenticity. For instance, Lindholm claims
that “ [although] soft-shell country music can make the same claim to genealogical
authenticity as hard-core, it does not appear to be as intensely lived or personal in its
expression, and so is perceived as less genuine in its realization” (Lindholm 2008:34).
This example shows that there is not necessarily a direct correlation between traditional
forms of cultural capital and authenticity. According to Jensen, it is common for country
music fans to judge authenticity not on the basis of instrumental composition or
performance styles, but by a ‘feel’ and “[t]he use of this ‘feeling’ allows the performer to
claim country roots, sincerity, and loyalty without necessarily having rural origins or a
traditional sound” (Jensen 1998:134). In this case, something in the performer’s
comportment convinces audiences of his or her sincerity. When looking at a local scene
70
where individuals know one another personally, like Australian hip hoppers (see Harrison
2008:1794) or gospel singers (see Johnson 2003), charisma may be a more important
element of legitimacy than race or class-based affiliations.
Case
Study:
An
Australian
Choir
that
Lacks
Traditional
Cultural
Capital
Members of the white, atheist, Australian, gospel choir studied by Patrick Johnson
(2003) are similar to white capoeiristas who use their imagined affinity with a
marginalized group to justify their participation in an appropriated genre. Like some
white capoeiristas, the choir members reinterpret the burden of slavery to fit their
quotidian experiences. Whereas much of the Southern black gospel tradition has grown
out of the traumatic history of slavery, white Australians have no personal experience
with this legacy. Rather than drawing a clear distinction between themselves as
inheritors of a privileged position and American blacks for whom racism continues to be
a salient issue, they cast freedom from slavery as a metaphor for finding freedom from
other burdens (Johnson 2003:180). Other members of the choir actually position
themselves alongside American blacks because the British oppressed and criminalized
their own ancestors (ibid:181). However, both groups attribute the genesis of this form to
the traditions of slavery and racism. While choir members profess a deep respect for this
history, as Johnson claims, they view it in an uncomplicated light, which prevents them
from understanding the experiential weight of gospel music (ibid:186). Similarly, foreign
capoeiristas often reduce the persecution of capoeira to oversimplified platitudes.
Such simplifications open capoeiristas to the critique that they are inauthentic
because they lack the lived experience that would make them authentic. Similarly,
71
Johnson admits that as a black man, he had reservations about granting the Australian
choir authenticity (Johnson 2003:162). Johnson credits them with developing a “black”
sound and achieving “the ethos of a black devotional service,” meaning that they had
embodied the traditional sentiment of the tradition to such an extent that it’s performance
appeared natural. Johnson was impressed, but unwilling to declare their authenticity.
While acknowledging their mastery of the sound and the gospel idiom, he felt they had
yet to find an authentic voice (ibid:163). An expat American black woman living in
Sydney acknowledged the group but similarly denounced their authenticity because they
did not have the lived experience to support their singing (ibid:196). Despite mastering
the emotion and aesthetics of the genre, the choir’s lack of traditional cultural capital
weakened their claims to authenticity.
In the absence of traditional cultural capital, imaginative work can stretch the
boundaries of belonging. One of the more interesting observations Johnson makes in his
study of the white Australian gospel choir is the inner monologue that goes on during
performances. Some members of the choir, such as the atheists or the Jewish members,
cannot commit with conviction to the lyrics of the songs they sing. In these cases, the
performers reinvent the meaning of the songs for themselves and cast Christianity as a
metaphor for good, spiritual living (see Johnson 2003:168-173). While the choir’s
performance at first seems to lack the conviction of lived experience that Johnson deems
necessary for authentic gospel singing, this reinterpretation of lyrics actually creates a
sense of conviction for individual performers. What remains unanswered is whether
performance of this religious conviction is in any way tied to blackness.
72
Though singing in the choir is a way individuals express their existential
authenticity, their lack of traditional cultural capital motivates them to augment their
legitimacy through apprenticeship pilgrimage. Johnson reminds his readers that the
intention of the choir was never to sound “black” but to use African American gospel as a
jumping off point for creating their own unique performance style (Johnson 2003:168).29
Despite this disclaimer, several of the choir members have travelled to the United States
“to experience the ‘real’ thing so that they could sound better” (ibid:168). This
pilgrimage is akin to what we see with foreign capoeiristas journeying to Bahia to
improve their game. In both cases, existential authenticity motivates them to deepen their
experience with the culture that originated the form. This pilgrimage is necessary, in
part, because they lack traditional claims to authenticity.
The choir group tours the United States biannually, seeking experiences that will
help them develop their own authentic voice (Johnson 2003:168). When Australian choir
members return from their pilgrimages, they may try to seek out similar religious
environments in Australia but often wind up frustrated as there is no equivalent
institution to feed their emotional desires (Johnson 2003:174). These pilgrims
romanticize the Southern black churches, believing that they are more welcoming than
the Anglican congregations with which most are familiar. They also believe that song in
black churches is a natural extension of the both black culture and true religious
sentiment (ibid). In short, the choir members idealize the integration of culture and
religion, finding it to be a preferable alternative to the highly compartmentalized nature
of Australian life. They recognize how integral gospel singing is to African American
29
Though the Australian context is quite different from that of the United States, this sounds similar to how
white Americans have appropriated African American culture in the creation of jazz, rock n’ roll and other
forms. 73
black churchgoers’ identities, which echoes many American capoeiristas’ idealization of
the role of capoeira in Brazilians’ lives. However, the accuracy of their assessments is
debatable, and their romanticism often biases their conclusions.
When individuals lack traditional cultural capital, experiencing the cultural
context through pilgrimage helps them move beyond mere mimicking of the art.
Displays of verbal and bodily catharsis are common in American black churches whereas
Australian audiences are inhibited in their reactions and only tentatively provide the
responses called for by the black aesthetic (Johnson 2003:187). Experiencing this
context was why the choir needed to travel as a whole to the United States. They felt that
“experiencing the music in its ‘original’ context would help them both better to
understand and to perform the music” (ibid:188). In interviews, various members told
Johnson that they felt they were merely mimicking the music and needed the experience
of witnessing gospel music in its original context in order to really understand it (ibid).
The singers recognized that pilgrimage would be an essential part of their learning
experience. Johnson puts it well when he says “one has to ‘go there to know there,’ for
without that contextual experience one cannot truly ‘understand’ gospel music and that
lack of understanding affects one’s performance” (ibid:189). Though Johnson sees this
pilgrimage in search of authenticity as a misguided one because of its oversimplification
(ibid:190), pilgrimage nonetheless remains an ideal for Australian performers. Charismatic Claims to Authenticity
For those of us who study performance, it is often difficult to define the qualities
that make a performance successful. However, Anya Royce (2004) has eloquently
articulated the competencies that differentiate a virtuosic performance from one that
74
exhibits artistry (see Chapter 7). Upon meeting a capoeira pilgrim, I have a sense of
whether or not they will be able to gain legitimacy, but I find it challenging to articulate
what factors play into my assessment. Weber’s use of the term charisma referred to
divinely bestowed qualities, but I refute the idea that there is anything mystical about
charisma. I define charisma as the non-commodifiable proclivities of an individual that
facilitate their acceptance into a group. Enactment of these proclivities may involve
economic exchanges such as paying for Portuguese lessons, but these impulses and
commitments are not commodifiable.
Charisma can be operationalized for particular social fields based on ethnographic
engagement with the community. For example, a non-Syrian performer associated with
an internationally touring Syrian musical group converted to Islam as a way of deepening
his commitment to the musical style. Within this social field, the non-Syrian performer
"could not master the music without going native" (Shannon 2003:272). By
strengthening his connection to the religion, however, he increased his authenticity as a
performer. For my purposes, I have divided charisma into five different components
based on my domestic and international fieldwork with capoeiristas: attitude, speaking
Portuguese, capoeira travel, volunteerism and skill (see Chapter 5). Exhibiting these
qualities helps leverage an individual into a more central place in the local scene, which
has ramifications for their legitimacy.
This type of authenticity work requires a significant amount of initiative on the
part of the individual. Peterson calls this type of work “inventive” or “elastic”
(2005:1087), an apt characterization because it stretches the boundaries of the social field
to incorporate people other than direct inheritors who are rich in traditional claims to
75
authenticity. Throughout the extant literature on authenticity and cultural appropriation,
charismatic factors like attitude are cited as routes to legitimacy. For both Potter (1995)
and White (1996), who write about race and hip hop, white performers and audiences are
granted legitimacy on the basis of their attitudes, not their inherent physical
characteristics (Harrison 2008:1790).
Final authorization, though, depends upon the community that has defined the
standard of legitimacy. Speaking of an Australian choir member who reluctantly sang in
a New Orleans black church, Johnson says:
Ultimately, Judy’s sounding like ‘someone on their deathbead’ was not the point. Rather,
the fact that the subjects sanctioned her performance of their culture is what transformed
her relationship to and with the Other, what made her ‘feel like [she was] in Heaven
(Johnson 2003:212).
In other words, it was not her skill or lack thereof that legitimized her performance but
acceptance from the local community. Why exactly the local community was so willing
to accept her is not thoroughly addressed, though in some part it may be due to her
humility, her willingness to perform despite her reservations, or her gracious adoration of
their musical idiom: in short, her attitude.
In some cases, charismatic claims to authenticity are necessary because the
market is flooded with forgeries. When objective standards of authenticity are
questionable or untenable, “the cult of personality is more rampant than ever” (Lindholm
2008:24). The self-graduation of capoeira mestres is a case in point. Countless
capoeiristas with varying degree of skill and knowledge have gone abroad and
established themselves as instructors, claiming to be mestres (see Chapter 1). The
prevalence of these instructors who lack accreditation has cheapened the title of mestre,
76
making their personal qualities, or charismatic claims to authenticity, just as important as
their purported descent.
Norman Urquía (2004) presents an interesting case in which traditional claims to
authenticity used to trump charismatic claims, but the rules of the game were rearranged
to favor a different demographic. Urquía uses Bourdieu’s work as a theoretical lens for
studying salsa clubs in London. In this study, Urquía comes closer than any other
theorist to providing us with a model for systematically digging into the concrete
components that are used to claim legitimacy within a very specific social field (Urquía
2004). His work asks why Latinos have been sidelined in clubs of their own making in
favor of local dancers who have learned salsa in local dance studios. Urquía identifies
three strategies that local dancers use to claim authenticity in this performance genre: 1)
dancers claim existential authenticity, arguing that salsa ‘fits’ them and their values, 2)
dancers who claim ethnicity outside of the British Isles use their status of being outsiders
to assert a sense of camaraderie with Latinos, and 3) dancers “[justify] their connection to
salsa [by focusing] purely on the dance” (Urquía 2004:99-100). The last option presents
the most interesting case for understanding the negotiation of authenticity, particularly
with respect to charismatic claims to authenticity.
Within this scene, dancers who prefer the compact style of Latino salsa come into
conflict with flashier dancers who add high numbers of spins and flourishes to the dance.
The latter draw inspiration from various North American innovations like the “New York
on 2” style. Proponents of the Latino style are paying homage to the traditional origins of
salsa whereas advocates of the flashier style argue that it still has the ‘feel’ of salsa.30
30
This
offers nice points of continuity with the two-category typology of authenticity set out by Lindholm
(2008, discussed above). 77
Privileging the traditional origins of salsa creates a situation in which ethnicity will be the
most highly prized indicator of authenticity, but arguing that authentic salsa is any dance
with the right ‘feel’ redefines authenticity to include local dancers without traditional ties
to Latin America (Urquía 2004:102).
Though the exact mechanism by which this has occurred is not fully articulated,
Urquía argues that by shifting the emphasis from a traditional Latino aesthetic to the
flashier style exhibited in North America, “[t]he dominant aesthetic [became]
demonstrating a repertoire of dance moves rather than resonating with the dance’s ethnic
associations” (ibid:103). Situating salsa in the local rather than looking to a global
standard gave London club-goers a sense of ownership over the form. Drawing on
Bourdieu’s concepts of cultural and social capital, Urquía argues that in order for dancers
to thrive in this scene, “people need to perform compatible dances (displays of cultural
capital) acquired in dance classes”, which then “becomes translated into social standing
or social capital” (ibid:103). By performing the dances they have learned in academies,
dancers exhibit their commitment to perfecting the form. Commitment is a manifestation
of their charisma and contributes to their standing within the redefined social field.
In order to maintain this social capital, dancers must choose partners who are their
equals or better in terms of skill (ibid). Skilled dancers often resented beginners and
refused to dance with them (ibid). Here resentment is less about their lack of skill and
more about their lack of cultural capital. Because the more skilled dancer is forced to
meet the beginner at his or her level, the more advanced dancer’s opportunities to display
his or her cultural capital are limited. Likewise, foreign capoeiristas with a high degree
of skill were sometimes visibly annoyed with having to play a lower level player (see
78
Chapter 5). In part this is because they learn more when playing with a more advanced
capoeirista, but as Urquía’s analysis of salsa suggests, it is also possible that they resent a
lost opportunity to display their cultural capital. Urquía argues further that “social capital
can be shared” and dancing with a high status individual can raise your own status
whereas dancing with a low status individual can deplete your status (ibid:105).
Assuming that non-Brazilian capoeiristas are in the most tenuous position within this
social field, it makes sense that they would be most aware of the potential for status
depletion and would avoid and possibly resent playing with beginners. By way of
contrast, “Those rich in social capital don’t need to show off, and they receive praise
even when they simply clown around” (ibid:107). This would explain why Brazilian
capoeiristas at the Fundação Internacional de Capoeira Angola, a highly regarded
academy, were willing to play with beginners at their level, rarely showing frustration or
resentment at naïveté.
Remarkably, the value system for determining authenticity in this global art form
has been completely reworked to benefit the local stakeholders. Urquía concludes that, in
the London salsa scene, adhering to “the dominant aesthetic provided the best rate of
conversion of cultural capital into social and symbolic capital” (ibid:110). This once
meant adhering to the compact Latino style of dancing, but because this favored ethnic
claims to authenticity, local dancers shifted their focus to a North American style, which
was easier for them to appropriate and construe as a local style. Now the dominant
aesthetic “sets up a meritocracy” that rewards technical prowess and creates incentives
for dancers to study salsa in dance studios, which also discriminates against those who
cannot spare the time or money to take classes (ibid). Urquía’s case study shows that
79
fields can be inverted, and this may be a worst-case scenario for some Brazilian
capoeristas who do fear its appropriation by foreigners. However, as long as foreign
capoeiristas continue to uphold the form of Brazilian capoeira as the gold standard, their
fears are unlikely to be realized.
Formal-Legal Claims to Authenticity
The final category in my typology of authenticity is formal-legal claims to
authenticity, which function similarly to a contract. The data presented in this work
suggests that Weber’s category can be expanded to include performance genres and oral
traditions. Performers must adhere to the form of the genre in order to be considered
legitimate. However, in genres that privilege creativity, there arises a tension between
innovation and tradition. This is particularly true of arts associated with the African
Diaspora. For example, the authenticity of musical performances has traditionally been
gauged by its fidelity to the original composer's intentions, but because the blues does not
rely heavily on pre-composed scores, the authenticity must be judged according to
stylistic fidelity (Rudinow 1994:129). Similar to Downey’s concerns about capoeira
(personal communication 2009), experimentation and variety within hip hop was
curtailed with the rise of professionalism and commercialism (McLeod 1999:144). While
some of the ‘old school’ rappers lament this loss, they also criticize newer artists for
getting away from the roots of hip hop (ibid). Tradition and innovation are not
necessarily mutually exclusive, but negotiating between the two poles requires finesse
and nuanced understanding of the rules of the game. This has not been adequately
addressed by present studies of performance and authenticity. In particular, a performer
80
must have enough capital from the tradition and charisma categories of this typology in
order for his or her innovations to be authorized and accepted by the community.
Authenticity is context dependent, but it is also subject to change over time as the
social field in which it is embedded changes. Progression within the jazz social field
offers an interesting case of changing standards within the legitimacy hierarchy (see
Peterson 2005:1094). Before World War II, authenticity was associated with race in that
only blacks were believed to have the ability to play jazz with the correct form. With the
rise of the black power movement in the 1960s, discourse within the social field veered
away from discussions of authenticity per se to argue that only black musicians had
ownership of the genre. Today, however, discourse within the field has once again
changed, granting ownership to anyone, regardless of race, that has enough skill to play
jazz properly. In the early period, traditional factors implied the presence of charismatic
factors that led to mastery of a formal standard. In the present period, though, traditional
factors are mostly irrelevant and authenticity rests upon the charismatic factor of skill and
adherence to the formal standard.
Ideas about authenticity are revised over time and can be substantially altered as
particularly charismatic individuals rise to prominence within a social field. Peterson
writes “[o]ver time the continual quest in any field for ‘creative voice’ has the effect of
destabilizing the image of the authentic, so that the idea of authenticity continually
evolves” (Peterson 2005:1093). A particular star may become the template of
authenticity, but copying that example too faithfully implies that the performer lacks
existential authenticity or is not being true to him or herself. Bourdieu’s model of human
behavior generally implies stasis and an overwhelming focus on reproduction. However,
81
a punctuated equilibrium is possible in which charisma allows individuals to make great
leaps in the legitimacy hierarchy, followed by a gradual move within the field as lower
ranking individuals accommodate to this new standard.
The most pressing issue in this model is how individuals move into a position
from which they are authorized to innovate and have their innovations accepted by others
in the social field. This is what Bourdieu’s work left largely unaddressed.31 This is
particularly difficult for foreigners who start from a precarious position within the social
field despite their fervent belief that a practice fits with their personality and identity.
Different kinds of cultural capital circulate in any given social field, and this capital will
be subdivided into two categories in my model: traditional and charismatic. Acquisition
of sufficient capital puts one in a position to claim a legitimate peripheral participation
role, which is similar to apprenticeship. It is through this mechanism that one comes to
embody proper form, which acts as a centripetal force, moving one to a more central
location of the social field. The more central one is to his or her social field, the more
likely it is that his or her innovations will be authorized.
Legitimate peripheral participation is the traditional method of learning capoeira,
but it became untenable for the majority of students in the face of widespread demand for
instruction. The close, personal relationship between master and apprentice, however, is
observable among students who have artfully deployed their capital and claimed such a
status. For example, Iuri Santos, a Brazilian capoeirista now teaching in the United
States, consistently demonstrated his dedication to capoeira. His teacher rewarded him
31
Because
Bourdieu
was
focusing
on
issues
of
class
in
a
social
context
where
these
boundaries
were
firmly
entrenched,
he
did
not
account
for
individuals
ascending
through
this
hierarchy
in
any
real
way.
Rather,
he
focused
on
the
reproduction
of
power
and
the
redefinition
of
language
games
to
favor
those
already
in
power.
82
by taking him to visit people and places that would be largely inaccessible to less
dedicated students. Likewise, a teacher at the Fundação Internacional de Capoeira
Angola said that when foreigners come to the academy, take a class, and leave without
even saying goodbye, he intentionally withholds knowledge from them. For those
capoeiristas, foreign or Brazilian, who achieve a legitimate peripheral participation role,
mastery of form and gradual advancement to full participation within the community of
practice is greatly facilitated.
Conclusion
Capoeiristas have established a socio-ethnic hierarchy that is the reverse of mainstream
Canadian society. Those with the darkest skin, lowest income, newest immigrant status,
and best capoeira skills are at the top, whereas white-skinned, multi-generation
Canadian neophytes occupy the bottom level (Joseph 2006:51).
Although ‘authenticity’ features prominently in capoeiristas’ discourse, it is a
value judgment, which is subjective and hard to define. This creates much of the
confusion in academia over this term and the temptation to disregard the concept entirely.
Approaching a contested performance or genre such as capoeira from the position of
legitimacy and authority within an economy of authenticity, on the other hand, better
equips us to say why particular notions of authenticity become dominant and how one
goes about claiming that status. The currencies involved in this economy of authenticity
can be classified into three categories based on Max Weber’s typology of authoritative
leadership: tradition, charisma, and formal-legal rationality with the additional affective
dimension of existential authenticity, which is what drives people to argue their
authenticity in the first place.
Each of the four categories in my typology matter, but are weighted differently by
different audiences. Existential authenticity matters most to the individual, who is
83
looking for a ‘fit’ between their elective practices and their sense of self. With some
exceptions, traditional claims to authenticity are most salient for outsiders who evaluate
group membership in terms of stereotypes, such as tourists’ evaluations of authentic blues
clubs (Grazian 2004). Charismatic claims to authenticity carry weight for specific, moreor-less bounded groups like a particular school/academy where members know one
another and judge each other on their personality and achieved attributes. Formal claims
to authenticity matter most to the community of practice or social field, which is
structured around common values. However, social fields are too large for members to
know one another personally so judgments are made based on individuals’ adherence to
common standards. Aside from their importance to specific audiences, we can posit a
relationship between these four categories (see Figure 2 below). Figure
2
Theoretical
Model
for
Claiming
Legitimacy
84
Existential authenticity motivates individuals to seek legitimacy in the community
of practice. Their conviction that this practice ‘fits’ with their identity and sense of self
makes others’ validation of their legitimacy imperative. Pursuit of legitimacy leads them
to accumulate cultural capital in the shape of traditional and charismatic claims to
authenticity. However, even with these markers, legitimacy in the eyes of the social field
at large may be withheld unless they can master the form. In the case of capoeira, this
requires socially sanctioned performance of proper technique in the setting of the roda.
Learning the nuanced expectations of performance is best done through legitimate
peripheral participation. Traditional and charismatic claims to authenticity give
individuals enough capital to enter into this type of learning role.
Chapters Four through Six explicitly apply this model to the case of capoeira. In
Chapter Four, I show that many of a capoeirista’s inherent qualities such as his or her
claim to race, nationality, region of origin and capoeira lineage fall under the rubric of
tradition, which “bestows legitimacy by default” (Weber and Heydebrand 1994:xi).
Blackness, brasilidade (Brazilianness), being from Bahia and being able to trace one’s
lineage to one of two founding fathers are qualities that consistently remain at the top of
the capoeira hierarchy. Personal achievements that evidence an individual’s
uncommodifiable disposition such as completion of a capoeira pilgrimage, domestic
capoeira travel, volunteerism in Brazil, learning to speak Portuguese, and general attitude
are subsumed under the category of charisma. While these are not divinely bestowed
qualities in the way Weber conceptualized charismatic legitimacy, they are indicative of
an individual having extraordinary characteristics. These issues are taken up in Chapter
Five. In Chapter Six, I explore formal-legal rationality, which demonstrates legitimacy to
85
the capoeira social field at large. This category refers to legitimacy that is generated by
adherence to “a relatively autonomous system of rules and abstract concepts” (ibid:xii).
At this juncture, my research provides a critical corrective to Weber’s work by showing
that form contains this system of rules in performance genres much like a contract does in
bureaucracy. To achieve this type of legitimacy, capoeiristas must demonstrate their
ability to execute proper form; however, with a genre that is ever changing due in part to
the inherent instability of performance and the lack of written rules/guidelines32, this risks
becoming a tautology. Bourdieu shows us that the individuals with the most authority are
in the position to establish what is considered proper form, maintaining their position of
power. Incorporating Lave and Wenger’s idea of legitimate peripheral participation
(1991), however, suggests the mechanism by which novices move to a more central
position within the social field from which they can shape the field and subvert the
tautology. 32
There
has
been
at
least
one
attempt
in
recent
years
to
codify
capoeira
and
bring
it
under
the
jurisdiction
of
an
overriding
body,
but
this
failed
to
gain
a
following
among
capoeiristas.
However,
some
capoeiristas
continue
to
claim
that
capoeira
should
become
an
Olympic
sport.
The
intensity
of
this
debate
is
likely
to
increase
leading
up
to
the
2012
games
to
be
hosted
in
Rio
de
Janeiro.
86
Chapter
3‐
Methodology,
Location,
and
Study
Participants
I was a little nervous as I packed my bag that first morning. Camera? Check.
Notebook? Check. Uniform? I had that too, though I hoped not to need it. I was told to
meet the Estrela do Norte group outside of the FICA academy at 9:30am. Well, I made
it, but none of my fellow Hoosiers were there. I was on my own, negotiating my first
interactions with the students of FICA Bahia. Was there a single Brazilian among this
group? I really wasn’t sure. Was that Japanese guy from São Paulo or Tokyo? I talked
to the highest ranking person I could find, hoping to explain my predicament and find a
quiet corner to cower in until my group arrived and I could be properly introduced. No
such luck.
Tem roupa?
Tenho, sim.
Pode trocar a roupa lá. Fica á vontage33.
Well that settled it, I had clothes and I was expected to get dressed and join the group.
Okay, this might be all right I thought. Sure the uniforms are different, the people are
sure different, but it’s the same martial art. Right? Same instruments, same songs, same
movements. Well, maybe not exactly. This was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
I knew they would be good but had no idea how different their style of capoeira would
be from mine. What am I doing here? I thought about trying to slip out unnoticed, but
by this point my group had arrived. The fact that our teacher, Iuri, joined the circle while
33
This
interaction
loosely
translates
as:
“Do
you
have
clothes?”
“I
do,
yes.”
“You
can
change
clothes
over
there.
Make
yourself
at
home.”
87
Julie and Leandro remained outside observing in their street clothes did little to calm my
nerves, but I saw no way out. I was going to have to go through with it.
Afterwards, I thought, that wasn’t really so bad. Sure, I was horribly outmatched,
but I survived my first FICA roda, escaping without a mark. Wait, what’s this? Why is
everyone looking at me? Why is the mestre headed this way? A kiss on the hand and I
am being led back into the roda. Que droga, I thought, this is not going to be good. A
short song praising my mestre; was this sincere or sarcastic, the art of malícia? No time
to analyze, time to focus on the kick coming at my head. Judging from the smirk on his
face, that was not the right defense. Why am I lying on the floor? How did this happen?
This lump in my throat is a familiar feeling; I know what comes next. Please take mercy
on me before I completely lose my composure. The game is over, and I exit as gracefully
as possible thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding me. THIS is the group I’m going to be
working with? The study I’m hoping will launch my career?” At the moment I was
nearly paralyzed with fear, and the thought of abandoning my research agenda crossed
my mind more times than I would like to admit. However, when the first sting of
humiliation wore off, I realized I had at least made a memorable entrance into this
community. It was time to get to work.
Methodology
My methodology for this project is two-tiered. The domestic phase of my
research can be considered an exploratory phase. I recorded my experiences in detailed
field notes, which were later subjected to inductive analysis. This allowed me to develop
a grounded theory about my data and operationalize the three categories of my model that
correspond to Weber’s typology. The eleven most important themes that emerged during
88
this inductive phase became the eleven qualities I explored in my international fieldwork.
I recorded my experiences of participant-observation during this secondary phase in
detailed field notes, which were then coded and analyzed deductively. These same
categories were the primary focus of my interviews, discussed below.
This study investigates not only capoeiristas’ experiences as they vie for
legitimacy in a foreign field, but also establishes a basic framework for further
developing my theoretical premise, economies of authenticity. As Almeida says of
capoeiristas:
To live the Capoeira philosophy requires sweat, mental discipline, sometimes pain, and
always the magical experience of kneeling under the berimbau…One must feel the
philosophy from inside out because only his or her personal participation will make it
real (Almeida 1986:7).
I can speak of this phenomenon because I have experienced it personally “from the inside
out.” I can offer a robust view of this phenomenon because of my intensive participantobservation fieldwork. Increasingly, reflexive ethnographers teach us that “learning
through practice involves not simply mimicking other’s but creating one’s own emplaced
skill and knowing in ways that are acceptable to others” (Pink 2009:36). An important
component of learning, either as a student or as an ethnographer, is coming to embody
practice in a culturally sanctioned way. Through our hallmark methodology of
participant observation, anthropologists have consistently addressed how people know
the things they do. However, the reflexive turn in anthropology that began in the 1980s
called our attention to the ethnographer’s role in the production of texts. It was this
development that led to an increased focus on the ethnographer’s senses as a
methodology (Pink 2009:14).
89
Merleau-Ponty laid the groundwork for much of this work through his focus on
the body in the act of perception. This perspective encourages us to see beyond the
visual, pun intended. That we perceive the world through five distinct senses is not a
universal truth, but one “folk model” among others (Pink 2009:51). Nearly five years of
participant-observation fieldwork in both Brazil and the United States afforded me an
entrance into this community that might otherwise have been difficult to access and
inducted me into a bodily understanding of capoeiristas’ practice. Additionally, my
training as a performance specialist has placed me in a position to critically consider the
data gained in interview sessions regarding capoeira performances.
Theoretical
Orientation
to
Research
Methods
Participant observation is a good complement to other qualitative techniques like
interviewing. Embodied dimensions of behavior are often obscured in conversations but
displayed and experienced in practice (Pink 2009:84). Because participant-observation
fieldwork has become the hallmark of anthropology, one is tempted to gloss over the
messiness with disciplinary jargon. My participant observation was not as simple as
taking classes and writing notes. I was actually engaged in apprenticeship, becoming
more like my study subjects with each subsequent class as the mestre attempted to break
my body of its old habits. Metacognition is essential to making sense out of such an
experience. As Pink writes
Learning through apprenticeship requires an emplaced engagement with the practices
and identities that one seeks to understand. This involves a reflexivity and selfconsciousness about this learning process, establishing connections between sensory
experience, specific sensory categories and philosophical, moral and other value-laden
discourses (and the power relations and political processes to which they might be
connected), and creating relationships between these and theoretical scholarship (Pink
2009:72).
90
In a project such as mine that involves direct and extensive participation in the very
activity that I study, the necessity of using the body as a research tool gives tangible
reality to theory. Throughout the long process of learning capoeira, my physical and
theoretical orientations to the world have changed.
Conducting this research in an urban setting was an additional challenge. What I
wouldn’t have given to keep all my interview subjects herded together! Instead, after
classes and weekly rodas, they scattered into a sea of almost three million people. As we
dispersed towards our various bus stops one day, I realized just how unique the nature of
community is for an urban anthropologist. Again, it caused me to rethink how I defined
‘the field.’ This fieldwork experience was not exactly what I thought it would be. And
while I was happy to find far fewer bugs than I had feared, it also seemed less romantic
and dare I say “exotic” than I had imagined. In fact, sometimes life in the field was a
little too familiar. It was a little like the freshman year of college: trying to navigate
unfamiliar terrain, learning to live without a car, meeting new people, and gossiping
about our peers’ bed-hopping and hangovers. Despite the seriousness of their training,
my study population exists in a liminal state, caught between two or more very different
worlds, and I was stuck right alongside them. It was often difficult for me to define
myself in relation to them. I took a headcount as we stretched out on the beach one day:
four Russians, three Americans, two Thai and an Israeli. Were we really very different?
Yes and no. We were all young cosmopolitan adults comfortable travelling
internationally and encountering cultural difference, yet we were firmly connected to the
local habits of our homelands. This completely confounded my notion of the Other.
91
I am not alone in this confusion. E. Patrick Johnson found that his multiple
identities influenced his performance as a fieldworker to the point where he could hardly
separate himself from the activities occurring around him. He writes:
The multiple identities I performed- black, middle class, southern, gay, male, professorinfluenced my ethnographic experience as/of the Other. Therefore, I construe my
ethnographic practice as an ‘impure’ process- as a performance. Moreover, rather than
fix my informants as static objects, naively claim ideological innocence, or engage in the
false positivist ‘me/them’ binary, I foreground my ‘coauthorship,’ as it were, of the
ethnographic texts produced in this volume, for I was as integral to the performance/textmaking process as were my informants (Johnson 2003:10).
As a white North American anthropologist and capoeirista, I was constantly slipping
between insider and outsider status. Playing the part of a detached observer would have
been nearly impossible given the fact that the local Brazilians saw me as no different
from the other foreigners that swarmed their academy. Perhaps, as Charles Lindholm has
suggested, the conflicting identities of an anthropologist predisposes us to ask questions
about authenticity (Lindholm 2008:141). Never was this more relevant to me than when
Mestre Valmir told me it was good for capoeiristas to be involved in this kind of
academic research because otherwise the academy would not be interested in capoeira.
With cheeks burning I wondered if I should admit that my academic interest in capoeira
predated my actual practice. Not sure if this would change my in-group status, I kept that
to myself. Even if it had been possible to pose as the detached observer, it would have
been isolating and dehumanizing. Given these circumstances, I embraced my role in the
co-construction of foreigner discourse about the capoeira experience. I use the thirdperson plural throughout this work consciously to draw attention to this co-construction.
Like other ethnographers of whom Pink writes, I “[became] at the same time a
constituent of place (one of those things brought together through, or entangled in, a
place-event) and an agent in its production” (Pink 2009:64). Ethnographers are always
92
implicated in the collaborative process of creating meaning by entering and changing the
communities in which we work.
Domestic
Fieldwork
I first encountered capoeira with the Austin, Texas branch of the Fundação
Internacional de Capoeira Angola (FICA). FICA is one of the largest and most well
known Capoeira Angola franchises.34 Mestre Cobra Mansa, the figurehead of FICA,
founded the organization after breaking away from his own mestre, Mestre Moraes of the
Grupo Capoeira Angola de Pelourinho (GCAP). Mestre Cobra Mansa is Brazilian and
also holds American citizenship because of his status as an international cultural figure.
He is officially based out of Washington D.C., but spends a large percentage of his time
traveling around the world teaching workshops. He also spends several months of the
year in Brazil overseeing his charitable institution, Kilombo Tenonde, through which he
teaches urban youth about native ecology and permaculture. The official headquarters of
FICA may be in Washington D.C., but the symbolic heart of FICA is located in Salvador
da Bahia under the direction of Mestre Valmir. There are also satellite groups located
throughout South America, North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.
Groups worldwide defer to Cobra Mansa’s authority, yet he encourages each
group to develop according to their own spirit, respecting cultural differences that are
deeply rooted among his diverse body of students. Capoeira historian Gerard Taylor said
that FICA “provides a model for a democratically run group, and manages to maintain a
34
The
term
“franchise”
is
not
widely
used
in
the
capoeira
community
but
is
used
here
to
refer
to
capoeira
organizations
with
one
flagship
group,
normally
located
in
Brazil,
and
several
satellite
groups
located
throughout
Brazil
or
the
rest
of
the
world.
These
satellite
groups
sometimes,
but
not
always,
pay
dues
or
royalties
to
the
flagship
group,
regularly
visit
the
flagship
group,
or
fundraise
on
behalf
of
the
flagship
group,
which
is
often
economically
disadvantaged
relative
to
the
satellite
groups,
especially
in
the
case
of
international
franchises.
93
balance between being open (that is, listening to what participants think is important),
and at the same time being traditional in the sense of holding to Capoeira Angola rituals
and that Cobra Mansa is clearly the mestre of the group” (Taylor 2005b:213). Mestre
Cobra Mansa gives each branch of the organization considerable latitude to determine
their own direction, but no one questions his authority. Throughout this work, I indicate
which branch of the FICA organization I am discussing by following the FICA
abbreviation with a city name (i.e. FICA Stockholm). However, because FICA Bahia is
my primary referent for this work, it is often simply referred to as FICA.
My fieldwork for this project officially began in January of 2005 when I joined
the Estrela do Norte capoeira group in Bloomington, Indiana. Estrela do Norte was
originally established as a satellite chapter of Grupo Acupe. The latter is based in
Salvador da Bahia, Brazil and is headed by Mestre Marrom who is a former student of
Mestre João Pequeno. Estrela do Norte severed ties with Mestre Marrom in October of
2006 after disputes regarding the management of funds and other ideological disputes.
The leader of this group is Mestre35 Iuri Santos, who moved from Brazil to Bloomington,
IN in 1998. While the present work deals only tangentially with Estrela do Norte, my
entrance into the capoeira community was profoundly shaped by members of this group,
35
The
term
mestre
means
master,
and
contra­mestre
is
one
step
below
mestre.
In
contemporary
practice,
it
is
generally
accepted
that
a
contra­mestre
must
have
his
(or
her)
mestre’s
blessing
before
adopting
the
title
of
mestre.
However,
there
are
some
notable
exceptions
to
this
rule.
Because
Iuri
Santos
no
longer
maintains
ties
to
his
mestre,
it
was
unclear
whether
or
not
he
would
be
able
to
advance
beyond
the
level
of
contra‐mestre
despite
his
great
skill
in
playing
and
teaching
capoeira.
He
could
have
initiated
a
relationship
with
a
different
mestre,
but
this
might
involve
unwanted
obligations
or
cause
tension
between
his
new
mestre
and
Mestre
Marrom.
In
similar
cases,
some
capoeiristas
have
claimed
the
mestre
title
for
themselves
based
solely
on
the
approval
of
the
capoeira
community.
This
was
the
case
with
the
leaders
of
the
Nzinga
group
in
Salvador.
Likewise
with
Iuri,
whose
students
call
him
mestre.
Iuri
has
also
been
sought
out
for
his
expertise
as
a
capoeira
mestre
by
local
institutions
like
Traditional
Arts
Indiana.
But
with
the
controversy
surrounding
self‐titled
mestres,
it
remains
to
be
seen
whether
or
not
one
can
use
the
community
as
a
legitimacy
granting
institution
when
they
no
longer
live
and
work
in
Brazil.
Time
will
tell
if
the
Brazilian
capoeira
community
will
recognize
the
promotions
made
by
the
capoeira
community
abroad.
94
Santos in particular. My performance style bears the mark of his instruction. From
January of 2005 through July of 2008 when I officially began my research in Brazil, I
trained with this group two or three times per week and participated in many
performances with them in Bloomington, Indiana and around the greater Indianapolis
area. The members of this group are hungry for information about capoeira and eager to
engage me in academic discourse about my research. My ideas have been profoundly
colored by my experiences with them, and I am continually grateful for their support.
Like both Jensen (1998) and Grazian (2004), my domestic research site was a
welcome respite from the demands of graduate student life. Jensen took refuge at the
Rose Bowl, a honky-tonk in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, and Grazian felt himself drawn
to the local jazz clubs surrounding the University of Chicago. They were both seeking
genuine intimacy that seemed lacking in the ivory tower. Capoeira groups across the
United States attract university students and other intellectuals so I cannot say I felt the
same break between town and gown as I moved to and from our rehearsal space.
However, the commonalities in our respective experiences further solidify my belief that
anthropologists must continue to critically consider what we mean when we talk about
‘the field’ to include activities and spaces within our own communities.
International
Fieldwork
On a preliminary research visit to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil in July of 2005 I
attended training sessions with Grupo Acupe under the leadership of Mestre Marrom.
This academy is well off the beaten path, and most tourists would only visit this academy
if they had a personal connection to the group. As a student of his own protégé, Mestre
Marrom welcomed me graciously into his group for my brief visit, even refusing payment
95
because I was already a paying member of the Indiana branch.36 However, I was not free
from other obligations that come with being a relatively wealthy visitor. For example, he
asked me to take photos of the academy highlighting the deterioration of the building. He
hoped I would use them in grant applications to help him create office space and a library
for his students. Sadly, the aforementioned schism between the two factions prevented us
from collaborating on any such applications. What this experience did lend to my
research, however, was the dual sense of camaraderie and obligation extended by
members of the local group to visiting members from the United States.
During the following summer, 2006, I returned to Salvador da Bahia for a twomonth long feasibility study funded by the Anthropology Department’s Skomp Fund, the
Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS), and an International
Enhancement grant, at Indiana University. As part of this research I visited the legendary
academy of Mestre Curio in the famous Pelourinho district of Salvador. In contrast to my
experience with Mestre Marrom during the previous summer, I was treated as an outsider
and was charged an exorbitant amount for taking class with the well-known teacher. I
also took classes with lesser-known instructors in town and found that teaching such
classes for foreign tourists is a mainstay of their economic stability. In comparing these
two field trips, I concluded that there is a great difference between visiting Bahia as a
member of a satellite group and as a free agent that lacks the proper credentials of group
membership.37
36
Based
on
anecdotal
evidence,
this
situation
is
fairly
uncommon,
and
most
mestres
do
seek
the
financial
benefits
related
to
this
type
of
tourism.
At
the
very
least,
they
expect
foreigners
to
pay
a
nominal
fee
to
take
class,
which
may
be
equal
to
or
more
than
the
amount
their
regular
Brazilian
students
pay.
37
The impoartnce of lineage for the acquisition of legitimacy is discussed in Chapter Four.
96
I began my extended international fieldwork in July of 2008. My arrival
coincided with the visit of three Estrela do Norte members in Salvador. Mestre Iuri
Santos has led a number of such trips for his students since his arrival in Indiana. Past
trips have involved training with Mestre Marrom, visiting other academies, and going on
various touristic excursions. This was the first official group trip under our new title,
which left us at a loss for where to train because our network had been shattered. We
spent several evenings training and attending events at the Pierre Verger Foundation, an
organization that introduces local children to a variety of Afro-Brazilian cultural practices
including capoeira.38 The building also houses a fairly extensive library on AfroBrazilian culture. However, the bulk of the Indiana students’ time was spent touring the
city and taking a weekend excursion to the countryside. Iuri had been planning this
group trip for a year, but we had surprisingly low turnout. Financial concerns as the US
dollar hit an all-time low, combined with tightened visa requirements and overall poor
organization, may be to blame more than a lack of interest among the Indiana students.
The two students accompanying Santos and his family had little idea what to expect,
where they would live, or what their itinerary would be. Though steeped in the history
and lore of capoeira, these students were not provided with much framing of their
experiences as tourists.39
After fifteen days of touring and training with members of the Bloomington
group, I began my official affiliation with FICA Bahia. FICA Bahia maintains an intense
training schedule. Movement classes are offered from 12pm-2pm and from 7pm-9pm on
38
Several
of
the
capoeiristas
affiliated
with
the
foundation
have
their
roots
in
Marrom’s
Grupo
Acupe
but
have
since
parted
ways
with
him
for
similar
reasons.
39
As MacCannell his argued, a lack of framing increases the likelihood that a tourist will experience
disappointment (MacCannell 1976:113). 97
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Many foreign students attend both sessions. In
addition, on Tuesdays and Thursdays there is a one-hour music class from 7pm-8pm
immediately followed by a two-hour movement class from 8pm-10pm. The academy
hosts weekly rodas on Saturdays from 9:30am until roughly 1pm. I spent approximately
fourteen hours per week in the academy between the beginning of August and the end of
December 2008. Interactions, conversations and general observations from these
sessions were recorded in carefully written and coded field notes, which were later
analyzed according to the eleven currencies in my model.
Data
Collection
In addition to participant observation, I conducted twenty-six interviews during
fieldwork. I created a standardized interview schedule in both English, for Englishspeaking capoeira pilgrims, and Portuguese, for Brazilians and for Portuguese-speaking
capoeira pilgrims. The linguistic diversity of this community meant that sometimes I
conducted interviews in a language that was not native for either the interviewee or
myself. This instrument collected basic information on the participant such as
demographics, how long they had trained capoeira, and with whom. I used this interview
as an opportunity to gain information on the individual’s orientation towards Brazilian
culture, particularly a self-assessment of their interactions with the local capoeira
community in Bahia.
The primary focus of this interview was to test my economy of authenticity
model. In these sessions, respondents did a card sort activity, organizing the eleven
currencies described in my model into different categories based on their importance.
The different categories approximate what would be seen on a typical survey using a
98
five-point likert scale: very important,
important, neutral, unimportant and
very unimportant. The currencies we
explored were Capoeira Lineage,
Attitude, Proper Form, Visiting Bahia,
Speaking Portuguese, Skill, Race,
Volunteerism in Brazil, Domestic
Figure
3
Luda
has
just
completed
the
card
sort
activity
and
is
reviewing
her
answers.
Photo
by
author.
Capoeira Travel, Nationality, and
Region of Origin. These currencies
emerged out of my own participant-observation fieldwork in the United States. Their
importance is echoed in other ethnographic accounts of capoeira in Brazil, the United
States and Canada. By having respondents physically sort these currencies into different
categories, rather than just rate the importance of one currency and move on to the next
one, they themselves were able to get a visual sense of how their beliefs about capoeira
are constructed. Based on several casual comments, respondents appreciated the
opportunity to reflect on their experiences in this social field. This methodological
innovation proved fun and instructive for both the researcher and the participants.
Archival research complemented my ethnographic methods. I spent many hours
in the Bíblioteca Pública do Estado da Bahia in the neighborhood of Barris. The
librarians working with the Bahia collections were of great assistance, maintaining a file
of newspaper stories from local papers about capoeira. These stories, mostly from the
past two decades, were invaluable for understanding local perceptions about capoeira.
99
They also provided a material record of various capoeira groups’ interactions with the
community.
Research
Location
Bahia is commonly assumed to be the cradle of capoeira, regardless of historical
information that complicates this oft repeated myth (see Chapter 1). The city stars in the
dreams of foreign capoeiristas who desire immersion in the world of capoeira. These
pilgrims romanticize the city, imagining that capoeira permeates every aspect of social
life. One pilgrim told me he thought it would be like Hollywood with celebrities on
every corner. In reality, however, this city of nearly three million inhabitants is much
like any other city in which most of the residents have jobs, families, and social lives that
do not revolve around capoeira.
This realization can be hard for some
pilgrims who prefer the staged authenticity
of the Pelourinho district, where UNESCO
has restored the quaint pastel-colored
colonial buildings. Here the forlorn twang
of the berimbau really does ring out from
Figure
4
The
colorful
mural
depicts
several
deities
from
the
Afro­Brazilian
religion
Candomble.
Photo
by
author.
every corner and every trinket shop.
Pelourinho, however, is also populated by
the poor, hungry, and criminal elements of society, throwing the haves and have-nots into
stark contrast with one another. Thus, Bahia, and particularly Pelourinho, is an ideal site
for investigating the negotiations between foreigners and Brazilians who together
comprise the imagined community of capoeira.
100
The FICA Bahia academy is located on the fifth floor of a commercial building on
Rua Carlos Gomez, a main street connecting the historic Pelourinho area to the more
affluent neighborhoods of Campo Grande, Vitoria and Barra. This is the area known as
the Centro, which has unfortunately been described by some Salvador residents as “a
crack den” and this street in particular is known for muggings. It is adjacent to the area
known as “Dois de Julio,” which boasts one other capoeira academy, ACANNE, as well
as fruit and flower stands, butcher shops, and kiosks selling traditional herbs and
religious paraphernalia. On most days capoeiristas can take an elevator up to the
academy; however, a bit too frequently, the broken elevator sign means a hefty climb and
a good cardiovascular warm-up before class.
The personality of this group is instantly evident upon stepping out of the
elevator. The bright yellow columns and colorful murals scream for attention. The four
yellow columns have been painted with black patterns: serpents on one, perhaps a nod to
Mestre Cobra Mansa’s namesake, and zebra stripes on another, the zebra being a
legendary animal in the origin myths of capoeira. This color combination signifies that
the group belongs to the lineage of Mestre Pastinha. At the far end of the room, a wall of
glass windows provides a wonderful vista onto the high-rises and palm trees of the city
but also creates a greenhouse effect making spring and summertime workouts at noon a
particular test of stoicism. At the front of the room is a storage area for benches and
instruments. Beside the door, both on the floor and on a shelf more than six feet off the
ground, are altars containing candles and other offerings associated with Candomblé, the
local religion whose deities have long standing ties to capoeira. To the right and the left
of the entryway are dressing rooms, segregated by sex. By the women’s dressing room is
101
a small business area with a desk, computer, telephone, a few chairs, and a bookcase with
many works on Afro-Brazilian culture. There is also a kitchenette with a water filtration
unit and sink for washing dishes. The left wall has been nearly covered in a giant mural
of the orixás, Candomblé deities, surrounding a waterfall. All other open spaces have
been covered with framed photographs of current capoeira mestres and players, as well
as historical photographs and documents. In the far right corner of the room is a large
framed chart that traces the lineage of selected capoeira mestres.
The unique character of this group is a primary theme of this work. It bears
mentioning at the outset of this work that FICA is steered by a capoeira scholar, which
may explain why they were so welcoming of my research agenda. Mestre Cobra Mansa
has been actively involved in researching both the historical aspects of capoeira and the
contemporary manifestations of similar traditions in Western Africa, and he has given
several presentations and co-authored articles on his research. Also, because FICA is an
international organization, members of FICA Bahia are accustomed to the presence of
foreigners and are able to see both the benefits and drawbacks to this type of tourism.
According to Mestre Valmir, the leader of the FICA Bahia group, it is “on the account of
this globalization of capoeira thing, and on account of our group’s profile that we receive
many foreigners.” Therefore, interacting with foreigners is a daily affair for him. Almost
everyday, he says, he is in contact with someone from abroad that has come in search of
capoeira.40 In addition to having a scholarly orientation and emphasizing its status as an
international organization, the group is located in a business district rather than a favela
and counts many students and professionals among its members.
40
The
original
text
from
my
interview
with
Mestre
Valmir
reads:
“…por
conta
dessa
coisa
da
globalização
da
capoeira,
e
por
conta
do
perfil
do
nosso
grupo
a
gente
recebe
muitos
estrangeiros”
102
It should not be assumed that FICA Bahia is representative of all capoeira
academies. One female capoeirista from London said that training at FICA was a great
experience, especially in comparison to a group in Fortaleza where “they made [her] feel
stupid.” Like any organization, FICA is multifaceted and complex but generally
speaking, people who trained there were content with the workings of the group. Many
capoeiristas admitted that there was racism and marginalization of foreigners at some
academies, but not at FICA. This is likely one of the reasons that FICA is so popular
among foreign capoeiristas.
Participants
I define capoeira pilgrims as individuals of any nationality who have a
preexisting interest in capoeira and visit Brazil primarily to train capoeira and/or
immerse themselves in the Brazilian capoeira scene. In most cases this is a simple
distinction, but some specialty tour packages blur these boundaries. My study population
differs from general tourists who visit Bahia in multiple ways. The ‘Africanness’ of
Bahia, which still resonates deeply in quotidian life, draws many general tourists to
Bahia, as do the tropical beaches. Some of these individuals do find themselves
encountering and even experimenting with capoeira. Encounters may be as simple as
observing a street roda, attending a staged folkloric performance, or casually wandering
around the Forte de Santo Antonio (also known as the capoeira fort), which is open to
visitors. Others may contract a guide to teach them about the city and take them to
various points of interest.
Two different guides brought visitors to FICA Bahia while I was in attendance. I
was told that this happened approximately once per month, though they did not follow a
103
strict schedule. The guides arrived with their clients prior to the start of class and were
given a short lecture in their native language, through a translator, on the history and
development of capoeira. Sometimes they were given a short demonstration on the
berimbau. They were invited to stay through some or all of the class and were
encouraged to participate as much as they could. Sometimes they would be separated
from the general group and given a private lesson in the back of the room. This was
distracting but tolerated by the regular students. Capoeira pilgrims, on the other hand,
travel to Brazil specifically with the intention of training and would resent any such
attempts to mark them as different from the rest of the class. Some are single minded in
their focus while others seek to blend training with other types of tourist activities, but
they are categorically different from the general tourist to Bahia.41
No single country dominates the international scene in Bahia. At FICA alone I
met representatives from twenty-five countries in only six months. They tend to be
young; most are in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. With a few exceptions, most are
single and have the freedom to travel abroad without worrying about family
commitments. Because most of them stay for a period of several weeks to several
months, and some even longer, they all have a degree of flexibility in their schedules.
Capoeiristas are encouraged to visit Brazil as part of their development, but the timing of
their trip may be influenced by a number of factors such as an upcoming obligation that
would impede future travel opportunities or a crisis/transition period during which
individuals are looking for something to fill a personal void. Capoeira becomes such an
all-consuming passion for some that they have even sacrificed personal relationships in
order to further their training. One individual in my study made the decision to take an
41
For
more
on
the
specific
activities
pilgrims
engage
in
during
their
trips
to
Bahia,
see
Chapter
5.
104
extended trip to Brazil to the detriment and eventual dissolution of his marriage. I have
met several pilgrims who are graduate or professional students taking advantage of their
summer break, some are between jobs, and others have found a way to make money
while in Brazil, either teaching English or engaging in business that can be conducted
remotely using the Internet. Many of them are experienced travelers, and some have
even lived abroad for extended periods. They are hungry for the local culture and nearly
everyone who comes to FICA speaks some Portuguese, many of them nearly fluently.42
Because of the focused nature of their trips, capoeira pilgrims have an immediate access
point to the local culture, particularly if they are already affiliated with a satellite chapter
of a Baian group like FICA with its extensive international network.
Conclusion
I chose to do my participant-observation almost exclusively with the FICA Bahia
group because it is a hub of international practice. However, I did occasionally attend
rodas at other academies such as Nzinga or Grupo Esportivo de Capoeira Angola.
Nzinga is a sister group to FICA Bahia, and members from one group frequently attend
events at the other. The mestres of both FICA and Nzinga share the same lineage, all
descending from GCAP. The mestres at Nzinga, Janja in particular, are widely known
for their work with women and children in capoeira. João Pequeno is the mestre of the
Grupo Esportivo de Capoeira Angola, and I felt equally at home in their rodas because
their style of capoeira is similar to how we play in Indiana. Thanks to Mestre João
Pequeno’s fame, locals, foreigners, and pilgrims from other parts of Brazil all converge
42
However,
as
I
show
in
Chapter
5,
this
is
not
representative
of
the
general
capoeira
pilgrim
population.
Most
have
only
passable
knowledge
of
Portuguese
and
do
not
speak
with
any
degree
of
fluency,
which
limits
their
engagement
with
the
local
community.
105
upon this academy, making it a wonderful site for observing and experiencing the
physical negotiations that happen between players in the roda.
The sites of my own participation were carefully chosen for 1) what they would
offer to me as a researcher and 2) the ease and comfort with which I could physically
enter those spaces. Personal safety in class and in the roda was a pressing concern as my
body was the tool of data collection. Being safe requires a high degree of trust in one’s
teachers and classmates, and I eventually felt secure at FICA Bahia. It takes time to build
this trust, another reason for limiting my participant observation to a single academy. My
interview subjects, however, were drawn from a wider subset of the capoeira community.
This allowed me to access opinions of Capoeira Regional players that I would otherwise
not have met at FICA, which strictly practices the Angola style. I used purposive
sampling to select these twenty-six subjects, twenty-four of whom responded to nearly
identical stimuli. Their basic demographic information is described below in Table 1.
The other two subjects were interviewed on the basis of their very specialized
orientations to the capoeira community, such as expertise on tourism or volunteerism.
Every case in my study was chosen because it filled a specialized niche and added
to my understanding of the capoeira pilgrim phenomenon. For example, interviewing
Mestres Valmir, Cobra Mansa, and Janja was crucial for understanding capoeira in its
historical and experiential richness from a teacher’s perspective. The interview with
Aloan was useful because it gave me a very young, and we might say untenured,
teacher’s perspective on capoeira. Aloan is also an interesting case because he is
perfectly positioned to become one of the world leaders of capoeira for the next
generation. Table 2 is a quick reference guide explaining each interview subject’s unique
106
place in my research. Table 3 traces the capoeira lineage of selected participants from
my study who trained at FICA Bahia at least once during my fieldwork.
These individuals were my anchors throughout the tumultuous period known as
anthropological fieldwork. It is due to their generosity and grace that I have come to
understand the purpose and significance of apprenticeship pilgrimage. In the next three
chapters, I explore each type of cultural capital within the economy of authenticity
model. My research subjects’ voices and our co-constructed experiences are
foregrounded throughout the remaining text. These experiences support my argument
that capoeira pilgrims are highly invested in claiming their legitimacy within this field
and will mobilize whatever cultural capital they have available to them to enter into a
legitimate peripheral participation role. They can then move to a more central and
powerful position within the capoeira social field.
Table
1
Demographic
details
of
interview
subjects
Name
Sex
Nationality
Race
Ethnicity43
Liudmila
Janja
Tomate
Aloan
Cauê
Valmir
Jorge
Mauricio
Tudo Duro
Christian
M Cobra
Mansa
Zoe
Pierre
Ran
F
F
M
M
Belarussian
Brazil
Brazil
Brazil
no answer
Black
Black
Black
2.5
27
12
9
Regional
Angola
Regional
Angola
M
M
M
M
M
M
Brazil
Brazil
Brazil
Brazil
Brazil
Brazil
Black
Black
Mestizo
Mestizo
Parda
Parda
0.3
27
17
244
7
0.75
Angola
Angola
Angola
Angola
Regional
Angola
M
F
M
M
Brazil/USA
British
French
Israeli
Black
White
White
White
33.5
5
7
13
Angola
R/A
Regional
Other
Years
style
43
Note
that
both
the
terms
“pardo(a)”
and
“mestizo”
refer
to
someone
who
is
racially
mixed.
44
Mauricio
started
training
capoeira
fifteen
years
ago
but
was
away
from
formal
training
for
approximately
thirteen
of
those
years.
However,
he
did
train
informally
with
friends
like
Iuri
during
that
time.
107
Adriana
Jambo
Julie
Caroline
Alonzo
F
F
F
F
M
Mexican
USA
USA
USA
USA
An
Kevin
Nono
Jonathan
Megan
M
M
M
M
F
USA
USA
USA
USA/Australian
USA/Portuguese
Mestizo
Filipina
White
White
Black
VietnameseAmerican
White
White
Chinese (HK)
Latin
3
3.75
2
8
3
Angola
Regional
Angola
Angola
Angola
6.5
8
10
7
2.5
Angola
Contemporary
Angola
Regional
Contemporary
Table
2
Quick
reference
guide
for
interview
subjects'
unique
position
in
this
study
Name
Nationality
Unique Position in Study
Has trained capoeira in multiple countries and opted to lodge in
the attic of one of the most famous capoeira academies in the
Pelourinho, offering her unrivaled access to mestres and local
Liudmila
Belarussian
capoeiristas.
Is one of the few females to have achieved the rank of Capoeira
Angole mestre and is heavily involved in the fight for women’s
Janja
Brazil
rights.
Teaches capoeira at the Dialogo language school, giving him a
Tomate
Brazil
unique perspective on teaching foreigners.
Mestre Valmir’s son; is perfectly poised to join the new
Aloan
Brazil
generation of top capoeira Angola teachers if he so chooses.
Became devoted to capoeira after overcoming a drug addiction
and is among the more outgoing members of FICA, maintaining
Cauê
Brazil
long-distance relationships with many foreign capoeiristas.
Is the mestre at FICA Bahia and travels widely throughout the
world giving workshops; has extensive contact with capoeira
M Valmir Brazil
pilgrims.
Is an official teacher at FICA Bahia, but also holds a
Jorge
Brazil
professional job outside of the academy.
Mauricio
Brazil
Is a former student of Mestre Marrom and current student of
108
Mestre Valmir at FICA Bahia.
Tudo
Duro
Is a former student of Mestre Accordeon and is highly critical
Brazil
of the commercialism in capoeira.
Is a newer student at FICA Bahia and meets many foreigners
Christian
Brazil
M Cobra
Mansa
through his work in the hospitality industry.
Is the founder of FICA and capoeira scholar; also travels
Brazil/USA
internationally giving capoeira workshops and presentations.
Highly involved with capoeira in London and vocal on issues
Zoe
British
of gender and power within capoeira.
Visited Bahia without affiliations to any particular group, yet
Pierre
French
sought out unique capoeira lectures, workshops, and events.
Teaches capoeira in Israel and visits capoeira groups whenever
Ran
Israeli
he travels internationally.
Relocated semi-permanently to Bahia and teaches capoeira to
Adriana
Mexican
underprivileged youth in a nearby neighborhood.
Attended capoeira workshops in southern Bahia state and then
Jambo
USA
visited Salvador as a tourist.
Is a member of Estrela do Norte and visited Bahia as part of the
Julie
USA
group trip in 2008.
Wrote a master’s thesis on capoeira, maintains the archives for
Caroline
USA
FICA, and has made several visits as a capoeira pilgrim.
Is a long-term visitor in Bahia and is widely recognized as one
Alonzo
USA
of the most dedicated pilgrims, attending 3 or more rodas/week.
Is a law student in Boston who visited Bahia before starting
An
USA
school.
Taught capoeira while living in Ireland, but recently returned to
Kevin
USA
his home in Arizona.
Has married a Brazilian woman, moved to Bahia and continues
Nono
USA
to train capoeira with a local group.
Jonathan
USA/Australian
Has reached the rank of teacher, but feels his time with
109
capoeira may be coming to a close.
Has visited Bahia on multiple occasions for volunteer work, but
Megan
USA/Portuguese
recently started playing capoeira.
Table
3
Lineage
Diagram
110
Chapter
4‐
Traditional
Forms
of
Cultural
Capital
Traditional forms of cultural capital offer the simplest routes to authenticity
because they are noncommodifiable qualities inherent in the individual; however, they
are not sufficient in and of themselves to guarantee legitimacy. Final legitimacy rests
upon mastering the form, but traditional forms of cultural capital may help individuals
gain entrance into a legitimate peripheral participation role, through which they come to
embody the formal standards of a genre. This is particularly true in groups that limit
participation based on race or nationality, though academies like this represent a minority
within the capoeira social field. My ethnographic data suggests that capoeiristas at
FICA are less overtly reliant on this category than on charismatic forms of cultural
capital, but small occurrences at the academy point towards a naturalized tendency to
favor capoeiristas who are rich in traditional forms of cultural capital.
Traditional forms of cultural capital are either inherent in the individual or
otherwise very difficult to alter. For capoeiristas, these traits include race, nationality,
and region of origin, which are stable characteristics. However, race in Brazilian society
tends to be more fluid and context-driven than in some other countries like the United
States. This can cause problems in a global context when trying to reconcile diverging
beliefs. Lineage is also a type of traditional legitimacy even though it is somewhat
elective for capoeiristas. Capoeiristas may select their mestres, but once the decision is
made, students are inducted into their mestre’s lineage. Capoeiristas may leave their
chosen mestre at any time due to personal differences, relocation, or loss of interest. In
such a close-knit community, however, this may result in unforeseen political
111
consequences if and when they try to join a new lineage. Gender, while not part of my
original model, also figures prominently in female capoeiristas’ discussions of traditional
claims to legitimacy.
Capoeiristas have never been a homogeneous population, and even during the
colonial period many upper-class Brazilians were experimenting with the form.
Traditionally though, capoeiristas were assumed to be poor, poorly educated, AfroBrazilian men. This is no longer the case. Mestre Valmir acknowledged that the world
of capoeira is changing and today there are doctors, lawyers and professors playing
capoeira whereas in the past it was stevedores and fishermen.
A capoeira roda allows one to log into the homepage of an epic past and a glorious
present. As such it is still a powerful market of ethnic (black), regional (Bahian) and
national (Brazilian) identities, despite its expansion to new constituencies that are none
of these three (Assunção 2005:212)
.
In any roda today, you are likely to find black and white, Brazilian and foreign, rich and
poor, men and women. However, that is not to say that each is given equal value in this
economy of authenticity. Behind the discourse of equality, and Mestre Pastinha’s claim
that capoeira is for “homen, menino e mulher” (man, child and woman), black Brazilian
men inhabit a naturalized place of authority in capoeira. Joseph, working in Canada,
referenced “a socio-ethnic hierarchy that is the reverse of mainstream Canadian society”
(Joseph 2006:51). She found that dark skinned, poor, and newly immigrated Brazilians
who also had a high skill level inhabited the upper realms in the Canadian capoeira
hierarchy (ibid). This suggests that all things being equal, those rich in traditional claims
to authenticity will claim a privileged position in the social field, at least in its nonBrazilian outposts.
112
Race
&
Nationality
Distinguishing the relative weight of race versus nationality in capoeira is
particularly challenging because Brazilian national identity is so closely intertwined with
a belief about racial or ethnic heritage. Brazilians frequently claim that their national
character is forged from African, European and Indigenous practices. In many ways they
cannot be separated, which is why they are discussed together here. In comparing
various countries where people now practice capoeira, one of Taylor’s interview subjects
said “if you are going to jump to Europe, where they don’t have a background that’s
African, sometimes it can be double difficult for them to learn, but when they do learn
sometimes they see a few things that we cannot see.” (in Taylor 2005b:390). In some
ways, this comment may be referencing race, but it actually references a widespread
discourse in Brazil about national heritage as an ethnic triumvirate of African, Indigenous
and European influences. The teacher that Taylor quotes is suggesting that being
European may make learning capoeira especially challenging because those countries
have less exposure to African culture; however, having this outsider perspective may
enable foreign students to see capoeira differently than someone who is completely
inside the Afro-Brazilian worldview.
Livio Sansone has used the phrase “black space” to refer to capoeira rodas,
indicating that blackness may be a legitimizing quality within this field (Downey
2005:15), but my ethnographic evidence suggests that this is a minor factor for most
capoeiristas and depends upon the beliefs held in local scenes. At a capoeira gathering
in Indiana, Iuri told his students that “many students ask [him] how they, as whites, can
sing ladainhas (litanies) and chorridos (choruses) that talk about slavery and ‘my time of
113
captivity’, but [he tells] them, ‘you are a capoeirista now.’” It is as if by virtue of their
participation in an Afro-Brazilian cultural art form, white students have adopted Africa as
their philosophical, if not actual, motherland.45 Similarly, in her master’s thesis on
capoeira in the United States, Timbers relates an incident in which she was singing a
song in class. Mestre Valmir, who was then a contramestre, told her she had forgotten
two lines of the song: Capoeira veio da Africa/Africana eu sou (Capoeira comes from
Africa/ I am an African). Believing that proper singing in capoeira requires conviction,
she questioned how she, a white American woman, could sing about herself being an
African. She had this to say about her experience:
Clearly, being a white American singing this song, I was twisting the meaning of the
words. However, as I sang, I realized that the words were also twisting my selfconception. At that moment, I felt a much closer connection to Capoeira Angola’s
“African” roots, which I had never really considered before. I was forced to think how
calling myself an “African” and having others around me accept this idea re-worked the
word. It’s used to describe a physical location or to reference certain cultures became
secondary, while the idea that its use made me part of something exclusive, separate from
the dominant societal paradigm, as well as subversive (Timbers 2000:125).
This suggests that there is some degree of imaginative work that must done in order for
white capoeiristas, primarily Angoleiros, to reconcile their competing beliefs that
capoeira is inseparable from blackness, but can also belong to them.
To borrow Sansone’s phrase, perhaps capoeira can also be called a Brazilian
space, in which nationality grants a special legitimacy. Brazilians do retain a position of
authority within the capoeira social field, which can cause anxiety among some nonBrazilian practitioners who question their own legitimacy in relation to their Brazilian
counterparts. Some Brazilians echo this incredulity, especially in the case of foreigners
who presume to teach capoeira. In other cases, Brazilians are quite willing to extend
45
Another
member
of
the
group,
who
happens
to
be
a
Rastafarian
spiritual
leader,
concurred
with
Iuri’s
evaluation
and
reminded
us
that
all
of
us
descend
from
Africa
if
we
trace
our
origins
back
far
enough.
114
legitimacy to foreigners and even laud the benefits of capoeira for people of other
nationalities. Mestre Moraes claimed that “learning Capeoria Angola was not impossible
for [foreigners]…but a German would have to ‘sacrifice more’ to achieve proficiency”
because his or her body was not accustomed to the habits demanded by the AfroBrazilian aesthetic (Downy 2005:196). When Julie, Leandro and I accompanied Iuri to a
kids’ capoeira class at the Pierre Verger Foundation in Salvador, the kids’ interest was
haphazard at best. When Iuri got frustrated with their lack of attention and skill, he
admonished them saying, “look, even the Americans are doing better than you.” While
said playfully, it still conveyed the sense that Brazilians should have more aptitude than
people of other nationalities.
I will stop short of calling capoeira a Baian space even though Bahia figures
prominently in the origin myths of capoeira. The Brazilians interviewed in this study
were ambivalent about regionalism as a legitimizing factor. On the one hand, most felt
that they were not naturally predisposed to be better capoeiristas because of where they
were born. On the other hand, however, they felt that because capoeira is so much a part
of their local culture, they had a deeper connection with capoeira than people from
outside the region.
It is important to recognize that labels like race and even nationality are socially
negotiated and contextually dependent terms. Even the most basic attempt at
understanding the role of race in capoeira requires parsing out its importance to different
ideologies and to the different nationalities involved in negotiating its value. It also
makes us question what Africa means to practitioners of Capoeira Angola. Is Africa a
state of mind? In some ways, this may be true. White American capoeiristas frequently
115
allude to the sense of connection they now have with Africa despite their privileged
position in the dominant societal paradigm. Iuri encourages students to identify with
Africa in this way. However, they do not share the lived experience of someone born
into the African Diaspora, which can be a breeding ground for hostilities and
misunderstandings. A limited degree of this tension does arise during the pilgrimage.
In contemporary practice, most capoeiristas see their practice of capoeira as
homage to the Africans and Afro-Brazilians who gave birth to the art. This perspective
fits with either of two ideological positions. On the one hand, the popularity of capoeira
and its status as Brazil’s national sport is used to support claims about Brazil being a
racial democracy. Baian cultural minister Juca Ferreira was recently quoted as saying “o
passo do reconhecimento aproxima a sociedade da democracia racial, valorizando uma
manifestação tipicamente negra, mas que hoje tem dimensões internacionais” (Carmezim
2008). Translated, this means “the step of recognition [of capoeira] brings the society
closer to a racial democracy, valuing a typically black cultural manifestation, but that
today has international dimensions.” By valuing the black origins of capoeira, they
index themselves as non-racist (Downey 2005:15), while also positioning themselves as
part of a global community. On the other hand, some capoeiristas believe that the
African origins of capoeira demand an explicitly Africanist agenda, which could alienate
non-black participants.
These stances both grew out of the social and political climate of the New
Republic. Following emancipation in 1888, Brazilian elites made a vigorous effort to
deny the African heritage of the Brazilian people. This coincided with the scientific
heyday of eugenics, which deemed non-European peoples inferior to whites. As a result,
116
Brazil embraced a policy of whitening, ostensibly to improve the genetic stock of its
people. During this time, Meste Bimba created Capoeira Regional, which is often
considered the ‘whitened’ form of capoeira (see Downey 2005:176-181 and Reis
2004:195). Bimba’s capoeira acquired this reputation because of his streamlined
pedagogy, which appealed to formally educated middle and upper class students. His
system also had a structured hierarchy that required long-term enrollment and payment,
which excluded poor Afro-Brazilians. Of course, calling Capoeira Regional ‘whiter’
than Capoeira Angola is largely an emotional argument based on unfounded dichotomies
(see Assunção 2005).46
Despite the prevalence of racism during the early twentieth century, public
intellectuals took a strong role in bringing recognition to Afro-Brazilian culture, ushering
in a phase during which the discourse of regionalism became popular. Brazilian writers
encouraged the public to look for “a ‘national’ character” in Afro-Brazilian cultural
practices and empathize with Afro-Brazilians’ histories, no matter how distant that may
have been from their own experience (Taylor 2005b:18). Gilberto Freyre in particular
called the public’s attention to the contributions Afro-Brazilians had made to their
country. While understanding that Freyre’s writings were often simplistic and
romanticized Brazilian slavery, particularly the relationship between master and slave, his
work did play a role in the early valorization of Afro-Brazilian culture and should be
remembered for that.
In 1937 the second Afro-Brazilian Congress, organized in part by folklorist and
Afro-Brazilian specialist Edison Carneiro, took place in Salvador. It brought positive
46
As
mentioned in Chapter 1, capoeiristas who practice the Contemporania style pride themselves on
rising above such dichotomies
117
attention to the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé and raised the status of capoeira to
that of “an art form and an expression of Afro-Bahian identity” (Assunção 2005:151).
While Carneiro’s aim was to valorize African contributions to local culture, this
valorization also paved the way for white Brazilians to usurp African bodily practice.
These white Brazilians “thereby manipulated the symbolic realm of culture to promote a
multiculturalism yet deny the significance of slaves’ histories, intensify political control,
realize economic gains, and disregard racism” (Joseph 2006:32).47 This moment of
shifting worldviews is the context for the development of Capoeira Angola under the
tutelage of Mestre Vincente Ferreira Pastina (1889-1981).
Increased activism for black rights led to a moment in which Capoeira Angola
could be used as a tool of social consciousness. It also led to an important moment in
which Anglophone notions of blackness began to influence Brazilian notions of
blackness. Expressing political discontent through art has a significant history in Brazil,
particularly during the military dictatorship. This repressive regime was temporarily
tolerant of the white underground movements modeled after the United States’ hippie
culture as long as it did not interfere with their suppression of workers’ movements
(Taylor 2005b:119). The small space disenchanted leftists had carved out for themselves
under the repressive military government inspired Afro-Brazilian youth to use American
black music as a symbol of their own protest (Taylor 2005b:19).
Emulating the African-American cultural artifacts produced by the black
movement in the U.S. rather than taking up racial and class issues was a safer route to
expressing an Afro-centric identity during the military regime. This gradual shift towards
47
Incidentally,
this
reaffirmation
of
an
Afrocentric
identity
coincides
with
the
rise
of
the
Rastafarian
movement
in
Jamaica
(Assunção
2005:151). 118
black expression took on symbols like Motown soul music and “Afro” haircuts (ibid).
The civil rights movement in the U.S. and the decolonization of many African countries
created the right climate for Brazil to establish like-minded institutions such as the
Centro de Cultura e Arte Negra (Black Culture and Art) in São Paulo in 1971, the Grupo
Negro (Black Group) and the Bloco Afro Ile Aiye in Salvador in 1974, the Sociedade de
Intercambio Brasil-Africa (The Brazil-Africa Exchange Society) in Rio in 1974, and the
Instituto de Pesquisa das Culturas Negras (Research Institute of Black Cultures) in Rio
in 1975 (Taylor 2005:120). Recently, capoeira has been taken up as an overt symbol of
racial pride and the government is, at the very least, paying lip service to the slave origins
of capoeira and acknowledging the government’s error in persecuting practitioners. Juca
Ferreira said “essa decisão vem dissolver o coagula do escravismo no Brazil, para
reconhecer a contribuição Africana ao país” (P. Ribeiro 2008). Roughly translated, this
suggests that the decision to recognize capoeira will remove the stain of slavery in Brazil
by recognizing the African contributions to the country.
Many capoeira groups that take an Africanist stance towards its creation do
advocate for black rights and prioritize fighting discrimination as a central mission of
their group. The GCAP mission as stated by founder Mestre Moraes, has an explicit
Afro-centric agenda. Their purpose is to preserve Capoeira Angola as well as spread
awareness of its African roots and Afro-Brazilian expression that embodies political,
cultural, and racial struggles. Reflecting on the constitution of GCAP, Ferreira notes with
pride that people of all races, ages, and nationality come together and their only
difference is in personal ability (Ferreira 1997). Ferreira’s association with GCAP began
in the 1980s, at which time he felt the city of Salvador come alive with black
119
consciousness (ibid), which created the right environment for GCAP’s message of black
pride to gather a following. Moraes argues that prejudice against Afro-Brazilians must be
surmounted in order to appreciate the beauty inherent in the aesthetics of capoeira
(Moraes 1997). Though highlighting the contributions of Africans and Afro-Brazilians,
such a stance should not be interpreted as racist. Mestre Cobra Mansa interprets Mestre
Moraes’s strong agenda as a necessary recognition of the art’s heritage, which is
sometimes swept under the rug by instructors teaching capoeira abroad because of their
own discomfort in raising racial issues with students of different ethnic backgrounds
(Taylor 2005b:151).
The recent globalization of capoeira has brought it to the center of heated debates
about race and nationality. The capoeira group Ginga Mundo hosted a roundtable
discussion in 2008. Many mestres attended and discussed their experiences gained
through travelling and teaching capoeira outside of Brazil. By and large, the debates
focused on how to preserve capoeira in contemporary society (Portela 2008). Mestres
agreed that one of the biggest challenges was getting foreigners to understand the fight as
something more than physical movements done to the accompaniment of the berimbau
(ibid). At this event, Mestre Cobra Mansa lamented that foreigners have trouble
understanding the essence of capoeira because they want to think of it in terms of their
own culture, not Afro-Brazilian culture. He said the hardest things to teach are the slang
and the proper way to be a malandro (tough guy), the malicia (trickery) that you need to
express with the body, but “when these students go to Brazil they are able to understand.
It is like something clicks” (ibid). So while translating the physical and emotional
120
comportment that is necessary to truly be a capoeirista can be difficult, it is not
impossible, particularly when foreign students make a pilgrimage to Brazil.
Not all mestres are pleased with the globalization of capoeira. At the 1990 World
Samba Capoeira Meet held in Rio de Janeiro, many mestres, some of whom had relocated
to teach capoeira abroad, gathered to debate the future of the art. Mestre Jelon Viera,
who pioneered capoeira in the United States in the mid-1970s, expressed his concerns
about Americans usurping control over capoeira. Nestor Capoeira reports his fears:
There are several American students (sociology, anthropology, Afro-studies, etc.) doing
graduate studies with capoeira as their topic. Americans have the tradition of going into
a specific area with determination, embodying everything. Some believe and try to prove
that capoeira is exclusively African without any Brazilian influence. With time, some
may believe Brazilians have to go to the U.S. to do their research, making Brazilian
capoeira a secondary thing (Capoeira 2002:300-1).
Clearly, some mestres are preoccupied with the growing dominance of Americans in the
study of capoiera. Whereas Mestre Jelon Viera’s position comes across as defensive and
hostile towards American scholars, the mestres with whom I worked were eager to assist
me in my research. These different orientations towards foreigners are also visible in
capoeira academies.48 Some academies more than others had the reputation of
marginalizing foreigners. And “why not?” one of my interview subjects asked. She feels
like they marginalize some of the Brazilians who come to their group in London. They
don’t like it when certain Brazilians show up at their academy because they are arrogant
and claim to know everything about capoeira by virtue of their heritage.
Americans who assert an inherent connection between race and the practice of
capoeira have, for better or worse, shaped the growth of capoeira in the United States.
48
Accounting for these different orientations would be a monumental task involving many interacting
variables, but students often replicate the views held by their mestre. When confronted with examples of
foreigners having been marginalized, the younger and more progressive mestres attribute this to the
“ignorance” and “prejudice” of their older counterparts. 121
Many capoeiristas maintain that “The common heritage of slavery…constitutes the core
reason why the art is so attractive for other black people in the Diaspora,” and some
capoeiristas in the United States have gone so far as to suggest that it should be an
exclusively black domain (Assunção 2005:195).
With the globalization of capoeira, especially its expansion into the United States,
Afrocentric scholars and militants discovered capoeira as an appropriate tool to foster
racial or diasporic consciousness among African Americans. In fact some militants,
(scholars or capoeira adepts) significantly contributed not only to the diffusion of the
more traditionalist capoeira Angola style in the United States, but also participated in the
elaboration of the angoleiro agenda in organizations such as GCAP (Assunção 2005:25).
While arguing that international black culture is based on the symbolic universe of
Anglophone blacks, Sansone claims that capoeira has been used by African Americans
who are anxious to invent traditions and symbols they can use to confront a white world49
(Sansone 1997). Since colonial times African Americans have used sport and combat to
help forge a sense of cultural identity (Green 2003c:232), though these efforts intensified
when the Nation of Islam lauded the accomplishments of fellow black Muslim Cassius
Clay (ibid:237).
Though black nationalists could have turned to any number of martial arts as a
focal point for community building, they gravitated towards combative forms with
African roots or created an Afro-centric narrative to compliment their practice of other
forms. They stress the African roots of capoeira, largely ignoring Brazilian innovations,
and even posit relationships between African forms and Asian styles like Judo and Kung
Fu. While the veracity of their claims may be questionable, “the important thing is to
observe the steps the storytellers are taking toward the creation of an Afrikan cultural
49
Sansone
speaks
eloquently
on
foreigners’
appropriation
of
capoeira,
though
his
take
on
capoeira
in
the
United
States
lacks
depth.
Yes
there
are
some
groups
who
have
used
capoeira
as
a
symbol
of
blackness;
Dennis
Newsome’s
group
in
San
Diego
is
a
case
in
point.
However,
the
majority
of
capoeira
groups
in
the
United
States
are
diverse
and
the
focus
is
not
on
race.
This
claim
is
supported
by
my
personal
experience
with
FICA,
Estrela
do
Norte,
Mestre
Joao
Grande
and
from
interviews
with
other
Americans
from
places
like
LA,
NYC
and
Boston.
122
identity” (ibid:246). Understanding the motivation behind these narratives is far more
important than whether or not they are true.
The active role African Americans have taken in constructing the future of
capoeira has led to intense debates in which concerns about nationality are conflated with
concerns about race. Groups in the United States that privilege African over Brazilian
contributions to capoeira are particularly contentious because they threaten to circumvent
Brazil altogether as a seat of authority. During the 1990 World Samba Capoeira Meet,
Nestor Capoeira sparked intense debate at this conference when he refuted the N’Golo
thesis, which holds that capoeira originated from a specific dance form found in Angola
(see Capoeira 2002). This idea has been around for quite some time and is fervently
defended by many Capoeira Angola schools, though no one has been able to definitively
prove or disprove it. Quite predictably, deadlock ensued between the Africanists and the
Brazilianists.
Mestre Acordeon saw greater implications of this debate within the framework of
globalization and hoped for a unified version of history to present to outsiders. In his
experience teaching American students, he “perceived a tendency in some AfroAmerican radical minorities to use capoeira and other arts of African origin to support
private interests or certain ideologies. And in doing so, they distort capoeira’s essence
and diminish Brazil’s role in capoeira’s history and origins” (Capoeira 2002:299).
Furthermore, Capoeira quotes Mestre Acordeon as having said “If we don’t mark our
position, these [radical Afro-American] minorities will do it for us, distorting capoeira as
we know and practice it” (ibid). In my experience I have found that some AfricanAmericans do have a special relationship with capoeira based on their racial identity;
123
however, it has also been alleged by one of Mestre Acordeon’s former students that race
is a contentious issue within his academy and there tends to be a high turnover rate
among his non-white students. So while Mestre Acordeon’s comment is not necessarily
unfounded, it should also be considered critically.
While recognizing the influence of African-American practitioners on the success
of capoeira in the United States, I argue that extreme Afro-centrism should be viewed
with caution. For one, it denies the legitimacy of non-black Brazilian instructors of
capoeira. Mestre Preguiça, who has taught capoeira in the San Francisco area for
twenty-five years, found a great deal of acceptance for Brazilian culture. However, his
greatest challenge in being accepted as a capoeira instructor was the fact that he is not
black (Portela 2008).
In the early 2000s, there was a lot of discussion about who ‘owns’ Capoeira
Angola. Some argued that Brazilians own capoeira, others thought it belonged to anyone
in the African Diaspora, and still others felt that whoever dedicated themselves to
capoeira were the owners. At FICA D.C., many of those in the Afro-centric camp have
since fallen away from the group, which supports the claim that capoeira belongs to
whoever dedicates him or herself to the art. During the height of these debates, FICA
Philadelphia reportedly hosted an all-black roda to kick off a weekend-long event. White
members of the group were allowed to attend, but their role was limited to behind-thescenes support. What made this situation particularly awkward was their invitation of a
white Brazilian mestre to the event. He arrived the day after the roda, which allowed the
group to conveniently skirt the issue of barring a Brazilian mestre from their roda.
124
Whether or not the white members of the group colluded in this plan is not clear,
but at least one white female was uncomfortable enough about the racial politics to leave
the group. The capoeirista who shared this story with me argued that these individuals
fail to understand the way Brazilians handle race. She acknowledged that many
Brazilians claim a black identity and identify with the black power movement, but
claimed that they do not tend towards the same racial isolationism that she sees practiced
in some African-American communities.
The
official
treatment
of
race
in
Brazil
versus
the
United
States
has
been
significantly
different,
with
racism
in
Brazil
being
of
a
much
subtler
variety
than
its
North
American
counterpart
(Telles
2004:2).
Discourses
promoting
miscegenation,
which
owe
a
great
intellectual
debt
to
the
work
of
Gilberto
Freyre,
have
undoubtedly
contributed
to
this
attitude
(see
Freyre
1986).
Despite
the
growing
awareness
that
racial
democracy
is
a
myth
and
the
increasing
presence
of
a
black
consciousness
movement,
interracial
interactions
continue
to
be
regular
features
of
quotidian
life
in
Brazil.
Certain
social
practices
in
particular
have
had
a
long
history
of
racial
inclusion.
As
Edward
E.
Telles
writes,
“[m]embers
of
Brazilian
soccer
teams
often
represent
the
entire
color
spectrum,
as
do
Carnaval
dancers,
and
racial
differences
seem
to
be
irrelevant
in
both
cases”
(Telles
2004:37).
Because
such
activities
and
organizations
seemed
to
exemplify
the
myth
of
racial
democracy,
they
became
symbols
of
Brazil
under
Vargas’s
regime
(ibid).
Similarly,
Candomblé
houses
have
long
accepted
white
members;
however,
their
inclusion
was
sometimes
strategic
because
they
served
as
“protectors
against
the
constant
repression
by
Bahian
authorities”
(ibid:102).
Capoeira
too
has
a
long
history
of
inclusion
and
125
whites
were
among
the
first
students
at
Mestre
Bimba’s
officially
sanctioned
academy.
In
contrast,
racial
relations
within
the
United
States
have
often
been
exclusionary.
Whereas
Brazil
promoted
a
discourse
of
miscegenation
and
racial
democracy,
the
United
States
enforced
Jim
Crow
laws.
While
official
segregation
has
ended,
informal
practices
of
exclusion
are
still
evident
in
many
areas
of
life.
These
exclusionary
tendencies
become
visible
when
one
group
is
excluded
from
participation
in
a
domain
associated
with
another.
This
lies
at
the
heart
of
the
heated
debates
over
whether
or
not
white
musicians
can
play
the
blues
or
rap.
For
better
or
worse,
capoeira
has
been
interpreted
as
a
black
practice.
And
while
I
disagree
with
Livio
Sansone
that
capoeira
in
the
United
States
has
“little
or
no
room
for
non‐black
practitioners,”
(Sansone
2003:87),
capoeira
in
the
U.S.
is
often
read
through
a
racial
lens.
Understanding these different historical trajectories helps to explain why attitudes
about white participation in capoeira can be so different among Brazilians and
Americans (from the United States). The legacy of slavery is an important aspect of
capoeira for most Brazilian players, but the long-standing participation of white
Brazilians in capoeira has paved the way for foreigners’ inclusion. As noted in Chapter
5, however, racism is not absent from capoeira and this history of inclusion should not be
seen as an indicator of such. Rather, I point this out to explain the different attitudes held
by Afro-Brazilian and African American practitioners of capoeira. Perhaps most
interesting, and most in need of study, is the conflict between Brazilians who claim
126
ownership of capoeira as part of their national patrimony and African Americans who
claim ownership of capoeira by virtue of common roots in the African Diaspora.
Another danger of the extreme Afro-centric position is suggesting that nonAfrican descended people are physically incapable of embodying the capoeira aesthetic.
For example, Taylor writes:
There are quite a few non-Brazilian students, many of them white, who view their own
efforts at gingando, at malicia, at trying to develop an African Brazilian way of being
with a healthy dose of ironic self-mockery (given the impossible nature of the task). Of
course, there are many African American, African Caribbean, and Black European
students who can find a greater degree of identification, though even when people have
strong points of cultural reference, there are going to be qualitative differences in
expression and understanding due to differences in geographical location, social class,
and the age in which we live (Taylor 2005b:220).
The assumptions being made in this statement are not uncommon, but are nonetheless
disturbing. There are many students who remain dubious of their own ability to embody
malicia, but the reasons behind this are not as simple as the color of their skin. There is
no reason to assume that a white, non-Brazilian capoeirista cannot develop the sway, the
deceitfully mischievous way of moving, epitomized in capoeira. Likewise, there is no
reason to assume that an African European would have any more facility in this way of
moving simple because of a shared ancestry hundreds of years past. The only redemption
lies in Taylor’s mention of social class and time period, which do have a marked
influence on an individual’s way of moving.
Race aside, being a non-Brazilian trying to learn capoeira can induce anxiety in
some practitioners (see Taylor 2005b:221). An American capoeira teacher in California
writes:
I have…frequently encountered capoeira students here in the United States with little to
no ambition to reach any real level of proficiency, particularly tragic when it’s a student
with potential. This type of student may believe that simply because he or she was born
here and not in Brazil that he or she is less gifted when it comes to capoeira. I have
heard my mestre say countless times that the secret of capoeira is this: train capoeira!
(Essien 2008:xvi).
127
Whereas this teacher’s own mestre, a Brazilian, stresses dedication as the primary way to
become a better capoeirista, many American students limit their ambition because of
preconceived ideas about their nationality as a handicap. Some of the capoeiristas
Timbers interviewed claimed to see differences between capoeira as it is played in Brazil
versus the United States (see 2000:61-62). Some cited the energy of the rodas in Brazil,
some referenced the greater weight of history present in Brazil, but the most instructive
comments referenced the different styles of play. One informant told her that Americans
“fight at capoeira” whereas Brazilians “play” (ibid:61). This stands in contrast to what
Joseph’s informants told her and to what Iuri teaches to his students in Bloomington. The
prevailing discourse is that Brazilian capoeira is more violent, but members of FICA DC
were specifically referencing the ludic aspects of Brazilian rodas. Timbers attributes this
comment to “the physical difficulty of moving around one’s opponent quickly and
nimbly…but also the idea that the Afro-Brazilian culture from which Capoeria Angola
emerges is integral to an understanding of the game, expressed physically in the idea of
malícia, and needs to be passed on to American students” (Timbers 2000:62). Novices,
whether they are foreign or Brazilian, will have a difficult time executing the nuanced
movements necessary for achieving this aesthetic of playfulness. What stands out in
Timbers’ evaluation is the necessity of playing with malícia, a quality that is apparently
more natural to Afro-Brazilians because of the culture in which they are immersed, but
capable of being taught to others. Following the logic of Timbers’ informants, because
capoeira is part of Brazilians’ quotidian experience in a way that it will never be for
American students, naturalness emanates from Brazilian rodas more so than their own
rodas in Washington DC.
128
Foreigners’ insecurities are matched by some Brazilians’ amazement when
foreigners display any level of proficiency. In an issue of Praticando Capoeira, a popular
magazine for capoeiristas, the editor expressed his staff’s amazement and delight at
finding out that foreign capoeiristas were so passionate and respectful in their practice of
capoeira (Carvalho n.d.). Mestre Itapoan, a well-respected capoeirista from Bahia, was
referenced as saying that not only the quantity, but also quality, of capoeiristas abroad is
growing. This, he says, shows that the teachers are doing right by their students and are
qualified to be teaching. A constant theme of this issue was how capoeira used to be
unknown outside of Brazil, but now it is growing and the foreigners are actually
becoming quite good (ibid).
At FICA Bahia, race and nationality were ever-present features of a capoeirista’s
identity, but in most cases they were inconsequential for a capoeirista’s advancement
within the social field. However, there were also some notable cases in which race
and/or nationality became sources of insecurity, frustration, and even anger. Most people
in my study were stumped by the thought of anyone emphasizing race as a legitimizing
factor for capoeiristas and felt personally affronted by the actions of groups like FICA
Philadelphia. In general, FICA is very open to capoeiristas of all races and nationalities.
FICA first achieved a foothold in the United States when Mestre Cobra Mansa was
invited to give a capoeira presentation at a very Afro-centric school in Washington D.C.
The students were known to have an Afro-centric identity and were not welcoming to
outsiders, particularly whites. Mestre Cobra Mansa refused to give classes in a
segregated environment and, after many negotiations, succeeded in integrating the school
(personal communication 2009).
129
A few of my informants insisted that anyone can learn capoeira regardless of
their race, yet race continued to be a salient feature of their capoeira experience. Race
was generally seen as unimportant for individuals’ legitimization, but very important to
the history of capoeira and its place in Brazilian society. Most people were very aware
that its close association with poor blacks was the reason behind its long marginalization.
However, they were still shocked that I would even ask about the importance of race
because they believe race has no place in the practice of capoeira. Yet most of those who
expressed such shock were not black. There was only one African-American individual
in my study population. He was the only African-American (U.S.) who trained
consistently at FICA during my time with the group, though one black woman from
France did visit for a few weeks. In contrast to the underrepresentation of non-white
foreigners among capoeira pilgrims, there are, understandably, a large number of AfroBrazilians who train capoeira in Bahia. Jorge, one of the teachers at FICA, said it might
seem like blacks dominate in capoeira, but his reasoning was pragmatic; capoeira
originated in an area with a high density of African descendants so their numbers
naturally predominate.
In trying to understand one another, Brazilians and foreigners often relied on
national stereotypes. For example, Japanese students were coveted because they were
reputed to prioritize the collective over the individual (see Fujita 2009:57 on this
stereotype). Also, Brazilian capoeiristas at FICA Bahia generally had a hard time
differentiating the American and British pilgrims from one another. All English speakers
were lumped together. This was not based on ignorance or ill will, but was an
understandable reaction to the complexity of interacting with so many people from
130
different cultures. Hanging out in the academy during lunch one day, Mestre Valmir,
Aloan and Adriana were laughing about the different habits foreigners bring into the
academy. Hygienic practices in particular were cause for amusement, but Mestre Valmir
pointed out that when you travel somewhere else there will be some things that you get
accustomed to and adapt to, but other ingrained habits are hard to change. In another
instance, when I expressed concern that Mestre Valmir didn’t like me because he picked
on me during training, another American woman said that a lot of teaching in capoeira
involves humiliation and it is a “very Brazilian” way of dealing with students.
Stereotypes like these, while often incorrect, at least provided a basis for common
interaction if not real understanding.
However, there are some cases in which prejudice becomes evident. The
presence of foreigners in class had implications outside of the bounded training or
performance event. The capoeira group CTE made special provisions for foreigners who
attended classes. If there was an “un-Brazilian looking” foreigner among the group, the
mestre insisted that someone walk with him or her to wherever he or she needed to go.
Sometimes the mestre would personally drive students home because it was just a matter
of time before they would be robbed. Foreigners are known to be alvos (targets) for
muggings, and I was no exception. Thankfully, I was not stabbed like another American
woman who trained at FICA, but my experience of being “assaltado” about 10 yards
from the door of the academy did become a cautionary tale for other foreigners.
One day shortly after this incident, a foreign woman who had lived in Bahia for a
significant amount of time entered the dressing room and started talking animatedly. She
said that people here hate foreigners, and this is at the root of problems like my mugging.
131
She said they look at me, “uma rainha” (a queen), “bonitinha” (pretty), and see that I
have all these things and they hate me for it. They wonder why I should have all these
things while they are hungry. She said people hate her too because she makes more
money than they do, but she has worked hard, mastered the language, and deserves the
money she makes. Her hard work got her to where she is now and poor people hate her
for it. The grammatical construction she used for this, “ter raiva,” conveys extreme
sentiment.
She drew a connection between this hatred and the globalization of capoeira,
claiming there are people who think foreigners cannot play capoeira. She said some
people hate Mestre Cobra Mansa because he has taken capoeira abroad and “this is a lie.”
The alleged falsity of capoeira abroad is a reference to its inauthenticity. She said people
who hold this attitude want to hurt foreigners in the roda. She said FICA was different,
but this attitude prevailed at other academies. “There is a lot of racism in capoeira,” she
said, “but no one wants to talk about it.”
The biggest criticisms seem to be reserved for foreigners who claim expertise in
capoeira, like teachers. Interestingly, in some cases foreign capoeiristas are treated as
novelties and any mark of skill is lauded, but in other cases legitimacy is withheld. One
possible interpretation is that nationality is more entwined with legitimacy for foreigners
who want to teach capoeira versus those who simply want to play capoeira. One of my
interview subjects told me about a French man who decided to dedicate his life to
capoeira. He trained constantly, made a pilgrimage to Brazil, and quit his job to teach
capoeira. The Brazilian capoeiristas, however, cruelly teased him and refused to accept
him because no matter how hard he tries to act like a Brazilian, he will always be French.
132
Various interview subjects told me they felt that there existed a level beyond which
foreigners would not be permitted to advance. Kevin taught capoeira in Ireland for a few
years. He said he had heard of some mestres who will not graduate a foreigner up to the
level where he or she would be able to teach on their own. The well-known capoeira
group Senzala just recently named their first non-Brazilian contra-mestre, a man from
Holland. This reluctance makes some wonder why mestres would bother teaching
foreigners at all if they thought there was a limit on what they could accomplish.
Economic incentive provides the most obvious answer to the outsider, but most foreign
capoeira pilgrims treat their practice like a calling and the monetary relationship between
teacher and student is rarely at the forefront of their mind.50
In some cases, locals’ discrimination towards foreigners may be accidental. A
novice Brazilian joined us one evening for class at FICA Bahia. Like so many, he tried it
for a few sessions and was never seen again. On his first night he was introduced to the
other students there. Mestre Valmir said, “we have a lot of temporary people, but we
have a base group too.” He pointed to Bira, Jorge, even a “maluco” (crazy) guy who had
ranted against Brazilians who teach white foreigners. He did not mention either of the
Japanese men who had been with the group for longer than some of the “base” members.
In fact, the Japanese men attended more of the classes than anyone else during my time in
Bahia. Despite all this, it was only the Brazilians who were introduced as being part of
the “base group.” Jorge, a Brazilian with teaching responsibilities at FICA Bahia,
believes that capoeira exists for all people equally, but there must be a Brazilian base in
order for the group to be maintained. He says:
50
The mestres and locals do see economics as a benefit of this type of tourism; however, established
academies like FICA Bahia do not advertise to foreigners or actively solicit foreign students because there
is no need. The compulsion non-Brazilians feel to visit Bahia takes care of the marketing for them. 133
I believe that the people that come from abroad come to learn, they come to give a little, they
come to interact, but whatever capoeira group wants to remain…it has Brazilians or it won’t be
maintained, it won’t have an identity, it won’t have any of this.
Eu acho que as pessoas que vem de fora vem aprender, vem da um pouco, vem interagir, mas
qualquer grupo de capoeira que queira se manter…ele tem brasileiros ou ele não vai se manter,
ele não vai ter identidade, não ha nada dessa.
In other words, the foreigners have a marginal role in the group because with their
transient status, they are unable to contribute to the cohesiveness and identity of the
group in the same way as the Brazilians can.
However, Mestre Valmir was always quick to appreciate the presence of
foreigners in the academy. For example, FICA Bahia held a special end-of-year roda in
mid-December 2008. Mestre Valmir thanked several key people in the organization
including Jorge and his two sons who all taught class while he was away. He also
thanked Caroline and Alonzo, American capoeira pilgrims who had each taught a class in
December, as well as Yuta and another Japanese capoeirista who had been integral
members of the group.51 He thanked all of the people who left their countries, their
homes, to visit Bahia for a week, a month, or more. Therefore, I have to conclude that
his naming of only Brazilians as part of the base group was an oversight but significant
nonetheless.
In other cases, locals’ resentment of white or foreign capoeiristas is manifested in
the roda. A Russian woman seconded this opinion and said that the marginalization of
foreigners is a problem at some academies, but not at FICA. At FICA “everybody is
equal” and that is why she returns to train there. The first game of a roda sets the tone
for the event and some mestres are particular about who can play in this first game. At
51
His
special
recognition
of
these
pilgrims
is
significant
and
suggests
that
they
were
successful
in
transforming
their
cultural
capital
into
legitimacy.
134
FICA Bahia, it was common for foreigners to start rodas, which suggests that foreigners
and locals were treated equally. However, Caroline said that sometimes this foreign/local
aggression emerges in FICA rodas too. Sometimes the treinels (authorized teachers, just
below the level of contra-mestre) will enter the roda and “really give it to the new gringo
guys.” Of course, she thought this could be a gendered practice because they are always
considerate of her in the roda (see Gender below). Despite the overt discourse of
globalization and tolerance, underlying prejudice among many capoeiristas is evident in
their resentment of foreigners for their money and unwillingness to grant them legitimacy
in capoeira.
Despite touting capoeria as the foundation for an international community of
practitioners, not everyone shares this imagined solidarity (see Timbers 2000:177).
Timbers explains that American capoeiristas feel an affinity towards Brazil and Brazilian
culture because they have invested so much of themselves in their practice of capoeira;
however, Brazilians are not as likely to share this view of Americans, whom they assume
to be less knowledgeable about capoeira (ibid). Timbers quotes an American capoeirista
who acutely felt this prejudice when she visited Bahia in 1999. As Timbers notes, “while
the physical space of the roda may have the potential to create an ‘equal playing field’ for
all Angoleiros and knowing how to execute the movements, play the instruments, and
sing songs beautifully and skillfully may have an ‘equalizing’ effect, Capoeira Angola
will always be Brazilian (as well as African and Afro-Brazilian)” (Timbers 2000:178).
Timbers justifies Brazilians’ indifference towards American and other non-Brazilian
capoeira groups, in large part because interactions between the groups take place so
infrequently. However, as more and more foreigners, Timbers included, embark upon
135
extended pilgrimages to Bahia, engaging in exchange with foreigners is becoming the
norm rather than the exception.
In practice, it was often difficult to determine whether or not aggression in any
particular game was due to foreign/local conflict or whether it was based on other factors
like lineage affiliation or position in the capoeira hierarchy. One game stood out to
several witnesses as being particularly aggressive, and it was even more notable because
it took place at Mestre Joao Pequeno’s academy, a mestre who is known for encouraging
his students to play slow, controlled, and beautiful games. Perhaps this case of
aggression is not surprising because this academy is a requisite stop for many pilgrims
and one American man suggested to me that locals go there with the intent of picking on
foreigners in the roda. A very skilled Israeli man and a local contra-mestre from another
academy entered the roda. There was nothing unusual about the beginning of their game.
The Brazilian called a chamada, the waltz-like interlude in which players depart from the
typical question and answer structure of the game. After traversing the floor several
times, the Israeli tried to reinitiate the game, but the Brazilian refused his move and
continued the chamada. Shortly thereafter, the two paused briefly at the foot of the
berimbau. The Brazilian gave the Israeli a headbutt, which is not an illegal movement,
but it was an odd context in which to initiate this attack. The man controlling the roda
leaned down and reprimanded him. As they reentered the circle, the Brazilian untied the
Israeli’s shoelace, which is considered to be a cheap shot. Having reached the limit of his
patience, the Israeli responded by giving him a leg sweep that knocked him to the ground.
While the variables in this interaction are too numerous to say whether or not nationality
was at issue, when he was given the opportunity to lead a song, the Brazilian sang:
136
Paranaê, Paranaê, Paraná
Estrangeiro vou apanhar, paraná
The Brazilian player took a well-known song and inserted his own lyrics, modifying it by
saying “Foreigner I’m going to get you.” In all likelihood, he probably did not expect his
Israeli opponent or the estrangeira in the audience to understand what he said, but we
did. Discussing this incident months later, Iuri attributed the Brazilian player’s attitude to
the intolerance of his own mestre, who is of the antiquated mindset that capoeira is a
Brazilian domain.
Overt references to racism were few, though it did come up from time to time.
Most of these references came from individuals who are generally discontented, either
with their capoeira experience or with life in general. In the midst of an angry diatribe
on Brazilians who go abroad to teach white students and forget their black brothers, a
down-on-his-luck Brazilian man put his arm alongside mine to give a visual of the
distance between us. The pardo (mixed race) man with whom we were chatting
shrugged off this outburst.
Another student, who has been embroiled in conflict off and on with Mestre
Accordeon, also referenced this racism. He, however, situated it in the United States.
After marrying an American woman, this man started training with Mestre Accordeon in
Berkeley. He claims that there is a lot of racism that goes on under the surface of the
discourse that valorizes blackness and brasilidade (Brazilianness) in capoeira. Another
member of the group, however, attributed this student’s discontent to the fact that he has
not moved up in belt level for a long time because he plays too aggressively in the rodas.
137
These references to racism generally came to the surface during unguarded
moments. A capoeirista from London was forthcoming about her acquaintances that
have been marginalized within capoeira because of their race or nationality more so than
other people in my study. She said that her teacher, after having a little too much to
drink, told her that you can never really understand capoeira if you aren’t black. The
dominant discourse in capoeira recognizes Africans and Afro-Brazilians as the genitors
of the art but denies the importance of race for advancement. However, there is also an
undercurrent of anger and frustration expressed in racial terms when a capoeirista’s
advancement is curtailed in a field he or she claims as his or her own.
Blackness and Brasilidade remain at the top of the capoeira hierarchy. AfroBrazilians are often assumed to be superior capoeiristas because of their cultural
background. Capoeira is associated with blackness because of its history, but in present
practice, some African Americans’ usage of capoeira is contentious and threatens to
override Brazilians’ control of racial discourse. Some academies in the United States
only admit black students, but they are the exception rather than the norm. In Bahia, it is
more common for complaints about foreigners’ race or nationality to be expressed subtly,
through performance in the roda. Sometimes this marginalization is not intentional, but
the result of naturalized assumptions about what it means to be at the core of the capoeira
social field.
Lineage
Lineage is another important aspect of a capoeirista’s identity. During my first
game with Mestre Valmir, Iuri was also in attendance. As we knelt in front of the
berimbau and Mestre Valmir led the group in song, he cried out “long live my mestre,
138
long live your mestre” and gestured in Iuri’s direction. To this day I have not decided if
this was genuine respect, a bit of fun-poking, or a combination of the two, but
acknowledging the capoeira ancestors in this way is an integral component of the
capoeira ritual.
For the sake of simplicity, capoeira is often portrayed as having only two styles,
Angola and Regional, with one founder atop each lineage. In reality, however, there are
several styles that overlap with one another and numerous mestres that fall outside of the
neat Bimba/Pastinha divide.
Often, reading capoeira’s history in the 20th century can give the impression that it all
sprang, either directly or at least by influence, from Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha.
This is the inevitable result of the official recognition of these mestres’ work and their
influence on others who, significantly, wrote about their experience with these mestres,
either as students or as academic observers (Taylor 2005b:83).
Despite their ideological differences, Mestre Bimba and Mestre Pastinha both had the
ability to attract followers who were deeply committed to spreading their teachings.
Mestre Pastinha, for example, dedicated his life to the art of capoeira and demanded
discipline and strict adherence to the rituals from his students. Pastinha attracted
attention and fame among intellectuals, politicians and artists but did not become rich
because of it. His 1966 trip to Africa to show Brazilian capoeira to the Africans was the
ultimate glory in his life. Aside from his friend Jorge Amado and his third wife Maria
Romelia, he was largely abandoned at the end of his life (Lyrio 2007). Pastinha was
certainly a bohemian and philosopher extraordinaire, but his skills as a player may
possibly have been overstated.
A few quiet voices among capoeiristas are starting to suggest that Mestre
Pastinha’s contribution to capoeira was recognizing the need for Angola to become
codified and disciplined like Regional. This gave Capoeira Angola respectability in the
139
eyes of Brazilian society while simultaneously aligning the style with the cultural and
artistic elite like Carybe and Jorge Amado. Gathering top Angola players such as João
Pequeno and João Grande to teach in his school solidified his position as the “founder” of
Capoeira Angola. In turn, those players who were made contra-mestres under Pastinha
gained legitimacy and passed legitimacy on to their students by virtue of their lineage.
By his own admission, Pastinha was believed to be the best choice to teach and preserve
Capoeira Angola (Taylor 2005b:31), but this does not necessarily imply that he was the
best player. Many of Mestre Pastinha’s contemporaries continued to play and teach
capoeira, leaving their own mark upon the capoeira that is played today in the streets and
lesser known academies in Brazil.
Following this, it becomes clear that the capoeira community is highly fractured,
but lineage orients capoeiristas in an otherwise disorderly social field. Apprenticeship
under a mestre legitimizes a capoeirista within this community (Downey 2005:63 & 70).
Entering into a training relationship admits practitioners into his or her teacher’s lineage.
In capoeira, as in most martial arts, prestige is associated with tracing one’s ancestry
back to the founder of the style. Capoeiristas commonly try to trace their descent back to
Mestre Bimba or Mestre Pastinha, depending upon which style of capoeira they claim to
play.52 Some have even gone so far as to say that “to be a ‘true’ Angoleiro you must be
recognized by the Capoeira Angola community, including connecting yourself in some
way to capoeira Angola’s lineage from Mestre Pastinha” (Timbers 2000:151), a point on
52
Some
groups
buttress
this
legitimacy
by
tracing
their
lineage
even
further.
For
example,
GCAP
not
only
stresses
Mestre
Moraes’s
descent
from
Mestre
Pastinha
via
Mestre
Joao
Grande,
but
also
stresses
that
Pastinha
himself
learned
capoeira
from
an
African,
Tio
Benedito.
Thus,
“at
the
same
time
that
Pastinha
is
a
source
of
authority,
his
historically
recent
receipt
of
capoeira
from
an
African
strengthens
the
group’s
assertion
that
capoeira
originated
across
the
Atlantic”
(Downey
2005:70).
By
faithfully
replicating
the
movement
style
of
their
forbearers,
the
group
gives
their
political
discourse
bodily
form
(ibid).
140
which I disagree. In this section, I address why lineage matters and how a student’s
legitimacy is tied to that of his or her teacher.
A capoeirista’s lineage defines his or her orientation to the larger capoeira
community. One of the first questions a capoeira pilgrim is asked upon arriving in Brazil
is, “who is your mestre?” Capoeiristas affiliated with a recognized group will generally
seek out the mestres in their lineage to train with in Brazil. A large percentage of the
capoeiristas who trained at FICA Bahia during 2008 were members of other FICA
groups such as FICA Stockholm, FICA Paris, FICA Atlanta, FICA Oakland, and FICA
D.C. Not only did these students share a similar movement style, but they were also
accustomed to the practical expectations of the group like how class is run, the
prohibition against drinking water during class, and the expectation that students
contribute to the upkeep of the physical space.
Capoeiristas in the same lineage will exhibit many common characteristics. Most
academies in the Pastinha line wear black and yellow, but sometimes wear all white in
honor of the slave heritage in capoeira when men split canvas bags, sewed them into pant
legs and tied them tightly with cotton ropes. Other groups have different traditions, like
Mestre Lua’s students who wear blue and white or the group in Feira de Santana who
wear leather sandals to honor their regional heritage as leather producers. At the very
least, a capoeirista is normally expected to wear a t-shirt proclaiming his or her capoeira
lineage. This takes on special significance when a capoeirista plays at a roda outside of
his or her group. One evening, a Romanian capoeira pilgrim sat in the circle, waiting for
the GCAP roda to begin. Mestre Moraes was not there, but his contra-mestre adhered
closely to the etiquette prescribed by Moraes. The contra-mestre saw the Romanian’s
141
plain grey t-shirt and asked him where his uniform was. His tone was accusatory as if it
were an insult to attend this roda without announcing your lineage. Without this
declaration, the contra-mestre had no way of situating the Romanian pilgrim within the
social field.
Training with a mestre, or even a lower-level teacher like a contra mestre, is
important for a number of reasons. First, this individual serves as the group’s visionary
and gives cohesiveness to the group. Even chapters of FICA, arguably the most unified
Capoeira Angola organization, have floundered if they did not have an authorized leader
at the helm. Timbers connects the presence of a mestre with the maintenance of
authenticity in capoeira groups outside of Brazil by claiming that “American groups
without mestres may begin to re-shape even Capoeira Angola’s most central ideas”
(Timbers 2000:171). She is suggesting that without the guidance of a mestre, American
students will, perhaps unwittingly, let their own cultural lens disrupt the traditions of
capoeira. The mestre’s dedication to his students should be matched by the students’
dedication to the group. A FICA student from Brasilia told me that in Brazil, you have a
mestre and you only train with that mestre. He was referencing loyalty, perhaps in
contrast to foreigners who come to Bahia and train at many different academies. This
kind of behavior is tolerated in tourists, but it jeopardizes the pilgrims’ chance of
becoming admitted into a legitimate peripheral participation role. Pilgrims can play in
other rodas but are expected to remain loyal to their mestre in training.
Second, a mestre gives stylistic coherence to the group. Mestre Valmir’s stylistic
influence on his group is immediately apparent. Sometimes the way Aloan moved in the
roda looked so much like his father that it was a bit surreal. Stylistic similarities
142
characterize capoeiristas from the same lineage; however, that is not to say that every
teacher exhibits identical traits. A capoeirista from Thailand said that one of the things
he liked about classes at FICA Bahia was that three different teachers offered classes.
They all had the same foundation, which is what makes them FICA, but they all have
their own individual styles too. Marcelo, Mestre Cobra Mansa’s son, taught a slightly
modified negativa to FICA students. After class he said that Joao Pequeno uses this
movement a lot, but not everyone in FICA does it. When someone pointed out that
Jorge, a FICA treinel, uses it, Marcelo said that is because he used to train with Mestre
Jogo de Dentro, who descends from Mestre João Pequeno. Someone else pointed out
another move that Marcelo had just taught and said that Mestre Cobra Mansa does it a
lot, but it is not necessarily characteristic of the FICA style. Marcelo said yes, he does
that because he is a close friend of a mestre who uses it and they train together.
So while style, or at least certain movements, is passed vertically down through
the generations of capoeiristas via apprenticeship, style is also transmitted horizontally as
peers train together and incorporate movements that they learn from their friends. The
more legitimate a player is, the more likely it is that his or her innovations will be passed
on through this horizontal transmission. Vertical transmission is responsible for the
continuities in a group’s style while horizontal transmission introduces difference. At
FICA, this horizontal transmission was just as likely to be from foreigner to local as it
was the other way around. Yet even with this degree of idiosyncrasy, capoeiristas are
more like others within their lineage than those outside of it.
It is not only movement style, but also etiquette that students cultivate as a result
of their lineage. For example, wearing proper attire is very important in Capoeira
143
Angola. A Capoeira Regional student attended class at FICA Bahia and was warned that
if she wanted to go to any rodas over the weekend, she would need to wear shoes and a
shirt with sleeves. Mestre Valmir said, “if you go to an academy for a roda and you are
wearing a sleeveless shirt, the mestre might ask you who your teacher is and then tell
everybody that your mestre isn’t keeping the tradition.” An Israeli woman played in
Mestre Joao Pequeno’s roda one evening. She first started training capoeira with the
famous group Cordão de Ouro in Israel, but now trains Capoeira Contemporania in the
United States. Like many Regional and Contemporania players, she was wearing a
close-fitting, short t-shirt. She tried to keep her shirt tucked into her pants, but every
minute or two it came untucked. Every time this happened, she and her partner were
called back to the berimbau, and she had to fix it. After the fourth or fifth time, the man
in charge of the roda called an end to their game. Clearly he had little tolerance for
people that did not know, understand, or respect the customs at their academy. Adhering
to tradition is an important way that students both mark themselves as insiders in this
subculture and show respect to their lineage. Of course, this also has implications for a
capoeirista’s attitude (see Chapter 5).
If a group or individual is not affiliated with a mestre, it is more difficult for them
to develop relationships in Brazil. For example, a German capoeira pilgrim who trains
with a Capoeira Contemporania group in Germany trained primarily with FICA when
she was in Bahia. She thought they were nice, but they used a lot of acrobatics in their
game, something she was unaccustomed to back home. She said she felt good about
being part of FICA, but that it takes time to become integrated into a new group,
especially if you are not already part of the international FICA system. She felt that it
144
was more difficult for her to become integrated in the group than other foreigners who
had a preexisting relationship with FICA. The members of Estrela do Norte felt a similar
sense of alienation. In 2006, Estrela do Norte severed ties with Iuri’s mestre due to an
ideological conflict.53 In a sense, we are now capoeira orphans. When visiting Bahia in
2008, Iuri worked hard to seek out training opportunities for us, such as attending the
kids’ class at the Pierre Verger Foundation, attending a roda with Mestre Pele, and
organizing private training sessions with an independent capoeira teacher. Despite his
hard work, however, we were still a bit untethered in comparison to those pilgrims with a
predefined base of operations. The consequences of this situation remain to be seen, but
in all liklihood, members of the Estrela do Norte group who wish to become integrated
into the core of the social field will have to work extra hard and compensate for this lack
with charismatic capital.
A student from a weaker lineage is assumed to be weak him- or herself. This is
closely related to the phenomenon of “Varig mestres,” a disparaging nickname given to
capoeiristas who adopt the mestre title while in-flight from Brazil to another country
where they hope to set up a capoeira school. Varig is the name of one of Brazil’s
airlines. After a roda at GCAP, Mestre Moraes gave a short lecture on globalization and
its effects on capeoira. He, like so many others, questions the legitimacy of many
teachers abroad. Three French capoeiristas played in this roda, though he only knew one
of them. He asked the two others who their teacher was. He claimed that the only
worthwhile teachers would have descended from his lineage. In an act of dismissal, he
53
There
were
multiple
things
at
issue
in
this
particular
dispute,
though
the
royalties
owed
by
the
Indiana
group
to
the
Brazilian
mestre
was
one
primary
concern.
145
told them that the other French student could put them in touch with someone better,
someone from his school.
Many mestres jealously defend the honor of their school. The politics of capoeira
are complicated and many relationships between mestres are wrought with tension,
particularly when one group breaks away from its mestre. Mestre Cobra Mansa
established FICA after breaking away from GCAP, taking many talented capoeiristas
with him. To this day, the two mestres do not get along, though all of the FICA mestres
and mestres at FICA’s sister group Nzinga continue to speak highly of him in public.
The rivalry, however, does not extend to the students; FICA students, particularly
foreigners, frequently attended rodas at GCAP. The petty feuds between mestres were
also cited as cause for the weakening of the Associação Brasileiro de Capoeira Angola
(Brazilian Association of Capoeira Angola). This used to be the overriding organization
for Capoeira Angola mestres, but now they only host weekly rodas and rent out their
upstairs space to various capoeira teachers.
While lineages serve to preserve tradition and legitimize capoeiristas, they are not
static. Lineages frequently split due to conflicts, like that between the mestres of GCAP
and FICA, but may also extend in previously unforeseen directions as a result of new
opportunities. One of the reasons some pilgrims came to Bahia was to lay the
groundwork for the expansion of a particular lineage. One pilgrim was in the process of
relocating to Holland. The only teacher currently there descends through Mestre João
Grande’s line, but this pilgrim is hoping that some day there might be enough support to
bring a FICA teacher to Holland. Likewise, a Romanian student came to Bahia and
146
actively searched for capoeiristas who might be willing and able to go to Romania for a
year or more and start a Capoeira Angola group there.
The mestres of tomorrow are already well on their way to gaining prominence in
the capoeira community. During one roda for which Mestre Valmir was absent, his two
sons knelt at the berimbau and prepared to play the first game of the morning. During the
chula (formulaic call and response song), they gestured to one another as they sang “viva
meu mestre, quem me ensinou” (long live my mestre, who taught me). This playfulness
indexed their shared learning under their father, but also seemed to slip into the
subjunctive. They gestured to one another as if they were already mestres, and indeed
with their heritage and training it is not unlikely that they will one day become mestres.
Lineage is important because it determines a capoeirista’s style and positions him
or her within the social field. As the Romanian pilgrim learned at the GCAP roda, some
mestres will not acknowledge a pilgrim unless they know his or her lineage. Merely
being adopted into a lineage does not guarantee legitimacy, which is predicated upon
execution of proper form. However, without being affiliated with a lineage, a capoeirista
will most likely be cut off from opportunities for legitimate peripheral participation.
Gender
The path of women in capoeira has not been easy. Women in capoeira continue
to be objectified and are “not taken seriously” by many of their male counterparts (Essien
2008:58). With a few notable exceptions, women were almost entirely absent from
capoeira until well into the twentieth century. Up through the 1930s, Afro-Brazilian men
and women’s activities were segregated by gender; men played capoeira and women
were involved with Candomblé and/or the Catholic Church (Taylor 2005:216, see also
147
Landes 1947). Then, alongside the emergence of feminist thought in the 1970s, female
participation in capoeira increased (Capoeira 2006:179). However, women remain all
but invisible in street rodas, and even in academies women continually struggle against
the hegemonic dominance of male capoeiristas (Lemle 2008).
Overt sexism in capoeira is not condoned, but there are certainly informal ways
of marginalizing women in capoeira. There are several female mestres in Capoeira
Regional, but fewer in Capoeira Angola. Taylor thinks “it is only a matter of time before
the large number of women now doing Capoeira Angola begin to break through that final
barrier” (2007:210). I, however, am not as sure about this progression. Women like
Mestra Janja, who is a mestre in every sense of the word and an inspiration to men and
women alike, show that it is not an impossible goal, but the conservatism in Capoeira
Angola tempers their progression. Most Brazilian women are not encouraged to become
dedicated capoeiristas, and those who do display an interest and aptitude often find it
difficult to balance training with their responsibilities at home.
The foreign women in my study reacted to this situation in different manners.
Some, who were acutely aware of the unequal status of men and women in the roda,
worked hard to present themselves as asexual within capoeira. Caroline sometimes sees
a line being drawn between being a capoeirista and being a woman and still does not
know how to overcome this kind of thinking. Mestre Valmir asked Caroline to help him
demonstrate a training sequence. She lumbered forward. Valmir watched her for a
moment and then parodied her walk, which by her own admission is less than ladylike.
Seeing that he was making fun of her, she backed up and came forward again with an
exaggeratedly feminine walk, shoulders back and hips rolling sensuously. We burst into
148
laughter. This was made all the funnier because Caroline works so hard to project an
asexual aura in capoeira. After their demonstration, Valmir kissed her hand and gave her
a little twirl.
Others find themselves ambivalent about the role of women in capoeira and find
it challenging to present themselves as skilled players while still embracing their
femininity. Janja, a mestra at Nzinga, approached one foreigner after a roda and said she
needed to work on adding more variety to her game. This particular foreigner always
tried to attack her adversary, and Janja wanted her to add more playfulness to her game.
She thought this was especially important when playing with kids. Janja was trying to
help this foreign woman see that she does not need to adopt an aggressive, masculine
aesthetic; women do not have to play like men just because they set the original
parameters of the game. According to Janja, femininity in capoeira is not about being
sexy as it is portrayed in popular culture. Janja acknowledges that some men will
devalue a female capoeirista because she is a woman but says, “when I need to pick up a
knife, I pick up a knife.” Her metaphor suggests that aggression is justified in some
cases, but women do not need to have that as their default attitude just because men
might play that way.
Despite Mestre Valmir’s claims that gender is irrelevant to capoeira, seemingly
insignificant moments in classes and rodas pointed to the contrary. The female body was
at issue in discussions of students’ uniforms. In Capoeira Angola, players wear t-shirts,
which must be tucked into the waistband of their pants. A Polish woman who trained at
FICA in July and August of 2008 had a particularly short shirt that kept rising up and
exposing her stomach. There are practical reasons to keep one’s shirt tucked in, but
149
Mestre Valmir gave an additional explanation. He said, “it is fashionable for young
women to wear short shirts and show off their bellybutton rings and they want things to
fit just right.” He passed his hands down the length of his body and over his hips. He
understands this and likes it; it is pretty. “But if a woman’s shirt comes up and she is
showing things, she might distract her adversary.” Apparently using sexuality as an
advantage is unfair, which is somewhat ironic considering that capoeiristas pride
themselves on using any situation to their benefit. This was offered as evidence that there
is no difference between men and women in capoeira but seems to suggest that there is
indeed a very big difference.
Take, for example, the ritual of shaking hands during class. I approached one of
the Japanese students as we started partner practice. We greeted one another with the
handshake/fist bump combination that has become so popular among young Brazilians.
Mestre Valmir saw this and expressed his surprise. “Que é isso?” he asked. He made a
big show of walking up to me, giving me a devastatingly alluring smile, gently taking my
hand and kissing it. The class laughed; my partner muttered “cultural differences” under
his breath. My next partner too gave me the fist bump, but after a quick look from
Mestre Valmir, he quickly kissed my hand. But when he absent-mindedly wiped his
mouth afterwards, the class erupted into another round of raucous laughter. At the end of
class, Mestre Valmir said the hand kissing was not because I was a woman, but because I
am a capoeirista and he has respect for all capoeiristas. Of course I didn’t see any men
kissing each other’s hands, so I remain a bit skeptical of this gender-blindness.
There were often gendered dynamics to interactions in the roda. When Aloan
found out that my father was coming to visit and would be attending the next roda, he
150
feigned fear, saying that fathers are protective of their daughters. When I played a
Brazilian man, there was some pantomimed groping that took place out of my view.
Mestre Valmir motioned to my dad sitting on the sidelines and gave my adversary a
teasing look that seemed to say, “watch it buddy, her father’s on to you.” This
playfulness inherent in capoeira straddles the line between truth and make-believe and
reinforced the reality that gender matters.
Caroline thought sometimes it was easier to be a woman than a man in capoeira,
particularly if you are a novice. She said people coddle women a bit until they know
what you can do whereas she has seen men ‘beat up’ regardless of being beginners. So
while Caroline generally dislikes the fact that men often have lower expectations for
women in the roda, she can also see times during which this is an advantage. However,
my most intense game was with a Brazilian female. As I was bent over in the middle of
executing a movement, her hands brushed against my backside in an intimate manner.
Accidental touching is not uncommon in capoeira, but this seemed deliberate. If it was
deliberate, it is possible that she was assuming a male role and enacting sexual play or
domination. This raises the possibility that tension or aggression characterizes same-sex
foreign/local relationships while flirtation or chivalry characterizes mixed-sex
foreign/local relationships. This isolated incident can neither prove nor disprove this
hypothesis, but empirical evidence does support the idea that Brazilian men treat foreign
women differently than they treat foreign men in the roda.
Local men’s attitudes towards foreign women may have been patronizing at
times, but some of the more interesting gendered interactions were between foreign men
and women. One particularly skilled American woman claimed that the Japanese men
151
did not like to play with her. She attributed this to their sense of masculinity and fear of
being outplayed by a woman. On one occasion a Japanese man told her that he disliked
muscular women, and in other situations Japanese men either refused to shake her hand at
the berimbau or did not smile at all throughout their game. Refusing to shake hands is a
significant breach of etiquette. Being a woman in an internationalized setting such as
FICA Bahia greatly complicates the terrain of expectations about gender because of the
varied cultural scripts people bring with them.
Lyrics to many capoeira songs reinforce difference between men and women.
Many songs promote masculinity, praise their sexual exploits, or chide boys for crying.
For example:
O menino chorou
Nhem, Nhem Nhem
É porque não mamou
Nhem, Nhem, Nhem
Cale a boca menino
Nhem, Nhem, Nhem
É menino chorão
Nhem, Nhem, Nhem
Sua mãe foi pra fonte
Nhem, Nhem, Nhem
Ela foi pra Cabula
Nhem, Nhem, Nhem
The boy cries
Wah, Wah, Whah
It’s because he wasn’t breastfed
Wah, Wah, Wah
Shut your mouth boy
Wah, Wah, Wah
It’s the boy that cries
Wah, Wah, Wah
Your mother went to the fountain
Wah, Wah, Wah
She went to Cabula
Wah, Wah, Wah
This reinforcement of traditional gender roles has made it more difficult for women to
achieve equality and acceptance in the roda (Assunção 2005:109). There are also several
songs that reference women. Most portray women as sexual beings, though a few allude
to the rare women who dared cross gender lines to play capoeira in times long past. A
handful of these songs refer to women as part of the Baian landscape, such as the woman
who sells rice from Maranhão or coconuts from Bahia. By and large, these songs have
152
the effect of highlighting difference rather than promoting femininity like the songs about
men promote masculinity.
Some groups, however, have taken steps to reduce the hegemony of song in
capoeira. The call-and-response structure of capoeira songs “forces the audience to
assent to an interpretation of capoeira’s past with which they don’t agree; roda etiquette
demands that they enthusiastically sing the response even if they disagree with the lyrics”
(Downey 2005). One traditional song includes the lyrics “eu sou homen, não sou
mulher” (I am a man, I am not a woman). The call and response format obligates all
participants to sing these lyrics, forcing women to reject their own gender. I have heard
some women subvert this message, singing “não sou homen, eu sou mulher” (I am not a
man, I am a woman). This maintains the structure of the line and is hardly noticeable in a
chorus of mostly male voices. Some groups have entirely rewritten the lyric to say that
capoeira “é pra homen e pra mulher” (it is for men and for women), which fits the
rhythm of the song without imposing outdated gender expectations on participants.
Capoeira in Brazil continues to be dominated by men, but female capoeira
pilgrims descending upon the city in droves raises the visibility of women in capoeira.
Not only are women becoming more visible in capoeira, but stronger as well. From his
personal experiences, Essien believes “that female capoeiristas in the States play at a
higher level than they do in Brazil” (2008:74). This sentiment was expressed multiple
times by the foreign women I interviewed. The greatest honor an Israeli woman received
was a young, female Brazilian capoeirista saying she hoped to play like her one day.
Local men took an attitude of superiority towards foreign women regardless of the
latter’s skill level. Caroline outplayed a Brazilian in a roda at Mestre Joao Pequeno’s
153
academy, clearly displaying her superior skill. The man approached her after the roda
and offered to give her private capoeira lessons. She attributes this arrogance to the fact
that she is a woman. Presumably, a white American man probably would not have been
solicited in this way. One of the older men at FICA was known for this kind of arrogance
and constantly tried to “teach” foreign women, even when his technique was worse than
ours. He actually congratulated himself when I made progress, as if he and not Mestre
Valmir or Aloan (or I) were responsible
Women’s events are becoming more popular in capoeira. In August of 2008 I
attended a women-only Regional roda held in conjunction with an international co-ed
capoeira event. The presiding mestra (female mestre) said they wanted to host this
women’s roda to combat the prejudice against women in capoeira. The first song they
sang commented on how each instrument in the orchestra was being played by a woman.
Similarly, FICA hosts an annual event that combines capoeira workshops and rodas with
presentations and discussions about the changing role of women in capoeira.
Gender was always close to the surface at Nzinga, a capoeira group known for its
dedication to furthering the roles of women and children in capoeira. Mestra Paulina has
remarked on Capoeira Angola as a game of cooperation, but it can also be violent. Their
group was created in homage to Angolan Queen Nzinga. They prioritize fighting gender
discrimination as one of their goals. To this end they have a women only class on
Tuesday and Thursday mornings (Jacob 2007).
A foreigner from FICA inadvertently broke several rules of etiquette during an
Nzinga roda, such as accepting a berimbau in a situation that implied the instrument was
inadequate. At the conclusion of the roda, Janja pointed out the norms that were broken
154
and said that she appreciated foreigners’ attendance at Nzinga’s rodas, but they needed to
adhere to the proper traditions. She has worked hard to establish the role of women in the
roda, and pilgrims need to be careful to adhere to tradition because otherwise people
could use it as an excuse to say that the rules are different for women. Janja has to walk a
fine line between welcoming foreigners into the academy and maintaining the traditions
she has worked so hard to preserve and extend to women. This suggests a parallel
between women and foreigners who are both newcomers to the art of capoeira. If Janja
feels that women must faithfully adhere to traditional form in order to be considered
legitimate, the stakes are similar for foreigners.
Janja used her position as a mestre to promote equality for women. She brought a
petition to one roda for men to sign, pledging their support to fight domestic violence. At
the next roda she brought white ribbons for men to tie around their wrists if they would
promise not to commit violence against women. She explained this in terms that the
younger boys in the group would understand. In December of 2008 she was given an
award for her contributions to women’s rights. When she received her award, she said
that for a long time, women have been made invisible in capoeira. She pointed out that
women within capoeira are a recent phenomenon. In this time there have been many
political interventions that have arisen from within capoeira. However, she pointed out,
even within capoeira you find the same “violences” against women that you find in
Brazilian culture more generally.
The involvement of women in capoeira is a recent phenomenon. Though their
participation is almost universally accepted today, the path they must take is not easy.
Women have to work hard to prove that they are credibly inheritors of the genre. To my
155
knowledge, no academies bar women, but several factors contribute to their
marginalization. In this case, being male is a form of traditional cultural capital. As
Janja suggests, women have to compensate for this in other areas if they are to be
accepted as legitimate.
Conclusion
The widespread popularity of capoeira has united people from all parts of the
world together in their practice of this art, radically changing the original demographics
of capoeira. The stable characteristics over which capoeiristas have little or no control
are explored here as traditional claims to legitimacy. These characteristics include race,
nationality, lineage, and gender. Race and nationality are the most contested currencies
in this model, and capoeira is often used to further political agendas whether ethnic or
nationalistic. Being black and being Brazilian both bear positive associations within
capoeira, but at FICA these factors had little bearing on a foreigner’s legitimacy. Most
of those who credited Brazilians with being better capoeiristas than Europeans or
Americans pointed to their culture as an explanation rather than anything biological.
Though lineage is a somewhat elective trait, it is included here because once a student
chooses a mestre, he or she is permanently inscribed within that lineage. Lineage is an
important factor for capoeiristas, both ensuring stylistic continuity over the generations
and providing a ready-made network for capoeira pilgrims seeking contacts in Brazil.
Gender was not originally part of my model, but it emerged as an important currency
during the course of my research. Clearly women have made great strides within this
social field, but balancing their identity as a capoeirista with that of being a woman
remains difficult, particularly when forced to negotiate the expectations of male
156
capoeiristas from other cultures. Most interesting about the discussions of gender is the
implication that women and foreigners both come up short in the realm of traditional
claims to authenticity, making success in other areas even more important. Despite the
saliency of traditional claims to authenticity, charismatic factors are far more important
for advancement within the capoeira social field. It is to this category that I turn in
Chapter Five.
157
Chapter
5‐
Charismatic
Forms
of
Cultural
Capital
As a student of performance and a performer myself, I hypothesized that
adherence to proper form or technique would be paramount for foreigners seeking to
claim legitimacy in the Baian capoeira community. However, most capoeiristas
attributed more importance to charismatic characteristics than they did form. This does
not mean, however, that form is unimportant. Rather, its value often lies beneath the
surface of capoeiristas’ consciousness. Mastery of form is partly a byproduct of their
engagement with the social field. It is an individual’s charisma that opens the door to
deeper relationships with mestres, creating more learning opportunities during which he
or she can master the nuanced form of capoeira.
Charisma, according to Weber, is either divinely bestowed or otherwise “inspires
personal devotion by virtue of extraordinary individual qualities” (Titunik 2005:144). In
many ways it is easier to believe that charismatic individuals posses an unnamable mystic
essence than it is to enumerate the qualities that give one an aura of charisma. However,
the recurrence of several qualities among charismatically rich pilgrims allows us to begin
such a sketch. In my model, charisma refers to the uncommodifiable proclivities of an
individual that facilitate their acceptance into a local scene. Like Weber said of
charismatic domination, these qualities “[inspire] faith and trust” (ibid:144). People are
drawn to charismatic individuals because of these traits. These qualities are inherent in
the individual but are different from traditional forms of cultural capital because they
spontaneously appear in the population and do not rely on tradition, like lineage, or on
158
birth, like race, nationality, or gender/sex. Weber used the term charisma to refer to the
legitimate domination of others; however, applying his schema to individuals at other
levels within the social field allows us to discuss the various strategies used to achieve
legitimacy and ascend through the social hierarchy towards a position of leadership.
Ethnographic research allows us to operationalize the term charisma for particular
scenes. The charismatic forms of cultural capital that matter in capoeira can be divided
into two primary categories: attitude and other manifestations of a capoeirista’s
disposition. What defines an appropriate, socially sanctioned attitude will be particular to
each social field. While attitude is inherently uncommodifiable, economic exchange may
be involved in enacting the dispositions that grow out of one’s attitude. These
manifestations may be a result of learning like speaking Portuguese, achieved through
dedication and sacrifice like travel and volunteerism, or inherent in the individual as with
untutored skill.
Attitude
During interviews and in my own personal experience as a participant observer,
attitude consistently outranked all other qualities for capoeiristas. If I were to give
foreign capoeira pilgrims one piece of advice, I would tell them to go out of their way to
be open and engaging with the local capoeiristas. This encompasses talking with locals,
greeting teachers and students appropriately and enthusiastically, making themselves
available to assist the academy in any way possible, and above all, being willing to
engage in “troca de informação” (information exchange). All of these practices fall
under the designation of attitude. As I came to see, attitude is discernable both in daily
comportment and through performance. It is the central element of a capoeirista’s
159
charisma and is manifest in all of the elective practices that deepen one’s engagement
with the local scene. The stakes of performing an appropriated art form on the Other’s turf are high,
but the payoffs are great as it opens each side of the dialectic to the possibilities of greater
exchange and understanding. A predominately white, atheist gospel choir from Australia
took a big risk in performing for a local congregation in Harlem on Easter Sunday. For
the first few numbers, the black audience clapped along patiently while the white choir
performed, tolerating their guests but not engaging with them on an emotional level. But
“something broke” during their rendition of You Brought the Sunshine and the
congregation responded bodily and vocally to the choir’s performance (Johnson
2003:215). Johnson writes, “[d]uring and proceeding dialogic performance, and
specifically within the performance of possibilities, performer, subject, and audience are
transformed” (ibid:215). The reason this particular song resonated with the black
congregation is because of its difficulty and the choir’s performance of it “demonstrated
their commitment to, investment in, and reverence for gospel music” (ibid:215). Thus
sincerity and dedication, both elements of the performers’ attitude, are what earned the
choir legitimacy. In large part, this openness and willingness to subject oneself to the
authorization of the local community, the primary stakeholders in this debate over
authenticity, is what endears foreigners to the local scene and opens up possibilities for
further learning opportunities in the field.
In capoeira, having the right attitude involves openness, dedication, humility,
service, playfulness, and a willingness to endure tricks and jests. Upon entering an
academy, one’s attitude will initially be gauged by his or her openness, which is
160
commonly assumed to be difficult for foreigners. Being open, aberto, is a blanket term
for exuding warmth, friendliness and approachability. It also implies a degree of ease
and confidence. This can be difficult for newcomers to project, though it is easier for
members of other FICA branches because they have some sense of belonging and a
baseline understanding of how the academy works. Nominally, members of FICA Bahia
are incredibly open to foreigners, and I believe they are sincere in their desire to welcome
others. Adriana, known affectionately as ‘Mexicana’ because of her nationality, believes
that the burden for facilitating intercultural relationships falls upon the foreigner to a
greater extent than the Brazilian because “the ones that traveled to know the country were
us, they didn’t leave their country.”54
For
her,
this
means
not
being
closed
“because
it
is
an
open
country.”
Being fechado or closed is the biggest barrier to a foreginer’s acceptance.
Unfortunately, this is one of the key descriptors used for Americans and Europeans. If
this problematic characteristic of being fechado is inherently associated with Americans
and Europeans, how are any of us to overcome it in our hopes of being accepted? With a
little time and a few opportunities for their real personalities to shine through their
national labels, most pilgrims show that they are the opposite of fechado.
After establishing contact with a group, perseverance becomes an important way
for a pilgrim to demonstrate his or her attitude. In capoeira, like most martial arts, this
‘willingness to eat bitter’ trumps a novice’s lack of skill. This is a constant theme in
personal narratives of martial arts training. Take, for instance, this reflection from Sam
54
The
original
text
from
our
interview
reads:
“Quem
viajou
para
conhecer
o
pais
fomos
nos,
eles
não
sairão
do
seu
pais.”
161
Sheridan’s account of his time spent in a Thai training academy. He writes of a Swede
named Blue.
You had to give Blue credit. He wasn’t there to fight, and he didn’t have much form, but
he tried. There was a trainer for the Limpini fighters who in all my time there never
spoke to me or looked at me once; he didn’t have any time for or interest in the silly
farang [foreigner]. But he would talk to Blue. Blue had won them over by nearly killing
himself training, by a show of heart (Sheridan 2007:32).
Even though he was not particularly skilled, Blue’s spectacular dedication allowed him
access to trainers who were otherwise off-limits to foreigners. Talking with capoeira
pilgrims similarly confirms that perseverance and dedication are far more important than
skill in becoming integrated with the group. There are two different types of dedication
in capoeira, which shows the difference between simply being a good capoeira player
and being part of the capoeira community.
The first type of dedication is very personal in nature; it encompasses training
your own body and working on your own musical skills. Capoeira pilgrims at FICA
Bahia who attended up to eighteen hours of class per week and participated in multiple
rodas over the weekend exhibited this kind of dedication. This kind of dedication often
leads to cramming. One evening a new Brazilian student had joined our class and Mestre
Valmir introduced the rest of the group to him. Valmir remarked that all of the foreigners
present were “running in front of the question;” a poetic way of saying that we were all in
Bahia to experience as much capoeira as we possibly could in the time available to us.
The other type of dedication includes personal training as well as commitment to
bettering the group. The latter is far more important for an individual’s legitimacy within
the local capoeira scene. This is the kind of dedication exhibited by Yuta, arguably one
of the best integrated of all foreigners who trained at FICA Bahia during my visit. Yuta
decided to return home to Japan in October, but before he left he received two
162
despididos: ritualized farewells that involve playing capoeira with all comers, an honor
that can last an hour or more or until the honoree drops from exhaustion. Yuta’s first
despidido was during a regular weekly roda. As Mestre Valmir knelt beside him and
sang a song in his honor, tears rolled down Yuta’s cheeks. The second despidido took
place during class. After working Yuta to the point of absolute exhaustion, Aloan said a
few words. He spoke about the importance of contributing to the group and said that
Yuta was one of those people that could always be counted upon to help out and come
early when work needed to be done. In private, Aloan told me that Yuta was someone he
would stop and say hello to on the street, whereas he wouldn’t stop for other foreigners
who simply came to the academy to appropriate his knowledge. Aloan said the doors of
FICA Bahia will always be open to Yuta, and Yuta thanked everyone for giving him the
chance to grow. FICA Bahia had become his family, and the group even sent him a
Christmas card signed by virtually everyone in the group with notes written in
Portuguese. No other foreigner was held in such esteem.
Yuta’s dedication was indeed exceptional, but there are many small ways in
which foreigners can show their dedication to the group. At FICA DC, following
movement and music classes, “students do various chores around the space, because, as
Cobra Mansa reminds them, the space is theirs (not his) and they are responsible for its
maintenance” (Timbers 2000:121). This expectation gives the students a sense of
ownership over the space and a greater investment in the maintenance of the group.
Students must pay dues in order to be members of FICA; however, requiring the students
to do chores disrupts the prevailing capitalist mentality that when someone pays for
something, those who are paid should serve him or her. This sense of responsibility, and
163
resultant sense of ownership, carries over to the behavior of non-Brazilian FICA students
when they visit FICA Bahia.
Dedication as a path to group membership is found in other cultural practices
besides capoeira. In her study of Nihon Buyo, Yamazaki found that students were
reluctant to engage in any additional activities that would siphon away time normally
spent at the school. The reluctance such students feel to explore outside interests
exemplifies the intense sense of dedication individuals can develop towards their teacher
and school (Yamazaki 2001:36). For someone so dedicated, any additional obligation
might be experienced as a betrayal towards the teacher. There is also a shared sense of
ownership among the students, which is symbolized by all students possessing keys to the
academy (ibid:42). It is also manifest in their willingness to help with chores, treating
their teacher’s home as if it were their own.
Taking initiative and not waiting to be asked to do something is a key indicator of
how successful someone will be in becoming integrated with the group. It is not
coincidental that those individuals who regularly took it upon themselves to help clean
the academy were those most closely integrated in the group. This attitude of humility,
particularly in a setting where class status is often marked by domestic service,
contributes to their acceptance. However, this type of service is not the only measure by
which a pilgrim’s attitude will be assessed.
Demonstrating
Attitude
in
Performance
Though I originally conceived of form and attitude as being completely separate
entities, capoeira complicates such simple divisions. A pilgrim’s attitude and his or her
way of moving are intimately intertwined; acquisition of form, however, is explicitly
164
treated in the next chapter. A capoeirista’s attitude is evident in the aesthetics of his or
her performance in the roda. Malicia and playfulness, which are as much guiding
aesthetics as they are statements about attitude, are two of the most important facets of a
capoeirista’s performance. Excessive aggression, or being brutish, is a mark of a bad
attitude and can stand in the way of a pilgrim’s legitimacy. Small adjustments to the
movements such as smiling or a different hand placement were said to convey
playfulness over aggression, which shows the close correlation between attitude and
form.
Malicia is one of the hallmarks of capoeira. The literal translation of this word is
malice, but it is a poor approximation of what the word actually connotes. A better gloss
is deceitful trickery. For example, during one roda, my opponent’s jaw suddenly
dropped, his eyes widened, he leaned forward and pointed to something just over my
shoulder. By the time I realized there was nothing to see, his forked fingers had already
stopped mere inches from my eyes.
The slave culture in which capoeira was born necessitated living by one’s wits.
In the capoeira game, what often seems like a dirty trick is tempered by playfulness.
This is the essence of malicia. Players try to get into their adversary’s head, and it
becomes an emotional game as much as a physical contest. To the inexperienced, it feels
like you are the butt of a joke. You are. To the initiated, malicia should be met with
good humor.
Most capoeira pilgrims that passed through the doors of FICA Bahia were able to
maintain their good humor in the face of malicia. However, in the few cases where this
mechanism broke down, metacommunicative gestures were employed to reinforce the
165
playfulness of capoeira. In one roda, two female pilgrims, one Spanish and one French,
were completely bested by Mestre Valmir, but they welcomed the abuse and kept
smiling. Playing capoeira with Mestre Valmir was a bit like walking on ice; I fully
expected to fall, but it still caught me unaware when I found myself lying on my
backside, staring at the ceiling. Until someone completely masters capoeira, which
seems unlikely at best, there will always be someone to outdo him or her in the roda, and
showing frustration only intensifies his or her domination. On one occasion the roda was
halted because a visitor from Germany lost her good humor. She had been playing with
Mestre Valmir’s younger son and the game became a bit too intense for her. Her face
became red and her eyes filled with tears. Mestre Valmir called the pair to the foot of the
berimbau and told her to relax. When he felt confident that she could continue, he
slowed the pace and his son started to smile more and wink at her. These simple
metacommunicative gestures signified to her that this was indeed play.
Because capoeira teeters on the edge between fight and play, these
metacommunicative gestures are very important and are even incorporated into teaching
sessions. Teachers at FICA Bahia consistently emphasized the importance of
maintaining a friendly or happy facial expression while playing capoeira. During class
one evening, students practiced kicks in pairs. Aloan stopped them after a few minutes of
practice and told them that if they executed the movement with a sour look on their face
it would appear aggressive, but if done with a smile, then their kicks would seem playful.
Students continued practicing with a smile on their faces and the entire mood of the room
lifted. During the wrap-up discussion, Aloan fell back on a common theme in capoeira,
the parallel between the small roda, which refers to the capoeira game itself, and the big
166
roda, which refers to life. He said that in both capoeira and in life, having a pleasant
expression makes people appear more open and inviting.
There are other ways aside from metacommunicative gestures and facial
expressions to demonstrate good humor in the roda, such as singing. During a different
training session, Mestre Valmir split the class into two groups. One group played the
instruments while the other paired off and played capoeira. Everyone was expected to
sing, which was far easier for the musicians than the players. When we were done,
Valmir said that singing while playing capoeira not only trained our cardiovascular
systems, but also showed our playfulness and good humor. Singing shows that a
capoeirista is at the roda to have a good time, that he or she is relaxed, and is not afraid
of playing. Even when a capoeirista is shaking on the inside, maintaining a cool
demeanor and singing convey good humor. Winning this emotional game is, in the
words of Mestre Valmir, “super importante.”
Looking back over my time working with FICA Bahia, it seems so obvious that
attitude was a key legitimizing factor, though I originally had a very limited idea of what
this meant. I can see the faces of those capoeira pilgrims who passed through the
academy and gave of themselves, went out of their way to engage in information
exchange with local capoeiristas, and dedicated innumerable hours to their own training
and to the betterment of the academy. Interviews overwhelmingly supported this
observation. Attitude was, across the board, the single most important currency in this
economy of authenticity. I call this type of attitude, which directly affects interpersonal
relationships, pragmatic. What surprised me was the lack of attention most capoeiristas
paid to form in our interviews, though I have come to see that attitude and form are
167
closely related. When thinking about form in terms of guiding aesthetics, it becomes
clear that understanding malicia and balancing it with good humor through facial
expressions, metacommunicative gestures and singing signal that an individual has
adopted an attitude appropriate to capoeira. Both the pragmatic and the performanceoriented definitions of attitude contribute to one’s cultural capital, which increases a
capoeirista’s opportunities to engage with his or her teacher on a deeper level.
Manifestations
of
Attitude
The capoeira community particularly values certain practices that display a
socially sanctioned attitude. This is essential for advancement within the social field.
These manifestations may be the result of learning or may be achieved through
dedication and sacrifice. These practices are of most value to the local scene where
individuals know one another personally and police the boundaries of apprenticeship
based on a pilgrim’s charisma.
Learning
Portuguese
Learning to speak Portuguese is evidence of a capoeria pilgrim’s dedication, a
facet of his or her attitude. There are very important reasons for speaking Portuguese, all
of which ease a pilgrim’s integration into the group: 1) speaking Portuguese helps
students understand the nuance behind movement, 2) it unlocks the poetic mysteries of
capoeira songs, and 3) it facilitates “troca de informação” between capoeira pilgrims
and locals, particularly mestres. Local capoeiristas value foreigner’s attempts at
speaking Portuguese, but not all pilgrims take the initiative to learn Portuguese. As it
turns out, capoeira pilgrims vary greatly in their facility with speaking Portuguese. Most
168
pilgrims have a limited knowledge of the language, but those who train at FICA Bahia
tend to be quite fluent.
An inability to speak Portuguese does not necessarily preclude Americans or
anyone else from participating in the physical dialogue that is at the center of the roda,
but it can lessen the experience. Often, pilgrims can get through training sessions without
speaking Portuguese because being able to read body language is sufficient to understand
the lesson. For example, participants of Ginga Mundo’s Fourth International Encounter
concluded that it is not necessary to speak Portuguese to enter the roda because muscle
memory and the physical language of capoeira transcended speech (Portela 2008). The
transition is made easier because, as Mestre Cobra Mansa pointed out, mestres teach in
more or less the same manner. When a foreigner enters the roda, he or she already
knows how to carry out the movements (ibid). Sometimes, verbal cues are not used at all
when making corrections in a student’s execution. Rather, the mestre will demonstrate
the correct movement directly in front of the student or physically move the student’s
body into place. However, bridging the language gap is useful for one to gather the
nuance and logic behind proper execution of the movements. Legitimate peripheral
participation is difficult without being able to dialogue verbally with a master.55
55
For
students
wishing
to
go
beyond
mere
mimicry
of
the
movements
and
truly
understand
the
philosophy
behind
each
technique,
there
are
some
options
for
negotiating
language
barriers.
One
strategy
is
for
the
capoeira
pilgrims
to
learn
to
speak
Portuguese.
The
foreigners
at
FICA
Bahia
exemplify
this.
Another
strategy
is
for
the
Brazilian
capoeira
teachers
to
learn
English
or
another
common
language
such
as
French
or
Spanish.
This
is
the
tactic
adopted
by
the
capoeiristas
with
whom
Gabriela
worked
and
is
most
appropriate
for
teachers
working
with
traditional
tourists
who
come
for
short
periods
of
time
and
do
not
make
large
investments
in
the
local
capoeira
community.
Finally,
academies
can
draw
upon
a
network
of
people
who
speak
English,
French,
Spanish,
Russian,
etc.
whenever
they
need
translators.
This
is
the
strategy
used
by
the
Associação
de
Mestre
Bimba,
which
has
extensive
contacts
within
the
capoeria
community
who
have
travelled
internationally.
169
Being able to understand and communicate in Portuguese is also needed to fully
appreciate capoeira music, which is an essential part of the art. While lyrics provide
players with a historical record of the past, they do much more; “they, together with the
sound of the berimbau and gestures like the chamada, encourage players to imagine
across the gap between the past and present, to experience the resonance of events
through time” (Downey 2005:113-114). For example, in one song the caller recounts
meeting the King Nagô in the slave quarters. In response, the chorus describes the slave
ship that brought him to Bahia, which was full of blacks (“cheio de negros”). The
internalization of these historical memories and landscapes, achieved by viscerally
participating in the reproduction of a canon of songs, also allows non-Brazilian players to
“imagine across the gap” between their home and Brazil. This reinforces their sense that
they are part of the greater capoeira community rooted in Brazil. Being unable to speak
Portuguese is a considerable handicap when it comes to appreciating the music. At the
Ginga Mundo international event, it was said that though they don’t know Portuguese or
even the meaning of the songs, the foreign capoeiristas know how to sing them well
(Portela 2008). Unfortunately, musical talent is not enough. Mestre Cobra Mansa says it
is important for foreigners to understand the context of the songs, whether they are
playful or provocative, pushing the players to intensify their game (ibid).
Even though mestres all over the world rely on the same form, and foreigners can
enter Brazilian rodas without speaking Portuguese, it remains important to be able to
understand the context provided by capoeira songs, which are almost universally sung in
Portuguese. Among native speakers of Portuguese there tends to be more improvisation
with both ladainhas (litanies) and chorridos (choruses). Recall Mestre Valmir singling
170
me out at my first roda. He stopped the performance, dragged me to the foot of the
berimbau, and improvised a ladainha that, among other things, said it was his
responsibility to lead me. On other occasions he used the ladainha as a time to mock
players, and very often he interspersed corrections and commentary into the chorridos.
Foreigners who did not speak Portuguese or did not speak it well enough were left out of
these exchanges.
Not speaking Portuguese could also limit one’s participation in music class. In
some cases it was sufficient to have a song memorized word-for-word and perform this
during class, but often students were expected to pick up a new chorus and improvise
new verses to go along with it. Repeating stock verses was always acceptable but rather
boring, and there was a clear impetus to be as creative as possible in improvising new
lyrics. All but the most novice students were also expected to be able to lead a ladainha,
the longest type of song performed in capoeira. After one class, Aloan commented on
three of the students’ performances, all of whom were foreigners from Germany, Israel,
and Martinique. He said that the ladainha is supposed to be a story or instruction to the
two players preparing to enter the roda; therefore, they need to be sung with good
enunciation. He told them that they all speak Portuguese well, so they have no excuse for
not pronouncing their words clearly.
Troca de informação is perhaps the strongest argument for why foreigners should
learn Portuguese. Without speaking Portuguese, it is very difficult to engage in
information exchange with local capoeiristas, particularly the mestres. Because of their
age, they are even less likely to have been exposed to formal foreign language education
than younger participants. Capoeira pilgrims often went home without gaining some of
171
the precious knowledge they sought just because they didn’t know how to ask. Without
linguistic preparation, pilgrims find themselves isolated and lonely, as little English is
spoken in this region of Brazil. Those who do learn Portuguese find their opportunities to
interact with locals greatly expanded.
Pilgrims’ reliance on English or other languages hindered their development as
Portuguese speakers. During one class in mid-December 2008, Mestre Valmir called all
of the students to sit together in a circle. With a single pandeiro as accompaniment, he
asked us to take turns playing capoeira inside the circle. While playing, each pair was to
select a song and alternate leading verses. We were allowed to use some stock verses but
were expected to improvise some new verses of our own. Two foreign men, from
Colombia and Japan, were the first to take their turn. The Colombian has spent several
years on and off living in Bahia. The Japanese had been in Bahia for nearly a year. Their
movements were slow and clear, their singing good, and their improvisations funny
enough to keep us all laughing. Caroline and a Brazilian man went next. Just as their
verbal banter was reaching its peak, the Brazilian sang, “I’ve forgotten the words!” This
alone would have been amusing, but the American’s ability to continue improvising in
Portuguese brought us to hilarity. Other pairings were not quite as successful as these. In
two cases, the partners were told to stop playing and just sit in front of Mestre Valmir
who guided them through the song, encouraging them to improvise as much as possible.
When the exercise was over, Valmir asked us why this was difficult for us. Like so many
of his questions, this was rhetorical. He said the primary challenges are breathing,
thinking about multiple things at once, and the language. He said we must stop speaking
out own languages amongst ourselves at capoeria because it interferes with us learning
172
Portuguese and being able to improvise verses, which he sees as intimately connected to
playing capoeira. Ironically, in most pairings, the foreigners did just as well if not better
than the Brazilians. Nonetheless, we all agreed that our Portuguese would develop faster
if we refrained from speaking our own native language or even a second language that
was still more comfortable than Portuguese. However, the lure of speaking freely with
other members of our speech community proved just too strong for most of us, myself
included.
Most capoeira pilgrims are not fluent in Portuguese. Sometimes this is because
students have not yet reached the point in their own training where they see this as being
important. Megan, who trained with a Regional group in Los Angeles, said that only four
members of her group spoke Portuguese because they are beginners and have not yet had
the opportunity to learn; however, this did not prevent them from attending an
international event held in Brazil during July of 2008. The situation seemed to be similar
at the CTE academy. Mestre Balão of CTE travels to Europe regularly and has made
many connections there. Many Europeans email him when they want to come to Brazil
and he helps facilitate their entrance into the local capoeira group. Gabriela says that
Americans like her appreciate his punctuality, which can never be taken for granted in
Brazil. The majority of foreigners Gabriela encountered at CTE did not speak
Portuguese; less than half of them spoke it at all, and less than half of those spoke it well.
Likewise for foreign students I observed at Ginga Mundo. This seemed to be the case
with most capoeira pilgrims I met outside of the FICA system unless they had another
reason for speaking Portuguese such as their family heritage or working abroad in Brazil
or Angola.
173
Capoeiristas in the FICA system are unusual in their degree of fluency. In 2007,
several members of Estrela do Norte attended a conference hosted by FICA Atlanta. We
were struck by how many of the FICA students spoke Portuguese and how comfortable
they were interacting with the instructors who did not speak English. Not only do nonBrazilian FICA students make the effort to learn Portuguese, they learn to speak it well.
This was one of my first impressions of FICA Bahia. When I attended my first roda
there, I was amazed that almost all of the English-speaking foreigners continued to speak
Portuguese to me even after they found out I was American, even in the privacy of the
dressing room. In time, however, I came to hear more and more English being spoken.
Interacting with other Americans felt most comfortable in our native language, but
Portuguese continued to be the lingua franca at the academy because it facilitated
conversations with Brazilians and with foreigners such as those from Japan, Israel and
France who had no other languages in common.
Capoeiristas at FICA take the initiative for their own learning; studying
Portuguese is not a mandatory component of their training like at some academies. For
example, all the foreign students of Abadá are required to study Portuguese in addition to
studying the physical aspects of capoeira because the founding mestre, Mestre Camisa,
believes certain aspects of capoeira’s philosophy are destroyed by translation (F. Costa
2007). Even though Mestre Cobra Mansa would like more of his students to study
Portuguese (personal communication 2008), he resists any such mandates because he
believes each group should be given the autonomy to develop in accord with local
culture. However, FICA students worldwide are still remarkable in their mastery of the
language, particularly when contrasted to the groups above.
174
There are several possible explanations for the prevalence of Portuguese speakers
among the non-Brazilian FICA groups. For one, language acquisition and its importance
is frequently referenced on the FICA archives website. For example, a historical look at
capoeira during the 1920s and 1930s was recently published by a former member of
FICA Bahia as the result of her master’s thesis. A review of this book was posted in
English on the FICA archives, site and capoeiristas were encouraged to read it in its
entirety. There was even a note saying not to be intimidated by reading it in Portuguese
because the author writes in a very accessible style. This website also features workshop
announcements, cultural and historical facts, current events, photos, and lyrics to
capoeira songs. Sometimes translations are given, but in some cases, the person posting
the lyrics encourages English-speaking capoeiristas to invest the time in translating the
lyrics for themselves because it would be a worthwhile exercise for their development as
a capoeirista. Another possible explanation for this phenomenon is the regularity with
which teachers from FICA travel around the world. In any given month, a Brazilian
instructor from the FICA franchise is likely giving classes abroad. Each teacher may
speak a smattering of other languages, but it is far simpler if everyone communicates in
Portuguese.
Being able to speak Portuguese may be more important at FICA Bahia than in
other academies because of the mestres’ focus on communal reflection. Each class at
FICA Bahia concludes with students sitting in a circle and discussing the class. Students
are given an opportunity to ask questions about the movements or how to apply them in
the context of the roda. Often when Mestre Valmir led these discussions, these chats
took a philosophical turn. Though efforts were often made to include them using
175
translation or gestures, those foreigners without a sufficient grasp of the language were
sidelined during these conversations.
Although some aspects of learning capoeira can be negotiated with body
language, speaking Portuguese has many benefits for a non-Brazilian capoeirista.
Benefits include a more nuanced understanding of the performance form itself, a deeper
understanding of the songs associated with capoeira, and most importantly, being able to
communicate with mestres and Brazilian capoeiristas and entering into that all-important
“troca de informação.” Capoeira pilgrims are sometimes surprised at first by how
important speaking Portuguese is, and it is an admittedly daunting task. However, those
who acquire even rudimentary skills see a large payoff. This is particularly evident
among non-Brazilian FICA capoeiristas. There are unique demands of participating in
this group. For example, taking part in philosophical discussions or hosting Brazilian
teachers regularly make it easy to see why the group places so much importance on
speaking Portuguese.
Capoeira
Travel
Travel, whether domestic or international, requires dedication and sacrifice of
time and money. Most Brazilian capoeiristas are appreciative of these efforts, which
show that a pilgrim has an appropriate attitude. Domestic travel allows capoeiristas to
maintain ties with other local scenes, which makes individuals feel like they are part of an
extended family. Making a pilgrimage to Bahia requires even more of a sacrifice.
Domestic capoeira shows that the individual is invested in developing personal
and group networks within the greater capoeira community. It also provides exposure to
more players and provides additional opportunities for challenge and growth. For those
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who are able to do so, visiting other capoeira groups within their own country or region
provides capoeiristas with “communities of belonging” through which “players are
encouraged to network and to look within the group for support and friendship” (Joseph
2006:4). Most domestic travel takes the form of attending regional and national capoeira
events or workshops. Another option is for students to travel the country independently
or in small groups, attending classes with various capoeira groups as they go.
Workshops, commonly referred to as events or eventos, are common practice in
capoeira. In any given month, there are more than a dozen events offered worldwide.
Most events span the length of a weekend. They generally start with a roda on the first
evening, which may or may not be open to the public. The subsequent days are packed
with classes, most on capoeira, but dance and percussion classes may also be offered.
Capoeira events also feature lectures, roundtables, and discussion sessions. These
conversations generally converge upon themes like capoeira history and philosophy,
though an area of emerging concern is globalization and the future of capoeira, including
the role of women.
Workshops are important because they increase a capoeirista’s connection to the
larger community. After several members of Estrela do Norte attended a conference with
Mestre João Grande in Oberlin, Ohio, Iuri said, “at workshops you have a lot of fun, but
you only remember about ten percent of what you learn.” Though it is interesting to be
exposed to a different teacher’s way of performing capoeira, fixing new movement in a
capoeirista’s repertoire is not the primary function of these events. Rather, interacting
with other capoeirstas at an event like this gives shape to an otherwise vague sense
belonging to this imagined community. Returning from one of these workshops, a fellow
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member of Estrela do Norte said, “I always knew I was part of the capoeira family, but
until this weekend, I didn’t know how I fit in.”
For capoeiristas who cannot make the pilgrimage to Brazil, taking advantage of
workshops to make connections with the wider community is particularly important.
Attending a capoeira event with a Brazilian mestre is the next best thing to a pilgrimage
and can be used as a substitute for international travel. A member of Estrela do Norte
said to me one evening, “let’s face it, we’re a long way from Brazil” but attending
workshops with other capoeira groups “makes all of our groups stronger, we’ve got their
support, they’ll have our support.” Not only does attending an event benefit the
individual, but it also reinforces connections between groups. Another member of Estrela
do Norte seconded this position saying, “that’s definitely the nature of it, that’s why it
was created…we need to have connections with each other to keep our community
strong”. Events such as these are also an opportunity for capoeira instructors that have
not yet earned the title of mestre to strengthen their relationship with leaders in the field.
Participation in this workshop allows a teacher to showcase his or her work, the skills of
his or her students, to portray him or herself as an active member of the capoeira
community and to build relationships that would otherwise remain underdeveloped.
Capoeira provides an entry point into local communities. From time to time, our
group in Bloomington is visited by capoeiristas from other parts of the United States.
These individuals are taking advantage of the domestic circuit, an extremely informal
network of capoeira groups scattered about the country. Sometimes the leaders of these
groups know one another, but more often they are known to one another based on
reputation and word-of-mouth. Capoeiristas travelling on the domestic circuit can
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generally expect a warm reception and are commonly offered housing for the duration of
their visit. A long-term member of Estrela do Norte compared travelling on this circuit to
being like a tourist “but being inside the culture when you go,” getting to experience “the
real thing,” and finding the authenticity that this community desires.
In Bahia, a capoeira instructor from Israel named Ran walked beside me as we
veered off of the sidewalk and carefully navigated a rock-strewn path alongside the
railroad tracks. We were on our way to Mestre Cobra Mansa’s house in Bahia where his
son Marcelo was hosting a barbeque. Ran has visited many cities in Brazil like Rio de
Janeiro and São Paulo as well as other countries, primarily to take part in capoeria
workshops. He said “this” is what he loves about capoeira. He said that when you are
travelling and get to go somewhere with a local capoeirista, you get to see the real
culture, not just the touristy stuff. If you go somewhere to train or even just to participate
in a roda, people invite you into their homes afterwards. This romanticism of local life
and eagerness to enter the backspaces of local culture resonates with MacCannell’s
analysis of tourist behavior (1976:91). While Boissevain (1996) and others have
commented upon the various strategies locals use to erect barriers between themselves
and tourists, shared participation in capoeira seems to override the need for such
boundaries for those sufficiently well integrated into the local scene.
People who use capoeira to ease their transition into a new scene display
confidence in being part of the social field. Brazil is a very foreign place to many
travelers; it is common for people to feel lost, lonely, and disoriented, especially in larger
cities, until they find their niche. For many, their identity as a capoeirista allowed them
to feel more centered in their new, temporary environment. The situation is similar for
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Brazilian capoeiristas travelling abroad. A capoeirista quoted in the documentary
Intercambio Cultural: Roda Mundo said that becoming part of this community allows
you to travel the world, not as a tourist, but as a capoeirista (Vega). As a capoeirista
advances, he or she will have invitations to teach in other locations, but even those not in
teaching roles find themselves being welcomed into the academies and homes of
capoeiristas when they travel, no matter their reasons for being there. Nestor Capoeira
echoes this sentiment exactly in his introductory book to the art of capoeira (Capoeira
1995:31). This is not surprising because the two men descend from the same capoeira
lineage, but it is also a mentality that prevails throughout the capoeira community.
MacCannell suggests that individuals in modern, Western society are alienated
from their own lives and seek authenticity in the lives of others (MacCannell 1976). This
is probably not true of all tourists but is particularly apparent in the phenomenon I label
apprenticeship pilgrimage. I use this term to designate a trip that carries the emotional
weight of a pilgrimage and has the primary purpose of studying a traditional art with a
recognized master, most often in the birthplace of that form. Pilgrims feel that their
apprenticeship will not be complete without this additional step. Pilgrims believe that the
art is purer in the place of its birth and they can augment their own legitimacy by
traveling to the source. In this type of travel, “the physicality of…experiences gives the
tourist a claim to the locality, visceral memories of which the reality or authenticity
cannot be denied, there may even be scars to prove it” (Miller n.d.a).
Bahia is full of apprenticeship pilgrims, doing what one American capoeirista
called “the hard core capoeira tourism thing.” Shortly after I arrived in Bahia, I set out
for Pelourinho, the historic area anchoring most tourists’ non-beach related activities.
180
The distinct cadence of British English reached my ears as our bus careened down the
tree-lined street. Five women from the London chapter of Capoeira Ceara huddled in the
last row of seats. Their instructor is Brazilian and brought a group of fourteen or fifteen
students to train with his mestre in Fortaleza, also in the northeastern region. Their
counterparts in Fortaleza gave them a warm welcome. Following their stay in Fortaleza,
the women made it a priority to visit Salvador, though capoeira took a backseat to tourist
activities. They wanted to play in a roda with Capoeira Axé, but missed it. They seemed
disappointed, but in actuality their comfort zone was limited to the Brazilian branch of
their own group. Despite their acceptance by the Fortaleza group, they did not feel
comfortable in the wider capoeira community. They had not played capoeira with any
Brazilians outside of their own group because “[they] didn’t want to get killed.” Though
they had gained legitimacy at the level of the local scene by virtue of their shared lineage,
they did not engage in legitimate peripheral participation with a local mestre and did not
have the confidence to try claiming legitimacy in the social field at large.
Some pilgrims are content to experience the local culture as tourists, but most
disparage anything “touristy” and zealously throw themselves into training. For the
former group, it is important to visit the cradle of capoeira but not necessary to train
there. Most capoeira pilgrims with a limited amount of time to spend in the country train
obsessively, hoping to cram as much capoeira into their trip as possible. This new
regimen can be a challenge.
Mestre Cobra Mansa led class one evening and was accompanied by four
Croatian students who had recently arrived in Bahia. In addition to training at FICA
twice per day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and once a day on Tuesdays and
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Thursdays, they were also starting their days with private classes at Mestre Cobra
Mansa’s home. After class we panted in exhaustion. Mestre Cobra Mansa said “Every
foreign student who comes here is in for a shock when they first arrive because you train
harder in Brazil, but don’t worry, you will get acclimated soon.” In time, pilgrims do
acclimate to the pace of training. Pilgrims who stay in Bahia for months at a time
eventually realize that the capoeira classes will always be there, and they do not need to
“cram” like the others who only have one or two weeks total in Bahia. At this point they
often start to form relationships and routines outside of the academy.
At FICA Bahia, it was important for visitors to get some sort of closure before
departing. In some cases, visitors took the initiative themselves and organized a group
outing for juice, beer or caipirinhas after class. During one session, a visitor announced
that she was going home and thanked Mestre Valmir for all his wisdom. “Aren’t you
going to invite people out tonight?” he asked. Occasionally, when we were inundated
with foreign visitors, especially during July and August, Mestre Valmir made a point of
asking at our Saturday morning rodas if anyone was planning to leave. If so, they had
the honor of getting to play with him. Generally speaking, the better integrated an
individual became, the greater their send-off would be like Yuta’s two despididos, which
testified to his legitimacy within the group.
My primary focus was on foreign capoeiristas making pilgrimages to Bahia, but
many Brazilians from other parts of the country also make it a priority to visit Bahia.
One capoeirista at FICA Bahia who lives and trains with the FICA group in Brasilia told
me that capoeiristas in Brasilia feel compelled to visit Bahia at least once in their
lifetimes. It is common for Brazilian capoeiristas to come to Bahia to further legitimize
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their own academies. For example, in 1985 the leader of the Paulista group Cativeiro
traveled to Salvador to learn more about traditional capoeira. This pilgrimage was
important to them because Salvador “still represented, for capoeira as well as for
candomblé, the recognized source of authentic tradition, this experience provided him
with a new source of legitimacy, both in Sao Paulo and beyond” (Assunção 2005:181).
For Brazilians as well as foreigners, Bahia was often glorified as a bastion of tradition,
ignoring the dynamism of the capoeira there.56
This entire study is about the authenticity work of capoeira pilgrims, but my aim
in this section has been to argue that capoeira travel is one way pilgrims show their
dedication to the community. This is true of both domestic travel and the pilgrimage,
which requires the sacrifice of time and money and a willingness to step out of one’s
comfort zone. Not all locals are pleased with this phenomenon, but a significant number
of them give foreigners credit for their attempts. A street performer of capoeira told me
that he was honestly quite impressed with the capoeira pilgrims because they are
dedicated and desire to learn every aspect of capoeira, not just “how to throw their legs
around.”
Visiting Bahia is important for a capoeirista’s legitimization. Depending upon a
pilgrim’s goals and lineage, it may even be a nonnegotiable milestone in his or her
progression. In some groups, visiting Bahia is a prerequisite for graduation (Assunção
2005:205). FICA only awards titles to foreigners who have visited Brazil. For those who
are not required to visit Brazil, pilgrimage still contributes to their charismatic cultural
capital because it exemplifies their dedication
56
When
pilgrims’
expectations
are
out
of
harmony
with
their
actual
experience,
it
can
lead
to
disappointment
and
sometimes
even
anger.
183
Volunteerism
Volunteer work is another way in which pilgrims can show that they have a
humble attitude and are willing to dedicate themselves to service. However, most
pilgrims do not avail themselves of these opportunities, either because of time constraints
or safety issues. Others simply think this is extraneous to the mission of becoming a
better capoeirista. Local capoeirisitas, particularly those who are Afro-Brazilian57, value
volunteerism as part of their development significantly more than do foreign pilgrims.
However, they do not deny foreigners legitimacy, or bar them from legitimate peripheral
participation, if they fail to serve in this way. Those who do serve will naturally find
themselves interacting with their mestres more, which increases their opportunities for
legitimate peripheral participation.
Some capoeiristas volunteer with formal organizations, but most who volunteer
stumble upon these opportunities through their practice of capoeira. Megan, or
“Fadinha” as she is known to her fellow capoeiristas, began her forays in Brazil through
the Cross Cultural Solutions voluntourism organization.58 She has both Portuguese and
Brazilian family members, so she has had considerable exposure to the language and is
now completely fluent. She began working with HIV patients in Salvador in 2003.
57
Though
my
sample
size
was
not
large
enough
to
make
claims
about
statistical
significance,
this
wa
a
clear
pattern
in
my
data.
Afro‐Brazilians
were
the
only
group
in
my
study
that
consistently
rated
volunteerism
as
an
important
quality
for
capoeiristas.
58
Some
of
the
foreigners
practicing
capoeira
in
Bahia
are
volunteers
with
organizations
such
as
Cross
Cultural
solutions.
These
individuals
are
short‐term
volunteers
who
work
on
one
of
many
projects,
including
a
nursery
for
children
with
HIV.
As
part
of
their
package,
these
individuals
are
housed
together
in
one
of
the
more
upscale
areas
of
the
city,
are
given
regular
Portuguese
lessons,
and
are
exposed
to
other
cultural
practices
such
as
capoeira.
This
is
a
private
lesson
for
the
Cross
Cultural
Solutions
volunteers,
thus
their
interaction
with
Brazilian
capoeiristas
is
minimal
unless
they
choose
to
seek
out
additional
training
opportunities
on
their
own.
184
During this trip she met a few capoeiristas who were also volunteering at Cross Cultural
Solutions, but she was not yet a capoeirista herself. She has made four or five trips
specifically for volunteer work, and her trip in 2008 was the first one dedicated
specifically to training capoeira. Despite her intense involvement in volunteer work, she
took a neutral stance regarding its importance to capoeira. While not essential to one’s
development as a capoeirista, she did say:
A lot of capoeiristas that I know, if they had the chance they would love to come down
and give back to this country that has given them so much, especially knowing the history
of capoeira, it comes from areas that do need a lot of help.
Other visitors to Salvador, however, find themselves accidental volunteers. These are
capoeiristas whose primary motivation for travelling to Bahia was training capoeira.
Oftentimes, a Baian capoeira group has at least a loose relationship with a local
charitable group. It is through these more informal organizations that foreigners often
find themselves contributing to the local community.
When asked about the importance of volunteer work, most interview subjects
immediately assumed I was talking about movement instruction in favelas or poor
neighborhoods. Repeated over and over again was the sentiment that foreigners should
give back to the culture that has given them so much on a personal level. When
discussing volunteer work, Brazilians and foreigners alike focused on poor, AfroBrazilian children whose life circumstances are likely to lead to drug abuse and often
drug trafficking. Foreigners liked the idea of teaching them capoeira because it would
give them a feeling of self-worth and expose them to a healthier way of life. Brazilians
echoed these sentiments but added that because training in an academy has become so
expensive, these children cannot afford to learn about their own heritage and therefore
should be the recipients of free classes. Participating in capoeira uplifts these children
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whose lives are otherwise often unpleasant, living in homes without running water or
electicity, and it liberates them from other negative influences like drugs.
This type of work is a good fit for foreigners whose facility with the language
may be spotty at best. One pilgrim/volunteer thought that going into a dangerous slum
without knowing the language could be a very intimidating prospect, but interacting with
children within the framework of a well-known ritual such as capoeira was very natural
for him. Of course the danger is real, and at least one famous academy has stopped
allowing foreigners to volunteer at their project because of this.
Some individuals find ways to contribute to the capoeira community in a
personalized way that does not involve movement instruction. Some of these projects
have a great impact on the people involved. For example, Gabriela is a young California
woman who was spending some time teaching English in South America. Her bilingual
Spanish-English upbringing made for an easy transition into speaking fluent Portuguese,
at which time she began undertaking translation projects. She had never practiced
capoeira until she visited Brazil. She fell in love with the art and made deep connections
with her teacher and other senior students. Her positioning within the group allowed her
to see the globalization of capoeira from the inside out. To help her friends preparing to
teach abroad, or those such as Tomate who specialize in teaching capoeira to tourists, she
created a bilingual teaching manual. This small booklet taught useful phrases such as,
“one more time,” “don’t stop,” and “where does it hurt?” Through a stroke of good
fortune, Gabriela was able to find a publisher who printed the booklets free of charge,
and with the sponsorship of one of the state’s cultural bureaus, she was able to offer two
workshops where capoeira instructors could practice their English pronunciation and
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phrases. She has since returned to San Francisco but continues to be in communication
with her mestre in Brazil. They are working on fundraising ideas that would allow them
to expand the work they are already doing, teaching capoeira to impoverished children.
Volunteerism is more common among the foreigners who stay in Brazil for more
than a few weeks. One woman in my study felt that fifteen days was not a sufficient
amount of time to become directly involved in volunteer work, but seeing some of this
work in action made her think about how she could start reaching out to American
children through capoeira. Among those I interviewed who said they had not been
involved in any volunteer work in Brazil, most felt that they were remiss in not doing so.
Their reasoning was that the culture had given them so much on a personal level that they
should find a way to give back.
However, the local population may be cynical about the tourists who try to do
good in their community. One of the employees of a local Internet café was born and
raised in a nearby favela. He said that he sees lots of foreigners who come to Bahia with
great intentions, but they don’t really accomplish much. An American capoeirista who
has moved to Salvador to be with his Brazilian wife was also cynical with respect to the
efficacy of foreigners’ charitable contributions. He doubts that foreigners can really do
much good without being taken advantage of in Brazil. He also said that while foreigners
visiting Brazil is not charity per se, they do support capoeira financially and in terms of
respect. He thinks this type of tourism has opened the eyes of a lot of Brazilians who
have an inferiority complex about anything Brazilian.
Even more intriguing was the response from Janja, who has received a great deal
of attention locally and internationally for her work with women and children in
187
capoeira. She uses her position as a platform for teaching children about serious issues
like violence against women. The children in her group, many of whom are from lowincome families, have assumed impressive leadership roles. At least one child has been
trusted with a key to the academy, and several children arrive before class to prepare the
training space. Interestingly, of all my interview subjects, Janja was the most hesitant to
endorse foreigners’ volunteer projects. She understands the foreigners’ desire to visit
Bahia because it is a fount, but she also has to walk a line between making foreigners feel
welcome and maintaining strict traditions. The only thing she really dislikes is
foreigners’ interest in working with children because she believes foreigners’ short-lived
efforts might introduce instability into the kids’ lives.
Overall, this type of engagement with the local community seems to be hit or miss
with many of the capoeiristas who make pilgrimages to Salvador. For Mestre Cobra
Mansa, founder of FICA, volunteerism is very important. For foreigners, this is one of
the ways they can show that they are not just tourists but a part of the community. In
actual practice, however, volunteerism may be something that the pilgrim has briefly
considered during his or her preparations to travel. Acting on this impulse is a different
matter entirely.
Dating
Dating is another activity that evidences one’s attitude and can facilitate
legitimate peripheral participation. Obviously not all pilgrims engage in this type of
interaction with the local community, but it is a significant route to legitimacy for those
who do. It was not part of my original model, but its importance for a small minority of
pilgrims cannot be overstated, so I give it brief treatment here.
188
While the charismatic factors discussed above all contribute to a foreigner’s
integration into the local chapter, some barriers remain that can often be mediated by a
sexual or romantic relationship. For example, one of Zoe’s friends, also British, trained
capoeira in a poor area of Rio. She was not really accepted as part of the group until she
started seriously dating a male capoeirista in the group. The reasons for her isolation
were different for males and females. The female capoeiristas in the group were hesitant
to accept her because they felt like she was getting all of the attention from the males,
which they apparently resented. The men in the group kept making sexual advances
towards her until she became attached to one man, at which point his competitors
relented.
Dating may facilitate broader relations between pilgrims and locals. According to
one American woman who had dated a local capoeirista in 2004, the level of sociability
within FICA Bahia was much lower on her return visit in 2008. In 2004, the group was
more interconnected and did more things together as a group. This may be in part
because she was dating a Brazilian member of the group. The couple served as a bridge
to connect the two groups, locals and foreigners, and they would frequently go out
together for beer or juice after class. During my visit, it was rumored that the “high level
guys” went out together after the weekly rodas, but no foreigners went with them unless
they were females being sought out romantically.
During my time at FICA Bahia, there was one visible foreign-local relationship.
It was kept under wraps for about two months, though they eventually gave up the
pretense. The American woman was concerned that people at the academy would judge
her or treat her differently because of this relationship. She was afraid the Americans at
189
the academy would think that their relationship was developing too quickly. While she
was very happy with this romantic relationship, she could also see that it constrained
platonic relationships with other people at the academy because her time was somewhat
monopolized. She also avoided attending group social events because she would have to
confront the implications of the relationship. However, she was also able to see that the
established Brazilian members and leaders of the group accepted her more quickly than
other foreigners because of this relationship.
There are also times when foreign-local romances endangered women. Foreign
women’s difficulty with the language and naïveté about local culture was sometimes
exploited by local capoeiristas who saw them as sexual conquests. Though some
abstained from drugs and alcohol because of their training, the licentious behavior
associated with tourism was not uncommon among capoeira pilgrims and could put
women in a perilous position. I was told of one young woman whose romantic
relationship afforded her entrance into a circle of young Brazilian men who were also
capoeiristas. When she terminated the relationship, she assumed that she would still be
friends with these other men. The men, however, saw this as an opportunity to hook-up
with a foreign woman. On one occasion after drinking she was lured to an hourly motel
under false pretenses and on another was groped and followed home.
While some of the sexually forward behavior in capoeira academies is merely
about conquest and having fun, there are sometimes deeper motivations, especially for
male capoeiristas who dream of going abroad to open their own academy. Many male
capoeiristas are given their first opportunities to teach abroad through foreign women
who provide the necessary capital and documents necessary to leave Brazil. These
190
women then become instrumental in establishing and running their boyfriend’s/husband’s
academy because they have more access to the language and laws of that country (Taylor
2005b:209).
Barely clad men doing flips in the surf is a common sight in Bahia, especially in
the neighborhood of Barra, which attracts a lot of tourism. These men show off their
bodies and their flashy moves in hopes of catching female tourists’ attention. In the short
term, they see women as marks for sex tourism, but in the long run they see these women
as tickets out of Brazil. It is these men whose legitimacy as capoeiristas is most often
called into question, primarily by Brazilians, but by foreigners as well. However, when a
group of foreigners from FICA Bahia gathered together at the Barra beach one day, an
impromptu capoeira “show” of this nature materialized directly in front of us. To my
surprise, no one showed an ounce of irritation or dismissal, and several members of our
group actually made approving murmurs in response to some of their moves.
In some cases, the Brazilian capoeiristas do actually succeed in securing a foreign
wife. A 23 year-old street capoeirista was quoted in a local Salvador newspaper. His
Spanish girlfriend gave him a plane ticket so he could fly there and marry her. He has to
be married to a citizen in order to live and work there. He confirmed that he would trade
his life in Spain for a grant to finish his studies in nursing, a marriage to a woman of his
choosing, and work where he could help lots of people (Araujo 2006). Unfortunately, his
life circumstances would not permit this and he felt marriage to this Spanish woman was
a better option. Very often such marriages are convenient sans emotional investment.
Zoe dated a Brazilian capoeirista in London who was involved in one of these marriages.
191
He described it as a business transaction and had no qualms about having both a wife and
a girlfriend. In other cases, the husband and wife conveniently fall in love.
One of my foreign contacts said she used to look at these relationships with
disdain, as something akin to sex tourism, but stopped judging them because she realized
that both parties are getting something out of the exchange. A foreign woman who dates
a local capoeirista may be learning dance or capoeria from him and getting an inside
look at the culture at the same time that he is getting money from her or possibly even an
invitation to travel abroad.
Either side of the foreign-local equation may use romantic/sexual relationships to
achieve a larger goal. Local capoeiristas, mostly male, entice foreign women to take
them to Europe or America where they can start their own academies. Foreign
capoeiristas, mostly female, may date a local capoeirista for any number of reasons. A
consequence of these relationships is their greater access to local culture and increased
opportunities to interact with the mestres outside of regular classes.
Skill
Weber’s description of charisma includes displays of heroism or fantastic displays
of strength (Titunik 2005:144). Using these guidelines, it warrants including my
discussion of skill under this heading. I use skill to mean the potential one has for
becoming a good capoeirista, as seen in his or her flexibility, strength, balance, and
endurance. Skill is not inherited so it is not a traditional form of cultural capital. It is
also different from form, which requires disciplined adherence to a set of guidelines. In
capoeira, skill is an indicator of whether or not one has the potential to master the form,
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but it is far less important for one’s integration into a local group than I originally
hypothesized.
I remember the look of shock and horror on one particularly cocky American
capoeirista’s face when I told him I had been playing capoeira for about three years. He
obviously thought I should be better than I am. When he asked how many advanced
players we had in our group, Julie took offense. She was offended by the very notion that
capoeiristas could be divided into skill level because she believes capoeira is much more
about spiritual sustenance than it is about skill. After all, Capoeira Angola does not use a
belt system to denote rank like Capoeira Regional or many Asian martial arts systems.
Despite lacking a gradation system, the skill level at FICA Bahia and throughout
the FICA franchise is very high. Many groups, like those who descend from Mestre João
Pequeno, rely upon basic moves like rabo de arraia and negativa as mainstays of their
games. FICA players, however, use many different kicks, leg-sweeping techniques, and
movements that show off their strength such as descending from a handstand into a
headstand. Leandro referred to the FICA group as “a hard family.” I talked to one of
Iuri’s Brazilian friends about my first experience playing in a FICA roda and told him I
was embarrassed, but he told me not to be because they play at such a high level, perhaps
the best in the city.
There was only one situation in which a Brazilian got frustrated with me for my
lack of skill during a training session. This individual was not a regular member of FICA
and never wore a FICA t-shirt. His eyes were always red, he was missing several teeth,
and spoke ill of certain Baian capoeiristas who he claimed went abroad and then forgot
who their real brothers were. By all measures he was an unusual figure at FICA and
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while his presence was tolerated, it was also clear that his conduct was generally out of
line. When I had trouble with a move, he called over one of the teachers and complained
that I didn’t understand, to which I said I understood perfectly well but wasn’t physically
capable of executing the sequence. The treinel’s only response was to laugh at the
situation and say that yes, I seemed to understand just fine. On the surface this exchange
seemed to be about my lack of skill. The heart of the matter, however, was this man’s
resentment of his peers who had achieved things out of his range. Seeing a white student
whose skill level was inferior to his own, he projected his discontent onto me and phrased
it in terms of skill.
In a similar but reversed situation, Zoe encountered a local female capoeirista
who seemed annoyed with her advanced skill level. It was as though she wanted a
justification for disparaging Zoe as a foreigner, but could not find it because of Zoe’s
proficiency. Among the regular members of FICA, skill was appreciated and novices
nurtured. The situation at CTE was similar. At this capoeira group led by Mestre Balão,
foreigners are introduced at the end of every class, and a point is made of clapping for
each one regardless of their skill level. In that school, Gabriela claims, “as long as you
are training, it doesn’t matter if you’re not good.” Respect was extended to all
capoeiristas who participated in the group’s activities.
In comparing my 2008 fieldwork in Brazil with my last visit in 2006, I was far
more comfortable playing in rodas this time, in large part because my own skill level had
increased over the two-year period. So while skill may not be essential for acceptance
into the Bahian capoeira community, having a certain level of competency made me far
more comfortable and gave me more confidence to interact with other members of the
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community. Confidence is central to projecting the right kind of attitude necessary for
acceptance. Of course, I still felt out of my element among the highly skilled FICA
players.
Out of my own insecurities, I was hyper-aware of other students’ facial
expressions during class, especially music class. Mestre Cobra Mansa led music class
one day in August. The class was comprised mainly of foreigners. He went around the
circle and instructed students to play a few iterations of a berimbau rhythm individually
so he could hear them and make corrections. Two foreign students in particular struggled
with this. The same American who was dismayed at my three years of experienced
laughed, rolled his eyes, leaned in towards me and whispered, “they’re worse than you.”
The frequency of this behavior among foreigners at FICA Bahia was unsettling,
but it contrasted wildly with Mestre Cobra Mansa’s position. He was encouraging to
everyone and said, “even if you don’t have patience for yourself, I have patience for
you.” During classes, Mestre Valmir reminded us that training was the time to try new
movements, not only to perfect our skills, but to build our confidence so we would be
comfortable trying our new skill set in the roda. The same was true for practicing new
rhythms and songs in music class. He would occasionally laugh when students appeared
excessively uptight and remind us that this was just training, not a test.
Both Mestre Valmir and Mestre Cobra Mansa were explicit about the
development of capoeira skills as a progression over time. After class one evening,
Mestre Cobra Mansa reiterated Mestre Accordeon’s philosophy of the four stages in
capoeira (see also Almeida 1986). He said that novice capoeiristas are playing in
darkness and cannot see the kicks that are coming. They are at the mercy of their
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opponent. In the next stage, capoeiristas enter the light and now have the ability to see
the kicks, but do not yet have sufficient skill and experience to avoid them. They
continue to get kicked around a lot. Then they enter the water phase, during which things
flow together and the objective is simply to swim to the other side without drowning.
Finally comes the crystal ball stage, in which one can predict the movements of his or her
adversary. This stage is a result of personal experience.
After one class during which I had really struggled, Mestre Valmir addressed us
as we sat in a circle reviewing the class. He said that everyone was equal. We all have
the same parts and organs, and “graças a Deus” none of us are physically deficient. The
primary difference among us is our minds. Mestre Valmir said we have to respect the
mestre of our mestre. I thought this was going to be his segue into discussing the
importance of lineage, but in reality, the mestre of our mestre is tempo (time). History is
never entirely behind us because it is inscribed on our bodies. The individual paths we
take through life are continually replayed in our present, thus “history, memory, and
perception are central elements that contribute to the instabilities of lived experience”
(Stoller 2009:75). This is what Mestre Valmir was trying to teach us by stressing the
different paths each individual body had taken, the difference this would make in our
game, and that we were better off for this idiosyncrasy. He said that it takes a lifetime to
build up the sensibility of a capoeirista. Sometimes a beginner might think they are
getting beat up in the roda, but he really does these things to teach, not to injure the new
student.
Despite my initial opinions of him, Meste Valmir was conscious of playing to an
individual’s level. While the teachers push their students hard and underscore their
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shortcomings with physical commentary, they also play to each student’s level. This was
largely absent among the foreigners who, for the most part, played near maximum
capacity regardless of their opponent’s skill or experience. When Mestre Valmir played
with a student, there was clear pedagogical intent in his movements and he was able to
knock them down without putting them in unnecessary peril. However, when other
members of FICA started to play too rough with someone at a lower skill level, he was
attentive and ready to stop the game before someone got (too) hurt. The reverse was also
true. During one roda, I knelt nervously at the foot of the berimbau next to Jorge, an
experienced treinel in the group. Sensing my trepidation, he patted my hand and smiled
assuring me that I would not be too terribly abused. When I unexpectedly landed a kick
on him, Mestre Valmir called us back to the berimbau, gave me a wink, and whispered
just loud enough for me to hear, “now you can give her a hard game.”
On rare occasions people who were far below the requisite skill level came to play
in FICA rodas, either because they were complete novices or in one case because of
physical and mental handicap. Generally speaking, the mestres, treinels (assistant
teachers) and Valmir’s sons were indulgent of these individuals. Mestre Valmir even
called out to one of them during a game, practically begging him to dodge the oncoming
kicks. And whenever the handicapped man played, whoever was in charge of the roda
would initiate the song “Bate Palmas Pra Ele,” which means clap your hands for him.
He was physically unable to completely straighten his legs and even walking was
challenging for him, so his participation in the roda was very limited. For the most part,
Aloan or Jorge would position him so he could do whatever movements he was capable
of and praise him for whatever he could manage. Foreigners, on average, were less kind.
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Capoeira pilgrims tended to be more concerned with their own performance than
with creating a supportive and fun atmosphere. One female foreigner played the
handicapped man in her very first roda at FICA Bahia. As they began to play, she gave
him a strange look that conveyed her annoyance, but as his handicap dawned on her she
became slightly more indulgent. Later, she and another foreigner were discussing the
handicapped man’s presence at the roda. While they could somewhat appreciate the
generosity of allowing him to participate, they both were slightly irritated because it
detracted from their own games. An American capoeirista once said to me that she
didn’t mind if people played hard with her, but not if they’re going to flail about in the
roda. Contrary to what I expected, a foreigner was actually expressing dissatisfaction
about the skill of Brazilians and their gall to play her. I had anticipated the reverse
situation.
During a game between this American woman and a novice Brazilian man, the
woman was doing an au com cabeca no chão (cartwheel with head on the ground) when
he attacked. Though not prohibited, the etiquette of attacking someone in an inverted
position during a friendly game like this is debatable. This exchange happened too fast
for the spectators to understand exactly what had happened, but the woman quickly got
up from the floor with a bitter look on her face. She quickly hid this look and joked with
him that she would get him next time. Considering that he was a complete novice and
she very experienced, she should have had the composure and grace to deal with any
breaches of etiquette he may have made. Rather than being an isolated incident, I see this
as being representative of the general attitude of many foreigners towards skill. Whereas
Mestre Valmir and Mestre Cobra Mansa both stressed the processual nature of capoeria
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and the necessity of respecting ourselves and each other at every stage, many of the
foreigners at FICA Bahia were progress oriented and had limited patience for people
below their skill level.
Carlos said that he would like to be able to attend classes everyday like many of
the foreigners do because he would get very good, but he cannot find the time to do so.
He is a federal police officer after all. While this situation could engender hostility or
resentment between locals and foreigners, I did not see any evidence of this within the
FICA organization. If anything, local capoeiristas like Carlos who were a bit older than
the foreigners and had real life responsibilities like work and families were impressed
with the foreigners’ dedication. They also saw that foreign interest was furthering the
legitimization of capoeria in the eyes of many Brazilians who had long disparaged it
because of its association with lower-class Blacks.
Aloan said that when he first started playing capoeira, there were a lot of
movements that he did not want to try. Then he saw other people who had started
capoeira at more or less the same time as him who were developing faster than he was.
Little by little he started tackling these moves. His point was that it takes time and
dedication for our skills to develop. He urged us to do any movement to the maximum of
our ability because only then would it become habitual enough for us to use in the roda.
To my utter joy, he pointed out that some people, like “Lorena,” were finally succeeding
with movements they had never been able to do before, and this growth is good. While
the Brazilian teachers within the FICA organization may be more focused on the process
of personal development within capoeira while foreigners are primarily motivated by
markers of progress, advancements in skill do not go without notice.
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Pilgrims may select rodas to attend based on the level of aggression or
competition it offers. There are many different rodas that capoeiristas can choose from
on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in Bahia. One particularly dedicated American
capoeirista who trains intensively and is incredibly skilled dislikes the Nzinga roda.
Others among us favored it because of its playful energy and reputation for being
inclusive of women and children. In his opinion, there are really only two kids there
worth playing. Likewise, he rarely goes to the rodas at Mestre Joao Pequeno’s school.
While skilled, the style of that academy is slower and less intense than what is found in
other rodas. He prefers rodas that can offer more in the way of competition.
At some academies, like Ginga Mundo, there seems to be a progression within
each roda. The games at the beginning are slower and easier, but as the evening
progresses the games get faster and are played at a higher level. This may lead to the
impression that foreigners are being marginalized, as was reported to me by a number of
research contacts, but it is equally likely that the majority of foreigners there do not have
the skill level necessary to play in the faster, more intense games towards the end of the
roda. In my single observation at Ginga Mundo, there were many foreigners present and
participating in the earlier portion of the roda, but only two foreigners played in the latter
portion.
At other academies, rodas can be hard and intimidating from beginning to end. I
casually mentioned one day that I still found the rodas at FICA Bahia to be rather
intense. Alonzo laughed, but ultimately agreed. He attributed this to the presence of so
many foreigners who are in Bahia for a short time and so desperately want to improve
that they really go at it in the roda, trying to prove themselves by constantly attacking
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their opponent. This violates the normal expectation that players will take turns attacking
and defending.
In the end, skill level cannot be discounted as an important part of capoeira,
especially when a capoeirista is playing in a roda outside of his or her own academy. At
the level of a local scene, a capoeirista’s peers will evaluate him or her based on a
propensity for being open, engaging in troca de informação, and showing dedication to
the group. However, it is a low-ranking currency in this economy of authenticity. Even
within the performance frame, skill is much less important than formal features of the
game like understanding the difference between agressividade and objetividade,
conveying sentimento, and using metacommentary to highlight one’s knowledge of form
even in the face of physical shortcomings.
Musical
Skill
My original assumption that physical skill would be a primary route to legitimacy
was off the mark. For Mestre Cobra Mansa, founder of FICA, musical skill is equally if
not more important than physical skill. Even a capoeirista from the infamous Mercado
Modelo, widely disparaged for hosting inauthentic tourist-oriented capoeira shows,
stressed to me the importance of learning to play the instruments and sing the songs, not
just throwing my legs around. Music adds nuance to the game as the “songs draw to
awareness latent traits in the game” (Downey 2005:85). Performing music correctly is
also essential to the preservation of capoeira ritual. Referencing GCAP, the group from
which FICA descends, Downey says that “Overwhelmingly, when critics complained that
traditions were being forgotten, their anxieties concentrated on singing, instrumental
rhythms, the relation of music to play, and rituals like the chamada” (Downey 2005:116).
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Much like learning Portuguese, learning to play the instruments correctly is a way of
showing one’s dedication to maintaining the traditions of capoeira, and it is likewise an
important step on the road to legitimacy.
Being able to maintain and/or manufacture the instruments was another highly
valued trait. FICA instructors constantly stressed the importance of owning our own
instruments so we could develop a relationship with them and practice with them
continually. Perhaps one of the ways in which I felt most distanced from the “real”
capoeiristas was in my inability to string a berimbau. For a while I resorted to stringing
mine in the privacy of my own apartment where I could cheat and whine as the wire bit
into my soft academic hands. When the wire on my berimbau snapped after music class
one evening, I turned to a Japanese student for help. I said that I was timid about
working with the instruments because I did not really know how to do any of it, and no
one had taught me. He said he understood because he used to feel the same way but
came to realize that being a complete capoeirista necessitated this versatility.
There were two sets of berimbaus in the academy. The berimbau commands the
roda (Almeida 1986:75) and therefore commands respect. Some hold it as quasi-sacred.
One set of berimbaus could be used by anyone during music class. The other set was
reserved for rodas and for use by the instructor during music class. It was not uncommon
to run out of berimbaus during music class as demand normally outnumbered supply.
During one class, Alonzo was given explicit permission to use a berimbau from the
roda/teacher set. A little while later during class, he passed it off to Caroline and took
the drum. That these two individuals were allowed to use a berimbau from the special set
indexed their legitimacy.
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Of all the instruments, the gunga (largest and deepest sounding berimbau) was the
most prestigious. Whoever controls the berimbau holds responsibility for the entire roda.
As the popular capoeira song below suggests, playing the berimbau comes with
responsibility and will not be given away lightly:
Esse gunga é meu, não dou pra ninguem
This gunga is mine, I don’t give it to anyone
My one and only experience with the gunga came during my first week in Brazil. I had
attended a kids’ roda at the Pierre Verger Foundation along with Iuri, Leandro and Julie.
Towards the end, Carlos urged me to take the gunga so he could take a photograph of me.
In comparison to most of the children there, I was certainly qualified to take the gunga;
however, there were five or six adults present who would have had a better claim on it.
Furthermore, this is not an instrument I normally feel comfortable playing outside of our
own group because it connotes authority. In retrospect, this exchange feels significant
because Carlos was staging a photo opportunity for me in which I appeared to have
authority and legitimacy within this capoeira community.
During training rodas in class it was common for a foreigner, normally one of the
Japanese men, to play the gunga. However, in formal Saturday morning rodas this was
far less common. In these situations, the gunga was almost always played by Mestre
Valmir, one of his two sons, or Jorge. In some cases, the gunga would be offered to a
special visitor like another mestre or contra-mestre. The upper echelon of players at
FICA Bahia is almost exclusively male, and only on one occasion did I see a female
Brazilian play the gunga. She passed it to Alonzo, who is an American. This was my
first time to see a foreigner take the gunga in a roda at FICA Bahia, though that is not to
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say that it never happens. As he accepted the gunga, Mestre Valmir gave them both a
hard look as if they had broken protocol, but did not make any move to take the berimbau
away from Alonzo. Two games later, however, Jorge took the gunga from Alonzo.
The only other time I was handed a berimbau aside from music class was during
Aloan’s birthday roda in class. This was an informal and impromptu roda in which he
wanted to play everyone in the class for approximately one minute, which meant that
people were changing positions on the orchestra with high frequency. One of the women
in class had to leave a few minutes early, so she called me over and passed me the
medium sized berimbau, which I was allowed to keep until the end of the roda. While I
never would have been allowed to play the berimbau during a regular roda, apparently I
had enough skill to remain in this role during an informal roda. The same could not be
said of everyone, including a Brazilian student who was removed from the berimbau
during a similar roda. As Nestor Capoeira put it, “You may be…rich, but if you grab a
berimbau in a respectable roda without knowing how to play it well, it won’t be ten
seconds before someone takes the instrument off your hands and shoves you quite
impolitely aside” (Capoeira 2006:142-3). Mestre Valmir did not hesitate to relieve
students of their role either playing an instrument or leading a song if it was not up to his
standards. During an in-class roda, Mestre Valmir removed a middle-aged Brazilian
man from the berimbau. He reminded students that music class is on Tuesdays and
Thursdays and that is the time to learn a new instrument.
The music class was attended almost exclusively by foreigners. On any given
evening, there might be one or two Brazilians attending alongside five to ten foreigners.
The music class was taught at a high level. No instruction was given on how to play the
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various instruments; rather, class consisted of the teacher leading students in complex
variations on the berimbau, having them lead songs, and having them improvise verses in
Portuguese to choruses of his choosing. After about four months of training with the
group, Aloan pointed out to everyone that I should be able to sing a ladainha. Public
shaming was intended to push me to learn this new skill but also signaled my standing
within the group and his expectations of me as a student.
Conclusion
Overall, charismatic factors were far more important than traditional
characteristics in predicting a capoeirista’s legitimacy, and attitude was clearly the most
important form of capital in this economy of authenticity. A capoeirista’s attitude was
gauged by his or her openness as well as perseverance and dedication. Openness to
engage in information exchange was often cited as the greatest benefit of capoeira
tourism. Dedication to personal betterment was valued, but far more important was
dedication to bettering the group. Yuta was one individual who excelled in this area, and
his legitimacy was underscored by the sendoff he received. Attitude also intertwines with
the performance of capoeira. An individual’s attitude is also evidenced in his or her
actions, like learning Portuguese, travelling for capoeira, or volunteering.
Speaking Portuguese is crucial for engaging in information exchange. In
movement class, there were some ways to circumvent the language barrier. Body
language was helpful in many cases, and in some academies the Brazilian instructors
have learned English or French to aid in communication. Music class, however, required
some understanding of the language, especially if students were expected to improvise
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lyrics. The FICA organization is unusual in that so many of its members speak
Portuguese with a high level of proficiency.
Domestic capoeira travel was infrequently discussed by capoeiristas, but
nonetheless served an important role in their development as capoeiristas. Travelling
domestically, or to other nearby countries, provides capoeiristas with a network. In fact,
many people arrived in Brazil already knowing one another because of these networks. It
also reaffirms group identity, especially for groups like FICA with chapters spread
widely across several countries. Domestic travel also exposed capoeiristas to regional
differences, which may be quite pronounced. For those unable to travel, workshops bring
all the benefits of domestic travel to those remaining stationary.
Pilgrimage to Bahia is a highly valued part of a capoeirista’s development and is
even required by some groups. For many pilgrims, being a capoeirista gave them a sense
of belonging when they arrived in Brazil. For some this only extended to the Brazilian
chapter of their group, but for others their sense of comfort expanded beyond the group.
On their pilgrimage, some capoeiristas trained obsessively while others sought a balance
between training and tourism. Ultimately, pilgrimage to Bahia is a long-standing and
well-known means of claiming legitimacy, though its actual form varies from person to
person.
Volunteerism was, with the exception of most self-identified black respondents,
rated quite low by my interviewees. Some volunteer work being done in Bahia is the
work of voluntourists who choose vacation options where they can give back to the local
community. Other volunteers are capoeira pilgrims who find themselves being drawn to
help some of the multitudes of poor, Afro-Brazilian children. This often takes the form
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of free capoeira classes for kids, attempting to give them a source of pride and an
alternative to drugs. Most capoeiristas desire to give back to the culture in some way,
but short-term visitors rarely find the time to do so. Volunteerism can contribute to a
pilgrim’s progression in the social field if it increases their opportunities for legitimate
peripheral participation, but failure to volunteer rarely interferes with one’s quest for
legitimacy.
Study participants ranked the importance of skill relatively low during our
interviews, but it seemed to matter considerably in their individual practice. Students’
skill was monitored by instructors and commented upon periodically, but in general the
teachers at FICA Bahia stress the process of becoming a complete capoeirista over
external markers of progress like skill. Foreigners, on the other hand, were largely
motivated by progress, which often pushed them to exhibit aggression in the roda and led
them to be intolerant of classmates at a lower skill level.
Two other factors were also useful for understanding legitimacy. Dating provided
foreign women with another way to access the inner workings of the group. However,
predatory males were a source of annoyance and, on rare occasions, danger for foreign
females. Sometimes their flirtations were in good fun, but local men had also gained a
reputation for being opportunistic, trying to gain travel documents and airplane tickets so
they could start teaching capoeira abroad. Music is also important for a capoeirista’s
legitimacy. The devaluation of music is often cited as the greatest threat to tradition in
capoeira. Prestige is associated with some instruments more than others. The gunga, for
example, controls the roda and you are not a ‘real’ capoeirista until you have been
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passed the gunga in Brazil. In such a case, a capoeirista’s legitimacy may be surmised
by looking at the instruments that he or she is permitted to play.
In this chapter, I have explored several qualities valued by capoeiristas, most of
which evidence their attitude. Displaying the right kind of attitude increases the
likelihood of a pilgrim being accepted into a local group. In a city of nearly three million
people, pilgrims will not have the opportunity to demonstrate their openness, good
humor, dazzling linguistic abilities, good-hearted volunteerism, etc. to even half of the
local capoeira community. In the social field at large, capoeiristas must demonstrate
their mastery of form, visible in performance. By the end of Chapter Six, it will become
clear how both the traditional claims to authenticity discussed in Chapter Four and the
charismatic factors covered here increase the odds that a capoeirista will master the form
of capoeira and move towards the center of the social field where they too will have a
hand in shaping the rules of the game.
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Chapter 6- Formal Claims to Authenticity
After class, Mestre Cobra Mansa told us that his job is to teach us the alphabet,
but it is up to us to put them into words and phrases. Alonzo, Mauricio and I approached
him as he left the dressing room. Where are the limits on innovation in capoeira, I
wanted to know. He told us that with the building blocks we are given in class, there is
no limit to our innovation. Feeling feisty, I argued that at some point, without any limits,
our games would devolve into free fights. “No,” he said. “With the ‘letters’ I teach you,
you can make all sorts of words, but it is still language, not mathematics.” We
temporarily agreed that within capoeira, we are all speaking the same language but with
our own sotaques (accents). The three of us continued our conversation at a nearby café.
Mauricio agreed with Mestre Cobra Mansa that capoeira has no limit, but I kept arguing
my point. “What about Capoeira Regional?59 Where is the line between being creative
and bastardizing capoeira?” “You can do anything in the roda, and it is still going to be
capoeira,” Alonzo said. “Even a Judo throw would be capoeira if it occurred within the
bounds of the roda.”
Mestre Cobra Mansa instructs students to be creative with the movements they
have in their repertoire. There are six basic movements in capoeira: rabo de arraia,
tesouro, au, rolê, negativa, and bananeira. Learning these movements and how to
implement them comprises literacy for capoeiristas, though there are infinite variations
and flourishes that can be added to these basics. There are certain sets of movements that
59
Capoeira
Regional
is
often
criticized
by
Angoleiros
as
a
bastardization
because
it
incorporated
moves
from
Asian
fighting
styles
like
jujitsu
and
from
Batuque,
an
African
combat
game
that
was
supposedly
common
in
Bahia
through
the
early
1900s.
209
the beginner will learn together, for example rabo de arraia and negativa, which form
basic adjacency pairs. Capoeira scholar Edward Powe has made an attempt at listing
common adjacency pairs within capoeira Angola (see Powe 2002). For example, a
tesouro (scissors) should be answered with either another tesouro under the first player’s
outspread legs or with an au (cartwheel) that takes you over the first player’s body.
While Powe’s work may be an interesting and useful primer, the potential for new
combinations is endless, making any such attempt at cataloguing movements inherently
incomplete. Instead, over time the capoeirista becomes disciplined to the aesthetic
expectations of the genre and learns that there are no predetermined moves. Performance
in the roda is judged largely by an individual’s creativity in answering his or her
opponent’s attacks (Essien 2008:14).
Some actions generally fall outside the scope of capoeira but may be considered
appropriate depending upon the situation. I once heard a story about an old capoeirista
who used to carry pepper in his pocket to throw into his adversary’s eyes if he began to
lose ground. A cheap shot for sure, but this kind of Machiavellian behavior is also part of
the capoeirista mentality. My goal in this work has been to show how non-Brazilian
capoeiristas achieve legitimacy within a social field that is outside of their own culture.
Thus far, I have argued that existential authenticity motivates capoeristas to accumulate
both traditional and charismatic forms of cultural capital. The next step is mastering the
formal requirements established by the social field. However, in a genre that prizes
innovation and tradition, proper form is very difficult to define. What ensues is
capoeiristas using their cultural capital to enter into an apprenticeship role with an
210
established teacher. This allows them to learn the aesthetic guidelines and contextually
dependent etiquette that characterizes appropriate play.
As mentioned earlier, Bourdieu’s contributions to social theory are useful because
they explain how a core group can assert its dominance over a social field, homogenizing
behavior. Yet his work is not sufficient on its own to explain a phenomenon like
capoeira that emphasizes both creativity and innovation. In this chapter, I bring theories
of embodiment and learning together to show that it is through legitimate peripheral
participation (i.e. apprenticeship) that novices come to embody the standards of capoeira
aesthetics. Embodied knowledge allows them to move towards full participation within
the social field. These learning opportunities involve individuals at various levels of the
social field and create the possibility that not only the apprentice, but master too may be
changed by virtue of learning. I begin with a brief review of the concept of habitus
before exploring the possibility that legitimate peripheral participation can help explain
both reproduction and innovation within an artistic field like capoeira.
While Bourdieu receives most of the credit for developing the ideas of habitus
and social fields, predecessors such as Marcel Mauss made worthwhile contributions that
have been largely eclipsed by Bourdieu’s fame. In a lecture delivered in 1934, Marcel
Mauss explains why he chose the Latin word habitus to describe deeply engrained
techniques of the body over other related terms. According to Mauss:
These ‘habits’ do not just vary with individuals and their imitations, they vary especially
between societies, educations, proprieties and fashions, prestiges. In them we should see
the techniques and work of collective and individual practical reason rather than, in the
ordinary way merely the soul and its repetitive faculties (Mauss 1973:73).
Several important elements emerge from this description. This statement hints at the
foundation upon which Bourdieu would later build. Mauss’s focus on prestige in
211
particular is similar to Boudieu’s interest in cultural capital; both call attention to the
valorization of certain modes of being and not others. Mauss also shows that
comportment is not completely individual nor completely societal, but it emerges as a
result of the dialectic between the two. Similarly, Bourdieu points out that individual
agency is constrained by the rules of the social field. Education is an essential
component to Mauss’s ideas about habitus (Mauss 1973:73). He calls this a “prestigious
imitation” by which the child, or I argue initiate, imitates successful models. Individuals
with power, prestige and authority provide models to novices (Mauss 1973:73-74).
How do we think about habitus in today’s world where increasing numbers of
people pick and choose, in bricolage fashion, from a vast range of potential lifestyles?
Perhaps Bourdieu’s notion of habitus has become so bogged down with the idea of
reproduction that it is helpful for us to return to Mauss’s much earlier conception when
we think about how habitus works in the global age. Bourdieu saw people firmly
imbedded in “a doxic lifeworld within which individuals could improvise but from which
they could never escape” (Goodman 2009:109). Mauss, on the other hand, encourages us
to think of habitus both as a product of our societies and as a property that will vary
among individuals in any given society based on the models they have incorporated into
their own repertoire.60
Form is the standard against which practitioners are held accountable, and it
governs the game to which actors much adhere if they want to advance within a social
60
Furthermore,
the
intertwined
elements
of
form
found
within
capoeira
fit
well
with
Mauss’s
notion
of
technique,
which
must
incorporate
both
efficacy
and
tradition
(Mauss
1973:75).
212
field.61 But the question of how less experienced capoeiristas come to embody the
standards of form still remains. Capoeiristas at FICA Bahia were repeatedly told that
they could not learn capoeira from reading a manual or watching a DVD, which has
become commonplace in contemporary martial arts training. YouTube is a particularly
common resource for people trying to expand their repertoire. Rather, there is something
inherent in the face-to-face interactions between a master and his62 students that lead to
sanctioned performances.
Emic Understandings of Form
Capoeiristas value execution of proper form because it demonstrates their respect
for tradition, but few are able to articulate what proper form means within a dynamic
genre like capoeira. Capoeiristas value creativity and improvisation, responding as each
situation demands. If capoeira is “tudo o que a boca come” or all that the mouth eats like
Mestre Pastinha said, it becomes difficult to articulate the limits of the form. Presumably
there must be some limits to innovation or capoeira would lose its formal coherence. All
but two of my interview subjects said that proper form was important or very important
for capoeiristas.63 Yet none of them could define this. For most capoeiristas in my
study, the most important aspect of form was respecting tradition.
As I puzzled over the limits of continuity and change in capoeira, a Russian
capoeirista told me there was no right and wrong in capoeira but quickly rescinded her
statement. She said it depended on if one was talking about Capoeira Angola or
61
This
combines
Weber’s
model
of
bureaucracies
in
which
contracts
govern
behavior,
Bourdieu’s
ideas
about
advancement
within
a
field,
and
Mauss’s
belief
that
technique
is
a
combination
of
efficacy
and
tradition
that
changes
a
player’s
embodied
way
of
being
in
the
world.
62
I
use
the
masculine
pronoun
here
because
female
mestres
are
extremely
rare
in
Capoeira
Angola.
63
Of
the
two
who
gave
it
a
neutral
rating,
one
moves
between
the
two
primary
styles
of
capoeira.
The
other
has
no
ties
to
a
specific
capoeira
group.
These
cases
highlight
the
link
between
form
and
the
master‐apprentice
relationship.
213
Capoeira Regional. She said Regional tends to make up its own traditions and wonders
if that really is capoeira or not, but FICA is a traditional capoeira academy64. This
prejudice against Capoeira Regional was common among Angoleiros. For some this
prejudice stems from their belief that Capoeira Angola is the purest form and should not
be adulterated with movements from other martial arts. For others, there may be some
resentment that Capoeira Regional dominated the domestic and international market for
quite some time, and Angola is only beginning to make headway abroad. Regardless, her
comment suggests that if a group adheres to the rituals and traditions passed down from
the previous generations of capoeiristas and uses these to shape their overall practice,
then individual movements within capoeira games are of little consequence. Cultural
minister Juca Ferreira expressed similar concerns in the late 1990s. Members of GCAP
assured him that there was no cause for worry because the innovations that don’t adhere
to tradition die on the vine (Ferreira 1997).
Issues of authenticity were little discussed before Mestres Bimba and Pastinha
took up their relative roles as the figureheads of newly codified capoeira styles. Pastinha
modified proper form in capoeira in such a way that he condemned violence and
valorized ludic aspects of the African tradition. Some of the prohibitions included
treacherous strikes like sticking a finger in an adversary’s eyes, jumping headbutts and
low meia-lua (half-moon) kicks (Lyrio 2007). This is not to suggest, however, that
Pastinha’s capoeira was impotent. Mestre Pastinha was concerned about capoeiristas
who lacked a complete understanding of “the rules of capoeira” because he feared it
64
FICA
is
often
at
the
center
of
heated
debates
in
both
online
and
face‐to‐face
Capoeira
Angola
communities.
Some,
such
as
the
capoeira
pilgrim
referenced
here,
believe
FICA
is
a
“traditional”
Angola
group.
Others
passionately
refute
this
on
a
number
of
bases
including
Mestre
Cobra
Mansa’s
roots
in
Rio
instead
of
Salvador
and
the
organization’s
franchise
structure.
214
would lead capoeira to devolve into a free fight (Taylor 2005b:36), but historical sources
tell us that even the “infractions” listed by Mestre Pastinha “really only applied in
demonstrations or public games” (Taylor 2005b:37). One can infer that games played in
private were less regulated by rules than aesthetics. There are limits to the form of
capoeira even if performance in the roda is guided by an aesthetic more than a litany of
rules and moves.
Some of these guiding aesthetic principles are common across the African
Diaspora. For example, the figure of the trickster appears prominently in different verbal,
musical, and physical traditions. Cobb writes, “The trickster’s ironic sensibility is a
defining feature of the blues, where the hero is the down-and-out player who nevertheless
carries an ace – or a razor, depending on the situation – tucked up his sleeve” (Cobb
2007:21). This trickster, as Cobb describes him, hides his efficacy under a façade of
humility. This mentality is embodied in capoeira. When one opponent sings “menino é
bom” (this guy is good), the other humbly shakes his head no and gestures back
emphatically when he echoes the line. “No, no”, his body seems to say, “this is the guy
who is good.” Nonchalance is used to hide potential.
Creating stylish improvisations in high-pressure situations is another common
feature. In hip hop, MCs are expected to display “the rapid-fire calculation of speed
chess combines with the language virtuosity of a poetry recital” (Cobb 2007:77). The
ritual insult game known as the dozens is a good example of this. Trading insults back
and forth with one’s peers in this context is generally ludic. However, the possibility of
violence lurks under the surface, particularly when norms of the game are violated. In
much the same way, capoeira games can turn violent if norms of etiquette are broken, but
215
these norms are rarely explicated so an etiquette sensibility must be forged over longterm engagement with the field.
Capoeiristas’ obsessive concern about preserving tradition is not for the sake of
tradition alone. Most capoeiristas, Angoleiros in particular, believe deeply in the roots of
their traditions and ascribe them quasi-mystical status, capable of transforming adepts on
the inside as much as on the outside.
Practitioners were concerned with the proper form of training not merely because they
sought to preserve a ‘right’ form of the art. They believed deeply that the discipline’s
effects on the devotee varied depending on how the art was performed, including details
that might seem inconsequential to an outsider (Downey 2005:17).
Fidelity to the most minor of details is crucially important within this worldview, yet it
does not prevent capoeiristas from innovating.
Reconciling Authenticity and Innovation
Authenticity and innovation may seem antithetical to one another, but they can be
reconciled. In many cases, success in a genre hinges upon displaying both tendencies.
Performances must conform to a broadly conceived genre, but within those bounds,
originality confirms that a performer’s style is genuine and not copied (see Peterson
1997:209). This tension characterizes many arts in the African Diaspora (see Cobb
2007), including capoeira.
Timbers discusses Americans’ desires to adhere to the Brazilian standard as
closely as possible without becoming mindless mimics. She says:
[Americans] do not want to make capoeira anew, they want to conform ‘their’ capoeira
as closely as possible to the capoeira played in Brazil (not necessarily to copy it, but to
match its levels of creativity and expressionism). Mestres function as the most legitimate
(and oftentimes, the only) sources of information on capoeira, and thus, their actions,
ideas and knowledge are closely imitated and absorbed so that Americans can be ‘true’
capoeiristas (Timbers 2000:69).
216
This statement conveys American capoeiristas’ commitment to authenticity in their
practice of capoeira.65 Capoeiristas want to be authentic performers, and to that aim they
model their performances after Brazilian capoeira and their Brazilian mestres’ teachings,
but they do not necessarily want to copy it. Rather, they want to stay within the idiom
while simultaneously developing their own unique style and expression.
Major changes to a genre are often tolerated when they are made in the service of
preserving a tradition in the face of social or technological upheaval. For example,
country music underwent a series of changes in its characteristic sound, particularly in the
1950s when the survival of the genre was threatened by the growing popularity of rock
‘n’ roll; however, these changes were not a threat to the ‘authenticity’ of country music
because they were made in the service of its survival (Jensen 1998:66). Likewise, from
its very beginnings the form of capoeira was altered from its original, whatever that may
have been. Yet practitioners are tolerant of these fabrications because they testify to
African slaves’ agency in the face of overwhelming oppression. Symbolic links with the
original form must be maintained in order to guarantee this continuity. In both the case
of country music and of capoeira, changes were permissible in the service of a larger
identity-making project.
When the context of production changes, the symbolic hallmarks of performance
become reified. When country music was revolutionized by technological innovations
and performers began commanding large sums for their shows, “the industry had to find
ways to link back up with the imaginary authentic homes of country music – the green
hills, back porch, barn dance, dim lit bar” (Jensen 1998:67). Similarly, as the practice of
65
This
sentiment also echoes the definition of authenticity offered by Peterson in his study of country
music (1997). 217
capoeira expands far beyond its original context of the disorderly favelas, praças
(plazas), and docks of Brazil, the ‘traditional’ traits of capoeira (blackness, Brazilianness
and poverty) become ever more entrenched as symbols of authenticity, regardless of how
far short they fall of most capoeiristas’ lived reality. In short, new audiences’ exposure
to capoeira led to a reification of traditional claims to authenticity that may or may not
have any currency to insiders.
The preceding examples are of major changes to a genre’s practice or form, but
performance is inherently unstable because of the minor changes that take place from one
iteration to the next. This creates the possibility that major changes to a form may take
place almost without participants’ awareness, particularly in a form like capoeira that
lacks notation. Hahn points out that despite the invention of Laban’s notation system,
dance largely remained an art form that is “passed from body to body” (Hahn 2007:6),
which makes it similar in many ways to oral tradition. This is equally true of capoeira,
for which there are very few written scores. Therefore, it is also worth looking at the
minor innovations introduced by individual players in the course of everyday practices
like weekly rodas.
Capoeira is so complex in part because of dueling demands of technically
correctness and stylistic innovation.
Creativity – or what some might call ‘rule bending’- requires that a player have
acknowledged expertise (someone might assume a novice’s variation was just an error)
and be calm enough to execute the variation. Also necessary is the sensitivity to gauge
how novel a variation can be before it jeopardizes the game’s dynamics (Downey
2005:108).
Capoeiristas must know the rules before they can break them, and they must display
mastery before their innovations will be seen as anything other than a mistake. Playing
capoeira effectively requires developing a certain type of awareness and creativity that
218
flows out naturally from the bodily interaction between two players. At the same time,
however, players must remain within the intuitive bounds of what constitutes proper
form. These boundaries are never clearly articulated; rather, it is through apprenticeship
that capoeiristas gradually gain a sense of what is and is not permissible in the roda.
Legitimate Peripheral Participation
When I began my fieldwork in Brazil, I assumed that I would learn the most about
the aesthetic values of capoeiristas during their performances at rodas. A few months
into my study, however, I began reflecting on how my evaluation of performances had
transformed as a result of the small changes happening to my body during daily practice
sessions. Hahn prefaces her exploration of the transmission of embodied knowledge in
nihon buyo with a deceptively simple question: “How are aesthetic values passed down?”
(Hahn 2007:51). This is not something taught directly, “rather [students] gain an
understanding of such a sensibility through practice and embodiment of the tradition –
through observing dance in the studio and at performances, and through discussions
during lessons” (ibid51). These oblique ways of learning about aesthetic values add up
over time to give performers an embodied sense of what is right and wrong in a given
form without having to refer to a set of static rules about form.
It is one thing to know how performers learn their discipline and quite another to
articulate that knowledge in words for a lay readership when the performers themselves
find it hard to describe what they know.66 Nonetheless, what occurred to me during this
66
Hahn
specifically
addresses
this
difficulty
and
credits
the
experimental
forms
used
by
dance
scholars
like
Julie
Taylor,
who
uses
thumbnail
photos
in
the
outer
margins
to
create
a
flipbook
effect,
and
Marta
Savigliano,
who
combines
stage
directions
with
her
academic
prose
to
represent
the
multivocality
of
her
orientation
to
the
subject
matter
(Hahn
2007:7).
219
moment of reflexivity was the importance of training for the cultivation of an aesthetic
sensibility in all embodied disciplines. In many Japanese forms:
It is believed that regular practice of prescribed dance poses and movements reinforces
artistic skills in the habitual body, and as movements become embodied, an experience of
freedom and realization may occur. From a highly disciplined and structured
pedagogical foundation it is thought that the skills of an artist can flow ‘naturally’ or
effortlessly from the well-trained body (Hahn 2007:43).
Even though performance in capoeira is very different from nihon buyo dance because of
the emphasis on improvisation in the former and precise execution of choreography in the
latter, both require a well-trained body in order to achieve fluency in performance.
Training is the time during which the body is prepared, and it is the central site of a
performer’s education. Thus, daily class sessions became my primary focus of inquiry.
My study of form shifted from product to process, from the performance in its ritual
context to the development of a capoeirista’s sensibilities.
Lave and Wenger use the phrase “legitimate peripheral participation” as a way of
discussing socially embedded learning that takes place as novices learn from masters and
move from peripheral to more central roles within a given field. They coined this phrase
because the term apprenticeship had become overused and near meaningless by the late
1980s (Lave and Wenger 1991:29). Their perspective refutes traditional understandings
of learners as passive receivers of knowledge and proposes a “comprehensive
understanding involving the whole person” who has agency and who both constitutes and
is constituted by her social world (ibid:33). They describe this arrangement as centripetal
because learning brings people from the periphery into the center of the social field
(ibid:100).
Studies of apprenticeship have typically assumed that it leads novices to
reproduce the behaviors and skills of their masters, but Lave and Wenger’s theory of
220
legitimate peripheral participation changes this assumption (1991:65). They suggest that
this kind of relationship provides the potential for newcomers to create their own
idiosyncratic interpretations of the general skill-set required of masters. This is central to
understanding how mestres create capoeiristas that bear some resemblance to their
lineage but also develop an idiosyncratic and identifiable style of their own. Studies of
apprenticeship have also typically assumed that the rewards of this kind of learning are
intrinsic; apprentices learn the skills they need to function as a master of the craft. Lave
and Wenger, on the other hand, see that “a deeper sense of the value of participation to
the community and the learner lies in becoming part of the community” (ibid:111).
Moving towards full participation necessitates a greater commitment to the community,
but it is rewarded with a greater sense of belonging.
Masters remain in the most powerful roles independent of what their social status
may be outside of the field in question. In capoeira, the mestres have traditionally come
from some of the least powerful segments of society. Thornton’s work on dance clubs in
London helps us to understand that “subcultural capital is not as class-bound as cultural
capital” (Thornton 1996:12). By focusing on one leisure activity as the core of the social
field, a person’s profession is of little importance unless their work is directly tied to the
field. For example, DJs club organizers, music and style journalists, etc.:
[o]ften enjoy a lot of respect not only because of their high volume of subcultural capital,
but also from their role in defining and creating it. In knowing, owning and playing the
music, DJs, in particular, are sometimes positioned as the masters of the scene (Thornton
1996:12).
Here we see the circularity of cultural capital in action. Those with the most capital
ascend to the top of the hierarchy and are then in a privileged position where they can
shape the field, theoretically guaranteeing their continued success in the field. The same
221
could be said of capoeira mestres and contra-mestres. They have reached their present
station by acquiring the right credentials and now find themselves in the position to shape
the field as they police the boundaries of legitimacy for the next generation of
capoeiristas.
The mestres’ powerful position within the capoeira social field may seem too
entrenched to change, but Lave and Wenger’s model of legitimate peripheral
participation provides for this. The dialectic between apprentices and the social field in
which they learn allows them to shape one another and rewrite their respective
trajectories (Hanks 1991:16). Lave and Wenger move theories of learning outside the
confines of individual minds and situate learning as an emergent process that results from
participation within complex social structures (ibid:15). Such a view distributes the
responsibilities and results of learning across many participants instead of localizing it
within one individual (ibid). In some instances of apprenticeship, learned content is of
less importance than the process of becoming, but “[e]ven in cases where a fixed doctrine
is transmitted, the ability of a community to reproduce itself through the training process
derives not from the doctrine, but from the maintenance of certain modes of
coparticipation in which it is embedded” (Hanks 1991:16). In other words, it is the
learning of form, not form itself, which gives continuity to an artistic genre. The picture
that emerges from this kind of a theory is one of relationships and exchanges versus strict
divisions and policed boundaries.
Understanding how legitimate peripheral participation facilitates a novice’s
integration into a community of practice necessitates an understanding of reproduction
within that field, how roles are assumed over time, and how actors relate to one another
222
(Lave and Wenger 1991:56). A social field is composed of many more actors than just
the master and apprenticeship, and apprenticeship is not the only mode of participation
within the social field. For example, rodas provide informal learning opportunities for
students where they learn by peripheral participation as players, musicians, singers, and
observers. In a roda, the mestre does serve as a model for novices, but so do their peers.
Sometimes learning from one’s peers is just as important as learning from the mestre.
Masters and peers used physical contact as a pedagogical tool. Mestre Valmir
told us during class that if our partner failed to get out of the way of our kicks, then we
were obligated to kick them. Older students have the responsibility of guiding newer
students, answering beginners’ movements in a way that shows them their errors, but not
with bad intent. Likewise in Bloomington, Iuri frequently instructed advanced students
to exploit new students’ vulnerabilities, not to injure them but to highlight their
weaknesses and teach them where they need to protect themselves.
Classes provide many opportunities for peer learning. In classes at FICA Bahia,
certain people were consistently selected to help the teacher demonstrate new movements
to the rest of the class. To again reference Weber’s idea of formal-legal rationality, the
movements of these individuals became the contract after which other students modeled
their own movements. Significantly, students modeled their movements after these
examples but did not copy them with perfect fidelity. This reinforces Lave and Wenger’s
claim that apprentices learn, but do not mimic, the skills they see in others.
The teacher’s selection of a demonstration partner was never random. At FICA
Bahia, the students used to demonstrate sequences had to understand the movements,
have enough skill to execute the movements, and be able to present a clear model with
223
proper form for other students to follow. Yuta, Caroline, Alonzo and a few others were
consistently used as demonstration partners. They were also called upon to lead class
when other teachers were unavailable. This was a visible sign of their legitimization; not
only were they involved in legitimate peripheral participation, they were also serving as
models to junior students.
Knowledge is the key to ascendency within this hierarchy. Similar to the way
cultural capital is embodied in taste and etiquette, youth who frequent clubs in London
signal their insider status by “being ‘in the know,’ using (but not over-using) current
slang and looking as if you were born to perform the latest dance styles” (Thornton
1996:12). Cultural capital is evidenced in performance, both successful performance of
tasks, like proper dancing, and convincing performance of self. Key to success if making
it look natural, for “[n]othing depletes capital more than the sight of someone trying too
hard” (ibid:12). Understanding capoeira is an important marker of insider status; this
goes deeper than merely understanding the format and guidelines of the game.
Understanding capoeira involves respecting the history of capoeira and
appreciating the jocular interplay between two opponents in the roda. An American
woman and I were complaining about a Brazilian man who constantly meddled in our
practice and tried to make corrections to our movements, even though Mestre Valmir
constantly corrected him. Afraid that my comments had sounded too harsh, I backed off
saying I was so bad I had no room to talk. My interlocutor said at least I understood what
capoeira was all about. This was high praise but also highlighted her disdain for this
Brazilian man who failed to understand the essence of capoeira. Failure to understand
the philosophy behind capoeira was cause for outright dismissal by others in the field.
224
Intimate study with a master not only facilitates learning, but also legitimizes the
apprentice. Deconstructing the three different elements of their framework, legitimacy,
peripherality, and participation, Lave and Wenger argue “[t]he form that the legitimacy of
participation takes is a defining characteristic of ways of belonging, and is therefore not
only a crucial condition for learning, but a constitutive element of its content” (Lave and
Wenger 1991:35). The very fact that someone is included in a master-apprentice
relationship verifies his or her legitimacy. This is a much different situation than
someone who lurks at the margins of a community without authorization by an
insider/master. A martial artist in another discipline explained this legitimacy as the
difference between merely taking class and actually being someone’s student.
Legitimate peripheral participation does not necessarily imply direct instruction.
Even when not teaching directly, masters always “embody practice at its fullest in the
community of practice” (Lave and Wenger 1991:85). Facilitating apprentices’ access to
resources for learning is actually more important than direct instruction, as is the “issue
of [masters] conferring legitimacy” upon their protégés (ibid:92). One of the ways
apprentices learn is through organized learning opportunities. For example, in Alcoholics
Anonymous, senior members will withhold some information from newcomers until they
feel the novice is ready for more (ibid). Capoeira mestres likewise meet students at their
level, creating learning opportunities that are appropriate for that student’s current ability.
This was most evident in the roda. Mestre Valmir always taught his students something
about capoeira through their interactions in the roda. This was invariable; however, how
often he chose to play with a particular student varied significantly. Those with whom he
played the most learned the most.
225
Lave and Wenger advocate taking a decentered approach to understanding
apprenticeship and the relationship between master and apprentice. Such an approach
“leads to an understanding that mastery resides not in the master but in the organization
of the community of practice of which the master is a part…a decentered view of the
master as pedagogue moves the focus of analysis away from teaching and onto the
intricate structuring of a community’s learning resources” (Lave and Wenger 1991:94).
This decentered view suggests that having sufficient capital is a precondition of entering
into a legitimate peripheral participation role. Learning resources are more available to
those who are more successful in accumulating traditional and charismatic capital.
Mass
Classes
and
Standardization
The transition from informal learning by apprenticeship to formal training in
academies had a profound effect on capoeira (see Downey 2005:39-40). Before Mestre
Bimba began the process of institutionalization, capoeira was learned in the streets
through observation or from a mentor in a very informal way. Initiates hung around until
an accomplished player noticed them and agreed to help them along their path of
development.
In the traditional Capoeira Angola teaching method (which is not used by capoeira
Angola teachers and mestres any more), the learning was loose, few, intuitive, organic,
and this resulted in players with very different styles although they were all Capoeira
Angola. Today all capoeira pupils of a certain Capoeira Angola academy play in a
similar way (Capoeira 2006:64).
The way capoeiristas learn their craft has changed dramatically to accommodate the
greater demand for formal instruction. New pedagogical methods have standardized
many players’ style, which is antithetical to the ethos of Capoeira Angola.
226
Standardization threatens the creativity and individuality that has always been a
hallmark of Capoeira Angola. Reflecting on his own intensive participant-observation
fieldwork among Mestre Moraes’s group GCAP, Downey says that his teachers were
highly critical of “robot capoeira” or mimicking teachers’ movements too closely.
Flawless copying was not seen as a mark of skill, rather “too-faithful repetition was
considered dreadfully boring, counterproductive for learning, and anathema to a cunning
game” (Downey 2005:28). Mass classes that encourage mimicking are almost
unavoidable with the present level of demand for instruction, but these classes are not
necessarily effective ways of transmitting the aesthetic principles of Capoeira Angola.
One danger of practicing a movement too mechanically is that students stop
thinking about the movements, their adversary’s potential reactions, and their options for
counterattacking. Despite the fact that students in most large classes learn by mimicking
their instructors, failure to develop an individualized style is considered detrimental for a
capoeirista. Each player’s game is informed by his or her own consciousness, and a
capoeirista should not try to match what his or her opponent is doing but follow his or
her own guide. Likewise, capoeiristas must learn which movements work best for their
own bodies. This awareness is particularly important in a martial art like capoeira where
opponents are selected at random and not by weight-class or sex.
Learning through legitimate peripheral participation moderates the threat of
mechanized capoeira. Capoeira may now have specific teaching moments like classes or
training sessions, but most learning still occurs through legitimate peripheral
participation. This is particularly true of rodas, which could be compared to sparring in
227
other martial forms. At rodas, novice capoeiristas pick up unarticulated nuance in their
teachers’ and more experienced players’ movements and learn the norms of behavior.
In many ways, trainings sessions are more about habituating students to a certain
aesthetic sensibility than fixing specific movements in their repertoires. During class,
students’ bodies are disciplined into a new comportment, a new way of moving that in
time becomes natural. Students are chided for doing movements “too mechanically.”
Not only does this violate the expectation that capoeiristas should have an idiosyncratic
style, but moving this way actually makes it more difficult to flow between movements.
While the body should be “broken” in its alignment, flow between movements should
never be choppy. Even if there were five different movements included in a series, they
should flow together like one single movement.
Classes
at
FICA
Classes at FICA Bahia invariably started with ginga, done in a free-form and
individualized manner. The ginga is the most basic movement in capoeira, a rocking
step that traces an inverted triangular pattern. Developing an individualized, yet
aesthetically interesting and unpredictable ginga is key to being a better capoeirista. In
classes, students are constantly told to “salta” their ginga, meaning that they need to
loosen their bodies and be freer in this movement. By these standards, a good ginga is
off-centered. The torso sways from side to side with each step. And while it is important
to maintain muscular control over your abdominals in this movement, the torso is never
aligned vertically nor pulled inwards like that of a ballet dancer. The shoulders remain
relaxed and slightly slumped forward, allowing the arms to swing freely. The capoeirista
normally remains slightly tilted forward from the hips, though this is variable, and rather
228
than keeping the legs extended and locked, there should be enough tension in the
quadriceps to allow the capoeirista to launch his or her body in any direction. The ginga
also functions to prepare the adversary, often misdirecting or lulling her into a false sense
of security.
Unlike the way we train in Bloomington, mimicking Iuri’s movements as closely
as possible, at FICA Bahia students move in their own way and in their own time.
Giving students the freedom to invent their own style of ginga makes this capoeira look
more like a dance than at some academies that follow a more rigid pedagogy. It leads to
more improvisation during the roda because students are not overly reliant on the same
sequences that are taught in class. Mestre Valmir is consciously aware of this and tells
his students that his classes permit them lots of freedom to think and move in the way
they think best because everybody and every body is unique; as Patinha said, “cada um é
cada um” (each one is each one). Mestre Valmir could tell his students exactly how to
execute each movement, but he prefers this method because it allows students to test their
own creativity.
Sometimes students were given complete freedom with their movements in order
to develop creativity and individual style. In other cases, students were heavily restricted
in their choice of movements. For example, the instructor might choose three or four
movements and tell students these were the only permissible options. Though it might
seem counterintuitive, this strategy also developed creativity in students. This exercise
makes students think about how they can apply standard moves in creative ways to
achieve their objectives. The mental dimension of capoeira is very important for adepts
and skilled capoeiristas constantly reflect upon their own games and the games of others,
229
pondering the different ways they could react in a certain situation. Students were
encouraged to develop reflexivity and think about what they could have done better in
their games.
Every aspect of training at FICA Bahia was explicitly oriented towards
performance in an actual roda, and movement for movement’s sake was criticized. Most
movements, particularly the more complicated sequences, were explained with reference
to how they would articulate with an opponent’s moves. When students learned a new
movement, Mestre Valmir expected them to think of one or two instances in which the
move could be applied in their games. The more advanced students in the group tended
to modify the movements they were taught, experimenting with the different ways in
which they could be applied. Valmir stressed the maturity necessary for students to
advance to this stage.
Mestre Valmir created a comfortable environment during class, and students felt
safe experimenting with new ways of movement. After letting students try out a new
movement for a while, he would turn down the music and give general corrections to the
group. Often Mestre Valmir would model a new sequence for students and let them try it
on their own. After a few minutes he would ask them if they knew what they were doing,
meaning had they completed the visualization necessary to understand how this sequence
would articulate with an opponent in an actual game situation. This is not to say,
however, that students were completely without guidance. Most of the instruction was
conducted from the front of the room, and students were expected to practice the
movement on their own while the teacher circulated and made some individual and group
230
corrections. These corrections were normally verbal, but on occasion the teachers would
actually manipulate a student’s body to make sure he or she completed it correctly.
Most classes at FICA Bahia ended with at least a few minutes of free
improvisation time. Students paired off and played together. Mestre Valmir always
reminded students to be conscientious in their movements. He did not expect students to
perform all of the movements they had learned in class but to find space within their
game to execute a few well-chosen movements with intent and proper form. Mestre
Valmir said it is better to do one movement with intent than to do ten or eleven
movements without it. Preference was clearly given to the development of an
aesthetically pleasing yet effective game over a high intensity one that used interesting,
but poorly executed, movements.
Mestre Valmir taught each sequence using a low level of support. He would
either explain a sequence verbally or give a rough demonstration of it, generally
expecting students to figure out the directionality and the exact body placement of the
sequence for themselves. If students failed to visualize the entire sequence he was trying
to teach, Mestre Valmir would work with them and enact the opponent’s movements as a
way of scaffolding. In other situations, the sequences taught in class were intentionally
left unfinished, and students were asked to supply an appropriate ending. After showing
the beginning movements, the instructor would ask students what attacks could be
initiated from that position. Students would supply answers and the teacher would say
why that was or was not a wise choice. Often, the teacher would choose a student to use
as a demonstration partner to dramatize the different options for the rest of the class.
Mestre Valmir’s flexibility as a teacher allows him to recognize a weakness in his
231
students’ games and create inventive training exercises on the spot to address that issue.
For example, when he thought we were relying too much on sight in reacting to our
opponents, he turned off the lights and scattered candles around the room so all we could
see were vague outlines of our partner’s body.
Things
That
Cannot
Be
Taught
Despite his skill as a teacher, there were some things that Mestre Valmir
confessed could not be taught. These things in particular have to be gleaned through
legitimate peripheral participation. Mestre Valmir says “tem que ter sentimento, e isso,
infelizmente, não pode ensinar” (you have to have feeling, and this, unfortunately, you
can’t teach). Nor can one learn it from a DVD, though the market continues to be
flooded with these instructional guides. Despite arguing that sentimento cannot be
taught, Valmir occasionally tried to create opportunities for us through which we might
begin to understand the principle. One day he noted our lack of sentimento and said we
should pretend we were doing the movement with our eyes closed, just listening to the
music. Developing sentimento was often linked to musicality, but in a tangential way as
even the instructors had a hard time articulating exactly what sentimento encompassed.
Mandinga is related to the concept of sentimento. If we understand sentimento as
a general sentiment/feeling evoked by the player’s movements and musicality, then
mandinga is a more specific feeling arising out of the cultural history of capoeira.
Mandinga technically refers to the magic associated with Candomblé, which is
sometimes used by capoeiristas to close the body’s vulnerabilities. Legendary feats like
Besouro, a capoeirista from Santo Amaro, being able to fly are attributed to mandinga.
This tradition is not well understood by most pilgrims, and if such rites still exist, they are
232
conducted in secret. In practical discourse, saying that one has mandinga references his
or her sneaky way of moving. It boils down to using quick and broken, yet fluid
movements that initiate from a posture both relaxed enough to convey a carefree or cocky
attitude and tensely coiled like a spring. Mestre Valmir told students that the purpose of
mandinga is both to decorate our game and to confound our opponent.
In the end, most performance theorists struggle to define what it is that makes
certain performances transcendent and leaves others, while technically perfect, still
lacking. Hahn calls this “presence,” though she writes “[she is] not certain it is possible
to definitively provide a formula for the transmission of presence” (Hahn 2007:163). For
capoeiristas, the element that transforms a performance from virtuosic to artistic is
mandinga, the embodied attitude of using magic and wits to circumvent oppression. Like
Hahn, I am not sure that this can be taught directly.
One evening, Iuri tried to teach his students mandinga and it was almost painful
to watch as students put on the physical trappings of a mandingeiro67 without the lived
experience to make it convincing. However, this attitude can be cultivated in each
individual through legitimate peripheral participation. Some people claim that it comes
from living and moving about in an often-unkind city like Salvador, but there are also
impressive mandingeiros who have never been to Brazil. When a capoeirista in
Bloomington started to move this way, I asked him how he learned mandinga. He
laughed and said that’s all he practiced. I think it is equally significant to note his close
personal relationship with Iuri, who uses lots of mandinga in his performances and
everyday comportment. They spend a significant amount of time together outside of the
academy. After experimenting independently over a considerable amount of time and
67
Mandingeiro
is
the
term
used
to
describe
someone
who
has
a
lot
of
mandinga.
233
practicing movements that he had seen Iuri use in rodas, this capoeirista was able to
transfer his new skills into a convincing performance of mandinga.
One of the primary ways capoeirstas are different as a result of their
apprenticeship is in their way of perceiving the world. Perception is not a simple intake
of information from the world around us. Embedded in the context of perception are
multiple factors, both psychological and physiological, that prevent us from sensing the
world in all its overwhelming complexity (see Merleau-Ponty 1989). As capoeiristas
progress along the trajectory of their apprenticeship, they gradually begin to experience
the world differently. Changes in the individual’s comportment can be seen within a few
weeks or months of practice, and each individual will progress at his or her own pace, but
fully becoming a capoeirista is a process that typically takes years.68 Downey, who has
contributed significantly to our understanding of the phenomenology of capoeira, credits
the practice of capoeira with changing the individual’s mode of perceiving the world. He
writes, “[l]earning a perceptual practice means living, perceiving and coming to know
through it. That is, if one learns to look in a specific way, the world will appear
differently than it might through another style of seeing; a different profile of information
will be or can be derived from the environment” (Downey 2007:228). Though
capoeiristas are often prone to poetic exaggerations and metaphor, Downey believes that
bodily practices literally affect the physicality of an individual (personal communication
2009).
The time spent training capoeira changes not only the practitioner’s body in
relation to the world, but also in terms of how it receives sensory information about the
68
Traditionally,
an
individual
was
expected
to
have
trained
for
twenty‐five
years
or
more
before
receiving
their
mestre
title.
234
world. Mestre Valmir and Aloan generally understood that my background as a dancer
generated my inept comportment, but they nonetheless tried to change it and change me
into a capoeirista. Inscribing new habits in the body gave the students new possibilities
for seeing the world. Visualization skills are essential to training at FICA Bahia. A big
part of learning capoeira is learning how to see in a new way. Sometimes this is quite
literal. Valmir told students that they needed to learn how to develop their lateral vision.
In the midst of a spinning kick, they need to be conscious of their opponent’s movements
or they might get knocked down. In time, capoeiristas begin to see in terms of physical
opportunities, but this perception may take years to develop.
Defining the Aesthetic: “Objetividade e beleza são as chaves.”
So what exactly is capoeira? Is it a dance? Is it a fight? Such are the questions
every capoeirista is asked by the uninitiated. Adepts remember that African slaves had
to disguise capoeira as a dance, so it retains this dancelike playfulness, but it is also a
fight, a martial art to be executed with intent. This dual sensibility is precisely what
instructors at FICA Bahia sought to teach their students. As the title of this section
claims, having an objective and doing movements beautifully are the keys to success in
capoeira and to understanding what is meant by the capoeira aesthetic.
Mestre Cobra Mansa told us that there are three things we have to remember
when we train: 1) to do the movement correctly 2) to do it beautifully and 3) to do it
efficiently. Following this formula, it is necessary but not sufficient to do the movements
with proper technique. In addition to mastering the technique, capoeiristas must strike a
balance between aesthetic considerations and efficiently achieving their martial objective.
235
Adding the aesthetic flourishes69 provides great rewards in terms of establishing a
recognizable, idiosyncratic hallmark and in terms of audience appreciation. However, it
also introduces vulnerability into the game as the capoeirista open him or herself to
attacks. Therefore, it is this third element, efficiency, which proves trickiest for
capoeiristas as they seek to strike a balance between beleza (beauty) and objetividade
(achieving an objective).
Capoeiristas must be attuned to two sets of considerations, technical and stylistic.
Some conventions have a strictly technical basis like Angoleiros kicking to the torso and
not the head like in Capoeira Regional because it protects them from leg sweeps.
Kicking too high leaves a player’s support leg vulnerable to being attacked. Sometimes,
technical corrections to a capoeiristas’ form were made because of the latent violence
inherent in the art. For example, Mestre Valmir insisted that negativas (low, lateral
dodges) be done low to the ground when students evaded a spinning kick because “not
everyone is your friend” and some people might kick you.
Other decisions in the roda are made based on their stylistic merits. For example,
circular kicks are considered more elegant and interesting than straight kicks that
interrupt the flow of the game. Sometimes these two sets of considerations come into
conflict with one another. While it is technically incorrect to do a flatfooted pirouette in
front on an opponent because it leaves a player extremely vulnerable, some mestres and
advanced players will do precisely this because it is an aesthetically pleasing way of
underscoring their technical superiority and ability to flout convention.
69
An
informant
who
trained
with
the
Filhos
de
Bimba
academy
in
Pelourinho
told
me
that
capoeiristas
in
their
academy
are
not
allowed
to
do
floreiros
(flourishes)
until
they
have
achieved
the
rank
of
graduate.
236
Within the roda, capoeiristas are expected to be creative in the assembly of their
movements and development of the game. After class one day, a student asked what was
the proper way to respond to a certain attack. Mestre Valmir supplied him with a number
of options, saying that some people might respond like kicking a soccer ball, but that
shows a lack of creativity. He says these people want capoeira to be clear-cut, and they
don’t want to tax their brains with creativity and invention. In capoeira, there are a
multitude of options available, and it takes creativity and mental labor to decide what is
best. Capoeira cannot be reduced to a set of rules and formulae. As Mestre Valmir
points out, students have lots of options and even though he teaches movements in a
sequence, “in a roda it is not necessary to follow these steps ABCDE. You can go ACD
or ABE.” Training is almost exclusively done in preparation for playing in rodas, so
developing an understanding of how movements should be assembled with respect to
actual game situations is a vital part of a capoeirista’s development. There is a
significant difference between being able to do the movements and being able to use the
movements.
Capoeira is not just a dance; it is a latent weapon that we hold in reserve until it is
needed, much like the trickster as described by Cobb (2007). We are supposed to execute
strikes with proper technique so they could potentially bring down an adversary, but we
are blunting them by withholding their full force. Many of the movements used in play
can be modified to injure an opponent if necessary. Students at FICA were taught both
variations but were expected to use the safe alternative in the academy. If you are in a
handstand and your opponent charges at you, you can lower one foot and tap their back in
warning. However, if they reject your counterattack, it is permissible to lower your foot
237
with more force, using the point of your tennis shoe, which would hurt them. Some
elements of technique came up more frequently than others. For example, one important
lesson was creating the right amount of distance between players. Students were also
frequently drilled on striking the correct portion of the body and making contact with the
correct part of the foot so that they would convey intent, but not injure their adversary.
Mestre Valmir and Aloan were fond of telling us that the key to executing most
movements in capoeira “não é força, é jeito” (is not force, it is manner). Many
movements, such as those done with the head on the ground as a pivot point, are difficult
to execute and students spend hours straining to achieve them. When the entire class
struggled, Mestre Valmir would ask us what our difficulties were. Almost universally,
people said that they did not have sufficient strength to perform the movements. Valmir
responded by saying that it is not force, but jeito (manner) that is required to perform the
movements. Students need to understand the physical mechanics of the movement. In
this case, technique is not an arbitrary standard to which capoeiristas are held but a
necessary route to mastery, without which no amount of strength will help.
Instructors likened capoeira movements to pedestrian movements as a way to
emphasize their naturalness. Students were playfully mocked for not being able to walk
in a handstand. We were supposed to “just stand up” and walking on our hands was
supposed to be as simple as walking upright. When walking upright, we breathe and talk
as a matter of course; walking upside down should be no different. In another move,
students were to flip over backwards while keeping their heads on the ground. When
students made the common mistake of trying to kick off with their knees locked, using
both feet, Aloan would stand up and try jumping straight up using their flawed technique.
238
His point was to show that the same mechanics we use in our everyday lives apply to
capoeira.
Loosening the body is a key part of developing the capoeira aesthetic, but there
are technical reasons for this in addition to stylistic ones. On the technical side,
performing movements like the ginga too mechanically sets players up for rasteiras (leg
sweeps). Being light on your feet and moving unpredictably through the ginga, on the
other hand, allows players to respond to their opponent’s attacks. What is more, this
“elastic resiliency“ allows Angoleiros to catch their opponents off-guard (Brough 1996).
Brough cites elastic movement as a key feature of African-American dances and notes its
use in Capoeira Angola, under the guise of malicia, as a quality that allows the
capoeirista to confound the opponent with quickly shifting movements that are
nonetheless rooted in the ground.
Because malícia is so highly valued in capoeira, exercises in class often taught
students how to use their bodies to misdirect and trick their opponents. Students were
often corrected if their feints were unbelievable. We were expected to execute these
tricks with the objective of making our opponent secure in our intentions and then exploit
that security. The player’s acute awareness of the tension between being both rooted in
the ground and capable of quickly shifting directions is what allows her to avoid leg
sweeps and other disequibrilating attacks. This resiliency also enables players to disguise
where their weight is actually rooted; this makes surprise attacks their best weapon (ibid).
This tendency of Angoleiros differs from Capoeira Regional where players are more
likely to exploit strength than resiliency. In Regional, movement is conducted away from
239
the body’s center of gravity, rather than under it like in Capoeira Angola. This makes the
attacks more powerful, but also less stable and more vulnerable to take downs (ibid).
Technical corrections almost always have both aesthetic and practical functions,
but balancing the two competing demands is not always easy. As mentioned, the ginga
should be done with a broken aesthetic; however, this is not to disregard alignment
entirely. Maintaining alignment of the spine, but not too stiffly, looks nice and centers
the body’s weight between the feet. This allows players to respond more quickly to
attacks. Keeping the body’s weight distributed between both feet during the ginga while
simultaneously maintaining a relaxed torso provides the neutral stance that is necessary to
respond to the often-unpredictable attacks in Capoeira Angola.
Striking this balance was difficult for me, and Mestre Valmir often got frustrated
with my body, which is habituated to stand straight with everything in alignment from
my long-ago dance training. He would frequently take me by the shoulders and shake me
until things fell out of alignment. As he shook me one day he shouted “mais sentimento
moça” (more feeling girl!). What was wrong with me, I wondered. I recognized that
conveying sentiment was somehow related to my posture and inability to relax. It was
also connected to the years of dance training that had instilled in me a preference for
keeping my body in alignment, something many also associated with my social class and
I was labeled a “princessa” because of it. Assunção addresses the interrelation of class
and physical comportment directly:
This raises the issue of to what extent capoeira, or specific substyles, are still part of a
specifically black or lower class ‘habitus’, and to what extent it can be transposed into
other ethnic, class, and gender contexts. In other words, can white middle class females
move like black lower class males? (Assunção 2005:207)
240
Eventually, Mestre Valmir more or less gave up breaking my posture and it became a
running joke. What I failed to see at the time was that proper form in capoeira includes
both executing movements with correct technique and embodying the playful, deceitful
attitude that was the default posture for the original capoeiristas who had to live by their
wits.
In capoeira, there is always more than one way to respond to your opponent’s
movements. When choosing between equally effective options, capoeiristas should
choose the more elegant, the more unique movements. When escaping an attack, a player
should exit elegantly and with subtlety, and then give a counterattack quickly and
suavely. Relying too much on rabo de arraia and negativa is like having just rice and
beans for every meal: it sustains you, but it gets boring quickly. Learning more
movements and thinking of creative ways to apply what we know makes things more
interesting and enjoyable. The more talented capoeiristas always maintain this dual
sense of efficacy and style. Take for example, the words of this American capoeirista
living and teaching in Oakland, CA:
If I were to stand there waiting for my partner to do something so I could then pounce, it
would be considered bad form and ugly- in capoeira you should always be moving and
striving for “o jogo bonito” or “the beautiful game” (Essien 2008:17).
In this case, a strategic maneuver like waiting to pounce may be effective but is
nonetheless improper form because of its inelegance. In his book, this teacher then goes
on to talk about what happens when one player lies in wait for the other so he or she can
pounce. This strategy limits the game and creates a situation in which aggression is
likely to arise (ibid).
241
Agressividade v. Objetividade
Aggression within capoeira is deceptively difficult to identify and define. When I
started began my training, I was under the mistaken impression that Capoeira Angola did
not involve contact. It does. However, different groups stress the combative nature of
capoeira to different degrees. Referencing Canadian capoeira, Joseph claims “[m]any
participants described the Brazilian game as harder, rougher, more aggressive and even
violent…” (Joseph 2006:59). Likewise, Mestre Iuri tells his students in Bloomington,
Indiana that they must be prepared for aggression when they go to Brazil because some
locals will try to “get them” in the roda simply because they are foreigners. With this
mindset, I expected to see a high level of aggression in Brazilian rodas, particularly in
games between foreigners and locals, but I soon found that this was a gross simplification
of this issue.
When I trained with FICA Austin, I did not feel as though the group’s style was
particularly aggressive until Mestre Jurandir came to give us a workshop in 2003. The
president of the University of Texas capoeira club remarked upon the aggressiveness of
these movements and asked why we were learning them. Mestre Jurandir replied by
saying that the entire world is capoeira and not everyone is going to be friendly;
therefore, we should have a set of offensive moves too. Then in 2006, I encountered a
FICA Paris capoeirista in Mestre Curio’s roda. The two of us were allowed to play one
of the first games, and as my opponent got a little heated the orchestra began improvising
lyrics to the popular song “Sim, sim, sim, não não não.” They were telling us capoeira is
not intended to be so aggressive and we needed to calm our game. I tried everything I
could think of to return us to a more cordial game, but she rejected my advances. Given
242
these experiences, and my introduction to the FICA Bahia group at the hands (and feet)
of Mestre Valmir, I was keenly attuned to the issue of aggression in capoeira.
As mentioned previously, lineage greatly affects the type of games played at
particular academies. For example, games at Mestre Joao Pequeno’s academy tend to be
collaborative in nature. Players work together to create a beautiful and intricate game
that, while still strategic, highlights cooperative interaction. The FICA style, on the other
hand, involves more intent to show mechanical and creative superiority. This style,
which descends from Mestre João Grande through Mestre Moraes, is distinctive. Play
involves setting traps for your opponent. It also involves a large number of kicks to the
chest and perhaps more time spent upright than other Angola groups. They frequently
transform the rabo de arraia into a martelo, a hammer kick that is brought around by the
hip and snaps out from the knee. Rasteiras, disequilibrating leg sweeps, figure
prominently in this type of play. FICA players also spend a good amount of time on their
heads, either in headstands or using the head as a pivot point and rotating upon it to
escape attacks. I interpreted these moves, particularly the kicks and rasteiras, as being
aggressive.
When we were in the dressing room after class one day, I told Caroline that I was
having trouble understanding the etiquette of the game and what moves were considered
off-limits.
“Cheap shots are generally looked down upon”
“That’s my problem. I don’t know what’s considered a cheap shot.”
“Don’t worry, in time you’ll figure these things out.”
“Sure, but people generally don’t tell you when you’re breaking form.”
I was at a loss for understanding how I could sort through the etiquette of capoeira if
there was no direct instruction, even though in reality I was learning etiquette through
243
legitimate peripheral participation. Caroline illustrated her point with an example, saying
that giving a lot of chapas (straight kicks) is considered cheap. I was surprised and a bit
embarrassed because I use these kicks a lot. Her justification for this position was both
aesthetic and technical in nature. For one thing, the chapa is an inelegant attack and is
not very creative. Furthermore, a straight kick interrupts the flow of the game, which is
why circular movements are generally preferred. Mestre Valmir said that it is easy to
lose composure and do a chuta (slap kick like shooting a soccerball) in the roda, but
practicing the movements beautifully in class, trying them again and again until they
work, makes it easier to do them in the roda.
I also worried that knocking my opponent off of his or her feet was rude.
Capoeira Angola may be more dancelike than Capoeira Regional, but its martial utility
has not been lost. Players at FICA, local and foreign alike, delighted in knocking one
another off balance. During class one day, “Velho” (a middle-aged man so nicknamed
because he always told me to go easy on him because he was “old”) told me he would
coach me as we played. He went into a handstand and told me I should slide my feet
under his as he descended back to the ground. This would, presumably, cause him to fall
on his face. I looked at this sweet man with horror and said “But wouldn’t that be
impolite?” He gave me a very funny look, paused, and conceded that it would be
impolite to do it to him, because he is so old, but in general this is not considered rude.
When I told Caroline that I did not like rasteiras (leg sweeps) because they seemed
mean-spirited, she laughed at me and said, “they’re fun.” I asked Caroline to tell me if I
accidentally did something rude. Her response was “well, it’s capoeira…,” telling me
that anything goes in the service of trickery and deceit. It is all part of the game.
244
Despite her self-assuredness, Caroline too found it hard to identify the line Mestre
Valmir was trying to draw for us between objetividade and agressividade. The barrier
between intent and just plain rudeness was often paper-thin. Mestre Valmir demonstrated
a combination in which one person gives a rabo de arraia while the other enters with a
sharp kick to the stomach or ribs. The first player responds to this by terminating their
rabo de arraia early and countering with a backwards head-butt. Mestre Valmir asked if
anyone in the class thought this movement was violent. Several people did, but Valmir
maintained that this was not aggression but simply a response to the opponent’s opening
movement.
Towards the end of my time in Bahia, I gave up trying to glean the difference
between objetividade and agressividade from Mestre Valmir’s sometimes-opaque
speech. We were working on our rasteiras. As he came by to monitor our progress, I
threw up my hands and said I still did not understand this difference. He had a solution
for that. “Do a rabo de arraia,” he instructed. I did and quickly found myself crashing
to the ground, struggling to catch my breath. “That was objetividade.” “Oh really?” I
thought, “it felt like aggression to me.” His demonstration did not help me understand, it
only gave me a sore backside. After discussing it with him some more and getting a firsthand demonstration of agressividade for comparison, I came to understand that the
difference is not in the movement itself but in the execution of it.
Objetividade requires jeito, which literally translates as “way,” but used here
means technique. As Valmir says, if you are going to do something it should be bom
feito (done well). Agressividade is also a question of attitude, doing a movement with a
smile and showing there is no ill intent. As another example, he launched a kick at my
245
face but stopped it mere inches from my nose. This was objetividade. The movement
was accurately aimed and executed with both proper form and a friendly expression.
Agressividade, on the other hand, is sloppy or brutish and often betrays a negative
emotional state like frustration rather than playfulness. When another foreigner tried to
take me down with a brutish and aggressive rasteira, my tennis shoe squeaked loudly,
poetically underscoring its inelegance.
Sometimes overt aggression in rodas at FICA was curtailed by the presiding
capoeirista. During a game between an Italian man and a man from Martinique, things
became quite heated. It didn’t seem unfriendly, just intense. The man from Martinique
typically played in this manner. Aloan, who was in charge of the roda, started singing
“Idea”, a song that instructs players to play a pretty game, one that we would like to
learn. This should have calmed the guys down, but it didn’t. Aloan started another song,
but instead of singing the normal lyrics, he substituted them with impromptu comments
like “you’d better stop playing like this or I’m going to end your game.”
Breaking Form
In the case just mentioned, Aloan intervened to prevent the two players from
becoming unduly aggressive. It is the responsibility of the capoeirista playing the gunga
to monitor games and censure breaches of etiquette or extreme violations of formal
expectations. Many breaches are overlooked, but some demand curtailment. For
example, a handicapped Brazilian man was playing with Jorge one day and grabbed his
ankle. This was clearly not permissible, and Aloan immediately called them back to the
foot of the berimbau to scold him. Even for someone like this man with severely limited
physical capabilities, there were some clearly demarcated boundaries that could not be
246
breached. However, not all breaches are censured. In some cases, malícia, the personal
disposition cultivated in budding capoeiristas, overrides strict concerns about form.
In other cases, there is no need for mestres to correct breaches of form because
these novelties are ineffective and quickly censured when the innovator is “caught” by an
opponent, kicked or knocked to the floor. A British capoeirista said she often sees
people try to create their own movements, get kicked, and then wonder why that
happened. She exhibited no sympathy for them because they broke form. Oftentimes
movements done with improper form are inherently ineffective, and a knowledgeable
opponent will simply reject them, refusing to react because there is no threat. So while
capoeira encourages innovation in the assemblage of movements, in many ways it
remains very technical.
Breaches of form can be divided into several categories. First, there are the
mistakes that novices make because of their lack of knowledge. These mistakes are
generally well tolerated if the group recognizes that the player is a beginner.70 A second
type of breach is playing sloppily, which happens frequently when a capoeirista has a
sufficient amount of knowledge but becomes frustrated, careless, or tired. These
mistakes are often commented upon, verbally or through metacommunicative gestures,
exploited physically with a takedown, or explicitly corrected. Metacommunicative
gestures in this context might be eye rolling, head shaking, or smirking. The third type of
breach is violating the aesthetics of capoeira, which is far more difficult to articulate, but
experienced players are attuned to what “looks” or “feels” right and wrong in the roda.
Breaches of this nature are rarely addressed directly but may be a subject of discussion
70
See
Skill
in
Chapter
Five
for
commentary
on
the
different
orientations
of
locals
and
foreigners
to
novices.
247
after the roda and certainly contribute to a player’s reputation within the immediate scene
and the social field at large.
No movement, as Mestre Valmir often says, is “100% seguro.” Cobbling our
games together with an eye towards style as well as functionality means that capoeiristas
are almost always vulnerable. What is there to stop my adversary from charging me with
a malevolent kick when I am precariously balanced upside down? When I launch my
body forward into a headstand, I can be fairly confident that my opponent will not swipe
my arms out from underneath me because that would violate both capoeira etiquette and
form. Grabbing a player’s arms is discouraged. The unspoken pledge to stay within the
confines of the form gives players confidence that they will not be abused in the roda, but
as we are often reminded, not everyone is your friend and we need to be prepared for the
latent violence of capoeira to come to the surface. Capoeira lore about players with
straight razors in their pockets or their apprentices carrying a gun reminds us that the
possibility always exists for someone to break form when it suits their purposes.
When is it okay to ignore or blatantly violate the dictates of form? Some things
clearly trump form, like veneration of aging mestres. An older mestre played at Mestre
Joao Pequeno’s roda frequently during 2008. He still shone with malandragem (cunning)
and malícia, but the decades had not been kind to his dexterity. Still, he played with
young hotshots who could have taken him down easily. The old mestre and a young
Brazilian began to waltz back and forth in the chamada. The old mestre was clearly not
using correct technique, but the younger man neither corrected him nor took advantage of
his vulnerability as he had earlier with a young woman who had not yet achieved fluency
in the form.
248
In other cases, breaking form serves metacommunicative purposes. In a situation
when a player is clearly outmatched or left without any technically correct options,
breaking form in a clever way signifies that you are actually highly attuned to the formal
expectations of the game. An Israeli woman who trained consistently at the academy was
spectacularly skilled but also took advantage of her size and skill to completely dominate
her opponents, no matter their skill level. This stands in contrast to most of the Brazilian
players at FICA who were more willing to tailor their games to the skill-level of a less
advanced player. Obviously I was no match for her, and everyone knew this. Rather
than playing to my level and trying to develop a nice game together, she pummeled me. I
was rather annoyed by what I took as her impoliteness and responded with a few cheap
shots. Everyone knew that I knew better, but breaking form in this way signaled to all
the spectators that I was out of my depths, and she was taking advantage of my relative
inexperience.
Sometimes errors in form were pointed out to the player and to the spectators by
taking advantage of an opening or weakness created by the breach. For example, in one
variation of the chamada, the players touch their right palms together in the air while
moving together. The left hand should be positioned in such a way that is it available to
deflect kicks from the abdomen. At a GCAP roda, a French woman failed to block her
midsection and her Brazilian opponent delivered a sharp flick-kick to her stomach,
pointing out her mistake.
Metacommunicative gestures are the primary means by which improper form is
censured. A French pilgrim played with a young Brazilian man who has been part of the
group for several years. It was aesthetically unpleasing, and she was clearly outmatched.
249
In her frustration, she began grabbing at the man as if she wanted to grapple. Aloan
called the pair back to the berimbau, shook his head disapprovingly, and pantomimed
flicking dirt off his shoulders. He was showing her and the rest of us that excessive use
of the hands is not only considered impolite because it soiled her partner’s clothes, but
that she was breaking form and this would not be tolerated.
Watching Mestre Valmir’s facial expressions as he watched the action in the roda
was incredibly useful for learning how to evaluate games. He commonly made eye
contact with other people in the roda when he wanted to underscore something about the
present game. Again, it bears noting that those closer to Valmir, those involved in a
legitimate peripheral participation role, were more often the recipients of these
informative gazes. When players got tired and sloppy, Valmir would furrow his brow
and act confused as if he could not possibly figure out why the person in question was
acting that way. During one of my games, I became flustered and blocked an oncoming
kick with my hands instead of dodging it in an appropriate way. I was told that Valmir
turned to his younger son and made a slapping motion with his hands, pointing out that I
had reacted incorrectly by using my hands.
Conclusion
The capoeiristas I interviewed overwhelmingly agreed that adherence to proper
form is an important part of their practice, yet very few were able to articulate what this
means. Some thought it meant verbatim copying of the capoeira ancestors while others
felt anything motivated by the capoerista’s worldview could be considered capoeira.
The one point on which they agreed was the importance of tradition, yet individual
innovation is also highly prized.
250
Capoeira, like other genres with roots in the African Diaspora, emphasizes both
adherence to tradition and innovation. While this may seem to be a contradiction,
Peterson’s work on country music provides a model for reconciliation. Capoeiristas
must adhere to tradition closely enough to be credible performers of the genre, yet must
also display enough individuality to demonstrate their understanding of capoeira versus
mere mimicking. This is achieved by adhering to an overriding aesthetic that is
traditional while also developing an idiosyncratic style that is vetted through both
technical and social repercussions.
Capoeiristas may acquire this aesthetic sensibility through legitimate peripheral
participation or apprenticeship within a community of practice, though not all pilgrims
achieve this status. Students who remain on the margins of mass classes will largely
learn to mimic their teachers and perform ‘robot’ capoeira. Those in a legitimate
peripheral participation role, on the other hand, learn the underlying stylistic principles of
capoeira. This allows them to simultaneously innovate and honor tradition.
Through formal learning opportunities, like classes, and informal opportunities
like attending and participating in rodas, successful capoeiristas come to understand
what is expected of them in terms of form. This is an embodied sensibility that they may
or may not be able to put into words. In time, they understand that key elements of
capoeira form, like balancing correct execution with beauty, will allow them to achieve
their objectives. Furthermore, they learn to distinguish between being aggressive or
brutish and achieving a conscious objective within the game. In the end, a mature player
who has begun moving towards the center of this community of practice begins to play
with the form itself, breaching norms to which novices are held in order to underscore
251
dramatic points of the game. Acceptance of these innovations is the ultimate test of
legitimacy.
252
Chapter
7‐
Conclusion
Arising from a specific place and moment in history, capoeira is an extremely
versatile art, and various groups have adopted and adapted capoeira to suit their own
agendas. Across the years, capoeira has progressed from a clandestine survival strategy
to a symbol of national identity, an iconic racial practice, and a global trend.
Capoeiristas endured decades of persecution, both formal and informal, at the hands of
the Brazilian elite. While capoeira has gained popularity in Brazil and been elevated to a
national sport, it is still marginalized in some quarters as a game played by poor,
uneducated, black vagrants. Yet within a few years of being introduced to the United
States and Europe, this art became wildly popular with such divergent groups as black
nationalists and counter culture youth. Today, capoeira continues to become ever more
visible in film and advertisements as well as on college campuses and in large fitness
centers.
However, the popularity of capoeira outside Brazil is leading to accelerated
changes and increased questions of authenticity. There is now an increased demand for
Brazilian capoeira teachers in Europe and the United States. In response, many young
Brazilians with differing levels of capoeira training have declared themselves mestres
and moved abroad without authorization from their own teachers. This cheapens the title
of mestre and creates a situation in which non-Brazilian students may have only tenuous
claims to a capoeira lineage. Novices may lack the judgement to distinguish between
genuine and fraudulent teachers, and training with an unqualified mestre weakens a
capoeirista’s claim to legitimacy. With so many uncertainties about the level of
253
instruction taking place abroad, many Brazilian capoeiristas question the authenticity of
foreign students.
The globalization of capoeira is a dialectic process in which foreigners have as
much influence on its future as do Brazilians. This causes some Brazilian capoeiristas,
particularly the older mestres, to fear that it is being appropriated. Yet as capoeira
spreads beyond the borders of Brazil, it has profound effects on foreigners who practice
it. At the same time, these foreigners leave their own mark on capoeira. For example,
many capoeira songs are now composed in languages other than Portuguese. This
hybridized capoeira makes its way back to Brazil as foreigners go on pilgrimages to the
birthplace of capoeira. As an art given life by the people who practice it, capoeira is
constantly changing.
When individuals associate authenticity with stasis, they may inadvertently stall
the natural development of a cultural practice. Different audiences use different criteria
for labeling something authentic, which helps to explain why there are so many
definitions of authenticity (see Bruner 2005 and Grazian 2004). Of the innumerable
pilgrims that go to Bahia in search of authenticity, many soon realize that the vibrancy of
capoeira comes from its diversity and dynamism. Authenticity has been an irksome
problem for scholars because of its subjective nature. Attributing authenticity to a person
or practice is laden with emotion, often complicated by a lack of criteria by which to
assess authenticity. This confusion necessitates a clarification of terminology.
In my work, authenticity refers to a value judgment made about a person,
performance, or artifact; legitimacy is the result of centripetal movement within a social
field. The ultimate marker of authenticity is earning a title like treinel, contra-mestre, or
254
mestre. The legitimacy of an individual, however, is apparent in everyday practices. An
individual with a high degree of legitimacy will have his or her innovations accepted as
purposeful, effective, and beautiful. Lower level markers of legitimacy include increased
duties within the group, like leading class, and close association with the teacher both
inside and outside the academy.
From my extended participation in the capoeira social field, I have gained a
general sense of the qualities that matter to capoeiristas.71 My fieldwork in Brazil has
enabled me to check this assumption against actual practice. I began with the assumption
that there were eleven key elements that would lead to legitimacy for individual
capoeiristas: race, nationality, region of origin, lineage, attitude, speaking Portuguese,
visiting Bahia, domestic capoeira travel, volunteerism in Brazil, skill, and adherence to
proper form/technique. As I gathered data, however, I felt the need to amend this list to
include gender and musical ability. Success in any one of these areas contributes to a
capoeirista’s legitimacy, but they cluster around two general types that should be
evaluated separately.
I had originally divided these qualities into three categories based on Weber’s
typology of authoritative leadership: tradition, charisma, and formal-legal rationality.
Though Weber was interested in the legitimate domination achieved by leaders, I was
interested in seeing how individuals at relatively low levels within the social hierarchy
could use these same strategies to claim legitimacy in the eyes of the social field. After
71
I
believe
that
my
representation
of
the
terms
of
this
debate
does
accurately
reflect
the
hegemonic
definition
of
authenticity
current
among
the
“old
school”
Angoleiros;
however,
I
do
realize
that
there
are
counter‐discourses
among
practitioners
of
other
styles.
In
particular,
practitioners
of
the
newest
style
(Capoeira
Contemporania)
chide
practitioners
of
the
Angola
and
Regional
styles
for
polarizing
the
field.
255
considering my informants’ profound commitment to capoeira and Brazilian culture
more broadly, and after returning to the extensive literature on authenticity, I added an
additional category: existential authenticity. This refers to the sense of fit between an
individual and his or her lifestyle. Existential authenticity is a value judgment that the
individual makes about herself and her lifestyle choices. For non-Brazilian capoeiristas
to whom belonging to this community is an extremely important part of their identity,
questions of authenticity can be crushing. One way for them to combat this stigma is to
deepen their connection to capoeira through a pilgrimage, traveling to Bahia to train with
a Brazilian mestre. I wondered, however, what happens when foreigners and locals
collided in Brazilian rodas. One party has economic capital, the other has cultural
capital, and the terms of exchange are negotiated during physical encounters.
I found that for the most part, foreigners and local capoeiristas coexist peacefully
in this imagined community. Tensions tend to arise, however, when existential
authenticity comes into conflict with the granting of legitimacy. Foreigners for whom
being a capoeirista is central to their existential authenticity believe wholeheartedly that
capoeira belongs to them as much as it does to Brazilians. They often feel entitled to
legitimacy and may resent others who threaten to reflect back at them their own tenuous
position within this social field. This may explain why some foreigners at FICA acted
condescendingly towards other foreigners who were unskilled. This fervent belief in the
fit between themselves and the practice of capoeira motivates pilgrims to prove their
legitimacy, the ultimate test of which is ascendency through the social field, rooted
symbolically and physically in Brazil.
256
However, different audiences weight the four categories in my typology
differently. Existential authenticity matters most to the individual, who is looking for a
fit between elective practices and her sense of self. With some exceptions, traditional
claims to authenticity are most salient for outsiders who evaluate group membership in
terms of stereotypes such as tourists’ evaluations of authentic blues clubs (Grazian 2004).
Charismatic claims to authenticity carry weight for specific, more-or-less bounded groups
like FICA Bahia where members know one another and judge each other on their
personality and achieved attributes. Formal claims to authenticity matter to the
community of practice or social field, which is structured around common values and
beliefs. However, the field is too large for members to know one another personally so
judgments are made based on individuals’ adherence to common standards.
Aside from their importance to specific audiences, a relationship exists between
these four categories. Existential authenticity motivates individuals to seek legitimacy in
the community of practice. Traditional and charismatic claims to authenticity give
individuals enough cultural capital to enter into a legitimate peripheral participation role.
This helps them master the form and facilitates their gradual advancement to full
participation within the community of practice.
The most direct way for capoeiristas to achieve legitimacy is by entering into a
legitimate peripheral participation relationship with a teacher, normally a mestre. This
individual can lead them to mastery of capoeira form by giving them individualized
attention and providing them access to learning opportunities unavailable to students who
treat capoeira as a strictly economic exchange. Because knowledge is so highly prized in
capoeira, some of these learning opportunities might include introductions to older
257
mestres or entry into otherwise private philosophical debates. Discourse may seem to
occupy a realm separate from performance in the roda; however, proper form demands
that a performer embody the ethos of a malandro.72 This sensibility is achieved through
physical practice and by internalizing the philosophical lessons and stories passed down
orally. Thus, physical and philosophical knowledge both contribute to achieve an
understanding of form in capoeira.
However, certain conditions must be fulfilled before someone can enter into this
relationship. Aloan admitted to withholding knowledge from foreign students who
simply came to the academy to take his knowledge. This supports the claim that not all
students are treated equally. Those who believe that paying for class entitles them to
information are excluded from the deeper levels of knowledge available to those that
achieve legitimate peripheral participation.
In order to improve their standing with teachers, capoeiristas must accumulate
capital in the form of traditional and charismatic claims to authenticity. My work with
FICA Bahia suggests that charismatic claims to authenticity, particularly someone’s
attitude, their openness, and their dedication to the group, far outweigh traditional claims
to authenticity. However, traditional claims continue to carry weight in some circles.
Some groups restrict membership to black students, and others are known for their harsh
treatment of ‘gringo’ capoeiristas in the roda.
At FICA Bahia, some foreigners merely passed through the academy, taking what
they wanted from the fount but not giving back in any real way. Others became so tightly
woven into the fabric of the group that their absence was almost unimaginable. The
72
A
malandro
is
an
individual
who
lives
by
his
wits.
This
character
is
normally
associated
with
the
underworld,
but
represents
the
overall
mentality
of
capoeiristas
who
pride
themselves
on
using
deceit
to
subvert
their
adversaries.
258
difference is almost entirely attributable to charismatic factors. Knowing these
individuals, it comes as no surprise that they endeared themselves to their teachers and
the rest of the group. In turn, their teachers were always willing to give them more
information, answer their questions thoroughly, and give more of themselves than is
generally expected from a financially mediated teacher-student relationship. The
student’s capital, be it traditional or more likely charismatic, induces the teacher to
replicate the master-apprentice relationship by which students traditionally learned
capoeira. The comprehensive mastery this type of learning encourages is evident in the
student’s success in the capoeira social field at large. This success, being recognized as
legitimate by other members of the social field, reinforces the validity of this practice as
an integral part of the individual’s identity.
Though this particular study focused on pilgrim’s acquisition of legitimacy, there
are other gradations of achievement above and beyond mere legitimacy. Because
Capoeira Angola does not use a belt system, it is often not readily apparent how
advanced one player is with respect to another; however, Anya Royce’s discussion of
virtuosity and artistry provides a framework for such a discussion. Royce associates
technique with virtuosity and style with artistry (ibid:23). Technique is a conservative
force relying upon a codified vocabulary and style as an innovative force in which a
metaphorical vocabulary is used to describe performances (2004:23). Technique is
shared by members of the performance community, but style is an individual hallmark
(ibid:24). While these definitions can be used to discuss performance in a broad sense,
they may not be valued equally in every genre, as Royce notes with respect to circus
acrobats (2004:34). Within Capoeira Angola, it is common to praise capoeiristas for
259
their artistry, but very uncommon to praise someone technical mastery alone. Though the
case of Capoeira Regional may be different, a technically brilliant performance of
Capoeira Angola without any of the stylistic elements so valued by the community would
be considered overly mechanical or ‘robot capoeira’ to use a common phrase. However,
it is useful to think about the concept of artistry as a level of accomplishment that
happens after one has gained legitimacy by mastering the form. Thinking about the
distinction she makes between virtuosity and artistry as two very different levels of
achievement, it becomes apparent that merely achieving legitimacy within the social field
is not the end of a capoeirista’s progression through the social field.
Virtuosity designates a level of competency above and beyond merely satisfying
the basic technical requirements of a genre (Royce 2004:23). The defining feature of
virtuosity is this technical accomplishment rather than style, but also demands a
“nonchalant, self-critical, limiting” attitude (ibid). One of the extra technical elements
Royce prioritizes in her discussion of virtuosity is musicality (ibid:25). Musicality as
such was never explicitly addressed by Mestre Valmir or the other teachers at FICA
Bahia, though his use of the term sentimento (feeling) conveyed a similar need to vary
our movements in accord with the pace and intensity of the music. Nonchalance is an
important element of virtuosity in Royce’s formulation of the concept; the performer’s
mastery of the form is so embodied that the effort required to perform the technique is
hidden from view (Royce 2004:33). This posture, which includes the maintenance of
good humor, is a desirable quality in capoeiristas. While novice and intermediate players
are encouraged to adopt this attitude, the frequency with which it breaks down in their
performances reveals that they have not yet reached this level of mastery. The ability of
260
Mestre Valmir, on the other hand, to maintain a playful attitude in all situations is the
epitome of nonchalance.
If virtuosity is a step beyond mastering technique, artistry is characterized by a
more than adequate mastery of style, which is not codified or formally taught (Royce
2004:64). This latter characteristic alone makes it difficult to discuss and analyze. Royce
defines style as “the sum of individual choices about movement and interpretation”
(ibid:65). Technique and virtuosity are conservative forces and beginners have “no
choice in the manner of execution” (ibid:64). At this level, as Greg Downey has pointed
out for the case of capoeira (Downey 2005), innovations may be interpreted as mistakes.
Artistry, on the other hand, is precisely about choosing among the various internal and
external resources available to the performer (Royce 2004:65). As such, this level of
expression is only available to those individuals who have gained legitimacy within the
social field because they have moved beyond needing to prove that they understand the
form and can begin to play with the form. It is this status to which my informants are
referring when they say you must know the rules so you can break them. To this, I say
you must show you know the rules before your deviations will be authorized.
Benefits to the local community
Thus far I have primarily discussed this phenomenon from the point of view of
the non-Brazilian capoeira pilgrims. With any form of tourism, however, there are
transformative effects for both the host and the guest. Engagement with the local
community can transform a practice from appropriation to appreciation. The FICA
family has been incredibly gracious in their acceptance of my research, and FICA Bahia
is consistently hospitable to foreign visitors. Other groups are less willing to embrace the
261
internationalization of capoeira and resent the intrusion of so many ‘gringos’ in their
community. These individuals charge capoeira pilgrims with appropriation. This
position has a basis in history because outsiders who fail to credit or compensate their
cultural teachers have too often plundered Afro-Brazilian culture for their own gain.
Pilgrims with a sense of social responsibility are sensitive to fears about
appropriation and prioritize engaging with the local community as equitably as possible.
Developing this awareness was one aim of the Sixth International Encounter, sponsored
by Capoeira Mangangá. Mestre Tonho Matéria had this to say about foreigners’
engagement with the community:
O objectivo é que esses estrangeiros consigam penetrar nas communidades não somente
para jogar capoeira, mas ensinar a sua origem, sua história. É também uma idéia de
conseguir trazer o gringo pra cá, pra conhecer a cidade, ao mesmo tempo, dar uma
parcela de contribuição aqui, repassando o que aprenderam com mestres nesses países
(Dantes 2007).
The aim is that these foreigners manage to enter into the communities not just to play
capoeira, but to learn its origin, its history. It is also an idea of managing to bring the
gringo here, to know the city, at the same time, to give a bit of contribution here,
transferring what they learned with mestres in those countries.
According to this position, foreigners have a responsibility to share their own knowledge
with the rest of the capoeira community. In other words, making this exchange equitable
requires capoeira pilgrims to give back to the local community in some way.
Information
Exchange
Troca de informação (information exchange) is a commonly cited benefit of
foreigners’ pilgrimages. The heart of this work is how pilgrims acquire a deeper
relationship with masters and how this relationship is transferred into legitimacy.
However, the pilgrimage phenomenon can also benefit the local community. Local
capoeiristas are able to learn about other cultures and ways of being in the world without
262
leaving home. This is particularly significant for capoeiristas who do not have the time
or financial resources to travel abroad. In fact, locals may stay in contact with capoeira
pilgrims for several years after their initial meeting. Foreign interest in capoeira has also
given Bahians pride in their culture, which is a significant benefit of tourism for
marginalized populations (see Cole 2007).
However, despite the lip service paid to troca de informação, the integration
between locals and foreigners is far from seamless. Social divisions remained between
Brazilians and foreign capoeira tourists at FICA Bahia. For example, the Saturday
before Christmas everyone from FICA was invited to a barbeque on the beach in place of
our regular roda. Mestre Valmir said that “capoeira, capoeira, capoeira all the time is
cool, but there is another side too.” The objective of this confraternização was having
fun together as a group, and we were encouraged to bring our loved ones too. This
outing was indeed a lot of fun, but foreigners and Brazilians did tend to stay segregated at
the party. Several of us went to a concert together later that night and though we
acknowledged each other’s presence, the Brazilians and foreigners interacted very little.73
Several people at FICA noticed this disconnect between discourse and actual
practice. At one point, Christian, a newer Brazilian member of FICA, and Alonzo, a very
talented American capoeirista, conspired together to start planning more intercultural
social gatherings. This conversation followed a going away party that Caroline and her
housemate hosted for a Brazilian capoeirista, which was one of five major gatherings that
brought local and foreign capoeiristas together outside of the academy. Two of these
were organized by Mestre Cobra Mansa’s son Marcelo, two by Caroline, and one by
73
The
Japanese
cultural
migrants
in
Fujita’s
study
also
experienced
informal
segregation
between
themselves
and
their
local
hosts
(2009).
263
Mestre Valmir. Each event strengthened the bonds between all members of the group,
yet on a day-to-day basis, capoeiristas gravitated towards other members of their own
nationality or speech community. When other foreigners were unavailable, pilgrims
tended to feel isolated and alone. Pilgrims anticipated the arrival of other foreign
capoeiristas because a spike in social activities normally followed, which made them feel
more connected to the greater capoeira community. There was a sense of communitas
that inflused relationships between pilgrims, a sense of shared immersion in this
sometimes-strange experience. Locals were often impressed by this solidarity, and
frequently referred to the peaceful interactions of Israelis and Palestinians or Americans
and Iraquis within the context of the roda.
Pilgrims were not always content with their interactions in Bahia, sometimes
feeling that FICA Bahia had less of a community spirit than their group at home.
According to Kevin, an American who has made multiple pilgrimages and taught
capoeira in Ireland, capoeira in Brazil is “not quite as much of a community thing as it is
in the United States.” This is surprising to most pilgrims who imagine a very different
situation, which begs the question: is there really less of a community spirit in Brazilian
capoeira schools, or is their an unseen barrier that prevents pilgrims from experiencing
this sense of community?
I never felt intentionally sidelined from any of the activities at FICA Bahia, but
foreigners were naturally limited in some ways. We did not have the same history as the
Brazilians who had been in the group for long periods of time. We did not know Mestre
Valmir nearly as well as some of the long-term members, especially because he travelled
so much during the fall of 2008. After Saturday morning rodas, many of the foreigners
264
and a few of the locals would go to lunch together, but Mestre Valmir, his sons, and their
closest acquaintances went to other places without us. Furthermore, none of us were
completely fluent in Portuguese, making intercultural conversations laborious. The
games between local members of the group were often richer, if not more skillful,
because of long-term relationships that provided them with more material for the physical
dialogue in the roda. Though we felt very welcomed at FICA Bahia, many of the
foreigners continued to ask me how the mestres really felt about the presence of so many
non-Brazilians in their group. Such questions index the insecurity and discomfort that
comes with being an outsider.
Financial
Benefits
Though troca de informação was the most frequent response when I asked local
Brazilians how they thought capoeira tourism benefited them, they also referenced
financial benefits. Street performers of capoeira rely almost exclusively on contributions
from tourists, though their revenue is extremely low. Local business owners and
entrepreneurs have seized upon this phenomenon, and shops in the Pelourinho district
cater to capoeira tourists’ needs. There are shops selling capoeira clothes, instruments,
and trinkets. Tourism agencies specialize in taking foreigners to cultural attractions like
Candomblé ceremonies. Mestre Balão, of the CTE capoeira group, and a capoeirista
named Golfinho have created a tourism business that specializes in taking capoeiristas to
sites of interest such as the capoeira fort, famous academies, and instrument workshops.
They can even arrange an in-home stay with a capoeira mestre.
For local academies, admitting pilgrims can be quite profitable. Most reputable
academies do not charge capoeiristas for participating in their rodas. However, notable
265
exceptions include Mestre Curio’s academy and the Associação Brasileiro de Capoeira
Angola. Classes, however, are another matter and local groups gain significant benefits
from foreigners attending lessons at their academy. Academies often charge different
prices for foreigners than they do for Brazilians, which is often referred to as ‘the gringo
price.’
Mestre Cobra Mansa is among those who charge a different price for foreigners
versus Brazilians. Part of his rationale for this decision was to combat certain foreigners’
assumption that they can go to a place and appropriate local knowledge and culture
without reciprocation. In addition to talking to people and trying to change their
mentality, he created the differential pricing system for events in Brazil to show
foreigners their level of responsibility vis-a-vis the Brazilian capoeira community. He
was criticised at first for charging foreigners a higher price than locals, but he claims that
people now understand that if locals had to pay the same price as foreigners, no locals
could afford to participate. Then it would become an event entirely for foreigners, and
they would lose the opportunity to interact with local capoeiristas. This pricing system is
intended to help foreigners better understand their privileged economic status in contrast
to most Brazilian capoeiristas. In theory, this understanding should lead to social
awareness; in actuality, many foreigners resent paying the ‘gringo price.’ They feel it is
a form of reverse discrimination or a sign of their own naïveté in this foreign culture.
Other groups benefit from capoeira tourism as a way to expand their own
franchise. When Caroline first met a senior student at FICA Bahia, who later went on to
travel abroad, she commented on his outgoing personality and willingness to spend time
with foreigners:
266
I thought that was really smart of him. And I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose, I’m sure it was
just he was interested in other people, and sort of that Brazilian friendliness. He was very
outgoing, but to really cultivate those relationships because if you’re going to be a capoeira
person and you want to make a living off of it, it’s all about knowing people…You can see the
mestres, you can see the mestres when people form different countries come to the roda. Whoa, a
girl from France came to one roda, the mestre was so nice to her. I was like, ‘Wow, he wants to
go to France.’
Mestres and other locals who want to make a career out of capoeira are attuned to the
potential benefits available to them through networking. However, because most
pilgrims are sensitive to being seen as suckers, locals must be skillful and subtle in
developing these relationships so that they never seen too strategic. When foreigners
come to Brazil, they open up a dialogue with local teachers, paving the way for future
opportunities. Brazilian teachers may be invited to a capoeira pilgrim’s home in order to
host a workshop. Sometimes they are even invited to start a new group. Some capoeira
pilgrims visit Bahia with the explicit purpose of recruiting a new teacher. This was the
case with one foreigner who hoped to find a teacher willing to start a capoeira group in
his home country of Romania.
In other cases, local capoeiristas may exploit tourists to further their own
individual agendas. In touristic centers like the Pelourinho or Mercado Modelo, Brazilian
capoeiristas solicit tourists and start a romantic relationship in hopes of gaining entrance
to another country where they could migrate and open a capoeira school.74 This practice
is common and potentially lucrative but is looked down upon by many certified capoeira
teachers. Because such teachers rarely have certification, this type of expansion
contributes to Brazilians’ skepticism about the legitimacy of foreign students.
74
In
every
case
I
have
seen,
male
capoeiristas
are
soliciting
female
tourists.
However,
this
is
not
to
suggest
that
the
reverse
situation
does
not
occur.
Further
research
is
needed
on
the
connection
between
sex
tourism
and
capoeira
networks.
267
Implications for Future Study
Theoretically, my work expands upon and provides a critical corrective to
Weber’s ideas about authoritative leadership. I expand Weber’s original conception of
formal-legal rationality, a contract being his prime example, to include form. In the case
of capoeira, form includes recognized techniques and a general sense of aesthetics to
which a capoeira is socialized through rehearsal and performance. It could include form
in any performance genre such as song or spoken word. Thus Weber’s applicability can
be stretched far beyond bureaucracies. Weber’s typology of leadership (traditional,
charismatic, formal-legal) can also be used to understand legitimacy at all levels of a
social field, not just leadership positions.
I also build upon Bourdieu’s work by investigating the process through which
individuals claim legitimacy in a social field of their own choosing. Whereas Bourdieu’s
claims that one can only enter a social field “by birth or by a slow process of co-option
and initiation which is equivalent to a second birth” (Bourdieu 1980:68), I argue that this
process is achievable through accumulation of sufficient capital, which culminates in an
individual’s acceptance into a legitimate peripheral participation relationship. This form
of participation leads to mastery of the form, which Bourdieu might term habitus.
However, one must also acquire enough authority to reshape the game. Attaining that
central position, particularly for those not born into the social field, is a gradual process.
They must acquire this new habitus as they would a second language.75
75
Like Urquía (2004), Thornton (1996) shows how studio recorded sound came to replace live
performance as the standard of authenticity within the dance club scene. In Thornton’s case, historical
factors like technology, economics and the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll led to the restructuring of the
authenticity hierarchy. In Urquía’s case, the benchmark of authenticity was changed to favor a social class
at the expense of an ethnic group. These two cases show that social fields are capable of being changed,
but change most likely originates from those with the most control over the rules of advancement. 268
This process has not been well studied, but my work takes two necessary steps in
this direction. First, systematically analyzing the components of legitimacy for
capoeiristas contributes to an ongoing, if often murky, conversation about authenticity.
Second, by classifying these components into a typology of authenticity, I am able to
propose a theoretical model for how people acquire legitimacy. This model should hold
for social fields with the following traits: 1) individuals are assessed based on their
performance; 2) the genre has become globalized; 3) ultimate authority still resides in its
place of origin. This will be particularly true of genres like capoeira that lack written
rules or emphasize both tradition and innovation. Every social field will have different
requirements for attaining legitimate peripheral participation, but I predict that
charismatic forms of cultural capital will consistently outrank traditional forms of cultural
capital at the level of discourse and at the level of actual practice unless the genre has a
strong political agenda or history of hostility to outsiders. It is my hope that future studies
can test and refine this model and test my predicitions. This will ultimately improve our
understanding of the process by which individuals claim legitimacy, particularly in a
social field they have elected rather than inherited.
My ethnographic work adds to the body of knowledge on capoeiristas. While
much work has been done on the history and performance of capoeira, far less scholarly
work has been done on the capoeiristas themselves, especially non-Brazilian capoeiristas
(Joseph 2006 excepted). However, in addition to this specific focus on the ritual of
capoeira pilgrimages, my work suggests future directions for other areas of scholarship
in tourism and authenticity more broadly. I hope my work will help lay a foundation for
more studies on apprenticeship pilgrimage. This is a widespread phenomenon touching
269
many artistic genres and religious sects. The results of this study suggest some possible
generalizations for apprenticeship pilgrimage, which should be subjected to further
ethnographic inquiry.
The capoeira pilgrimage is a transformative experience with a ritual structure
involving separation, liminality, and reincorporation. Capoeira pilgrims separate
themselves from their home societies both metaphorically and physically. By engaging
in a foreign cultural practice, they mark themselves as different from the general
population. Their separation is even more clearly marked by their voluntary physical
removal from home. My work so far has focused primarily on the liminal stage of this
ritual, which is crucial for the legitimatization of pilgrims in the eyes of the Brazilian
capoeira community. The accumulation of capital may be a gradual process that takes
places across geographic space and time, but the interactions in Bahia are crucial
landmarks in the liminal phase, which lead to legitimacy. This phase is also
characterized by suspension of ‘normal’ social roles and intense bonding among fellow
pilgrims, which is consistent with Turner’s theorization about ritual (1973).
Despite my focus on the liminal phase, the reincorporation phase also deserves
attention. It too is an important part of the pilgrim’s experience, and in fact, much of the
departure is ritualized for foreigners who become accepted into the FICA family. A
despidido (sendoff) roda is a significant marker of acceptance. Much like an
anthropologist who goes to the field, a capoeira pilgrim may need some time to readjust
to his or her home country and home capoeira group. My access to information about
individuals’ return home is limited, though I have some anecdotal evidence that this is
challenging and emotionally difficult. Unbidden, two female capoeira pilgrims painted a
270
strikingly similar portrait of their experience leaving Bahia. As their taxis approached the
airport, they passed through a dense tunnel of bamboo. The sky was almost entirely
blocked from view and the cab became darkened. The vegetation itself seemed exotic
and utterly unlike the Midwest or Northeast regions of the United States from whence
they came. Passing through it felt like crossing a ritual threshold, and both women were
overcome with emotion and began to cry.
Resuming training at the pilgrim’s home academy can be nerve-wracking. After
visiting Brazil, the group has a new set of expectations for the pilgrim. They expect him
or her to have improved exponentially. Pilgrims may suddenly find themselves playing
tougher opponents and being encouraged to play faster and bolder. They are also held to
a higher standard in terms of knowledge and etiquette. A woman who had spent a few
weeks in Brazil made a horrible gaffe, leaving the roda without her mestre’s permission
after sustaining an injury. She then reacted with frustration and anger when she was
criticized for her lapse. The teacher told his students that she should know better because
she had been to Brazil. Visiting Brazil has become the litmus test for a foreign
capoeirista, and completing a pilgrimage admits him or her to a new status within the
group.
This reincorporation can be jarring. Upon my return to Indiana, I was left
wondering how much I had really changed during my months away. In his fieldwork
with members of GCAP, Downey was repeatedly told that he would have to change
along with his growth as a capoeirista (Downey 2007:223). Many people told me this as
well, though I remained skeptical until my return home from Brazil. Suddenly, I was
seeing differently. Kicks no longer presented themselves as blurs hurtling towards my
271
head, but as distinct limbs being propelled with intent. Looking at my adversary while
my head was inverted on the ground, I could actually see her face with the same clarity as
if we had been chatting casually with our bodies held upright. As I have argued
throughout this work, travelling to Brazil has a profound affect on a capoeirista’s
trajectory within the social field, but it also changes the capoeirista in a visceral way (see
also Downey 2007:231).76 The next phase of studying capoeira must address the longterm ramifications of pilgrimage for both the individual, as he or she changes as a result
of this experience, and the reaction of the social field as foreigners increase their
legitimacy and take responsibility for shaping the future of the field. 76
Beyond
appreciating the body as the interface through which we encounter and learn about the world,
Downey and Ingold both have called scholars to appreciate the transformative effects of situated learning
(Downey 2007:223; see also Ingold 2000).
272
Glossary
aberto
agogo
agressividade
Angoleiro
atabaque
au
bananeira
baqueta
batuque
beleza
berimbau
bloco afro
brasilidade
brincar
Candomble
capoeira
Capoeira Angola
Capoeira Regional
capoeirista
chamada
Open, both literal and figurative
A double sided cowbell that is also used in religious ceremonies in Brazil
and Western Africa
Agressiveness
Someone who plays Capoeira Angola; may be used to describe a male or
female though the latter is technically grammatically incorrect
A drum that is also used in Candomble religious ceremonies as well as in
Western African religious traditions. This is a semi-sacred instrument in
capoeira.
Cartwheel; can be done with the legs tucked close to the torso or extended
into the air
Literally "banana tree;" used in capoeira to refer to a handstand, either
stationary or walking
The stick used to play any of the percussive capoeira instruments,
particularly the berimbau
A martial dance/game practiced by African and Afro-Brazilian men;
widely considered to be a precursor of capoeira
beauty
The most sacred instrument used in capoeira; it consists of a wire
stretched over a curved stick of biriba wood with a hollowed out gourd
serving as the resonating chamber. Sound is produced by holding a
washer, coin, or rock against the wire and striking it with a wooden stick
while holding a basket rattle over one's striking hand.
Carnival performance groups that use Afro-Brazilian percussive rhythms
to celebrate a message of black pride
Brazilianness
To play, connotes the carefree playfulness of a child
An Afro-Brazilian religion that uses drumming and dance to induce spirit
posession
An Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, song,
music, and theatre into a playful mock battle
The style of capoeira advocated by Mestre Pastinha, which claims to be
more traditional and closer to the African roots. Play is slower, more
controlled, and relies on trickery through deceit.
The style of capoeira codified by Mestre Bimba. It is faster, more
acrobatic, and uses belts as an external marker of a student's progress.
Someone who plays capoeira
A ritualized interlude in play, predominantly used in the Angola style,
where one player calls the other to perform this waltz-like aside before
returning to general play. This is one of the most potentially dangerous
moments in the game.
273
chapa
chorrido
chuta
clandestino
contramestre
despedida
estrangeiro/a
favela
fechado
ginga
gunga
A straight kick that can be executed from a standing or crouched position,
backwards or forwards
Choruses, sung throughout the roda and employing a call and response
structure
A slap-kick similar to kicking a soccer ball, not considered to be proper
capoeira technique
Clandestine
One step below mestre
Sendoff/fairwell
Foreigner
Slum, generally built on the hillsides surrounding Brazilian cities
Closed, both literal and figurative
Literally "to swing;" it is the moving base to which capoeiristas return
during play
medio
meia-lua
mestizos
The deepest sounding berimbay with the largest gourd; controls the roda
Manner or way of doing something, often used to describe technique in
capoeira
To play, used when referring to sports or games
A Japanese martial art descended from Judo, which became popular in
Brazil and was transformed into a distinctly Brazilian form by the Gracie
brothers
Litany that is sung to begin the capoeira ritual
Cunning, related to the term malandro
A term traditionally used to describe vagrants that live by their wits, but
reinterpreted as a positive term within the capoeira worldview
Trickery through deceit; a highly prized qualitiy in a capoeirista
Crazy
Literally "magic;" refers to the historical use of Candomble to close the
capoeirista's body and protect it from an adversary's attack. Today, may
be used without religious connotations and refers to a sneaky way of
moving. It is the aesthetic manifestation of malicia.
Someone with lots of mandinga
The berimbau producing a middle pitch, responsible for keeping the
rhythm
Half moon kick, can be done from a stationary or spinning base
People of mixed ethnic or racial heritage
mestre
A master of capoeira; generally this title is given after 25 years or more of
practice, though recent developments are challenging this notion.
negativa
objetividade
pandeiro
A defensive move achieved by stretching one leg out to the side while
extending the torso in the opposite direction, supporting the weight of the
body on both arms, the elbow of one tucked into the torso near the kidney.
Having an objective, acting with purpose
Tambourine
jeito
jogar
jujitsu
ladainha
malandragem
malandro
malicia
maluco
mandinga
mandingeiro
274
pardo
Pelourinho
princessa
rabo de arraia
rasteira
reco-reco
roda
rolê
salta
seguro
sentimento
tesouro
tocar
treinel
troca de informacao
vadiagaem
vadiar
viola
Someone of mixed race
The historic district in Salvador that has been revived under the direction
of UNESCO.
Princess
Literally "stingray tail;" a typical capoeira move that involves sweeping
one leg in a circle approximately 16-24" from the ground while supporting
the body on the other leg and both arms.
Leg sweep intended to unbalance or knock down an opponent
An instrument made of bamboo with ridges carved into it, across which a
stick is passed to make a grating sound
Literally means wheel, but is the terminology used to describe both the
circle in which capoeira participants sit/stand and the central activity of
the capoeira ritual
Literally "roll;" the many variations on the basic move can be used to
evade oncoming attacks or simply to move around the circle while staying
close to the ground
Jump or loosen
Safe
Feeling
An attack move in which one player positions his or her legs in a scissorlike position along the floor while the hips are held low to the ground. The
weight of the torso is supported on both hands. The player slides across
the floor in this position with the intent to trip his or her opponent.
To play an instrument or touch something/someone
An authorized teacher in capoeira; one step below contramestre
Information exchange
The act of loafing
To loaf about or be otherwise unproductive, sometimes means "to hang
out"
The highest pitch berimbau, responsible for most of the variations
275
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2001 Nihon Buyo: Classical Dance of Modern Japan, Anthropology Indiana University.
Curriculum
Vitae
Lauren
Miller
Griffith
Professional
Address
Department
of
Anthropology
Indiana
University
Student
Building
130
701
E.
Kirkwood
Avenue
Bloomington,
IN
47405
Home
Address
1808
East
Windsor
Bloomington,
IN
47401
(812)
219‐6765
lem2@indiana.edu
Education
Doctor
of
Philosophy,
with
Dr.
Anya
Peterson
Royce,
expected
August
2010
Department
of
Anthropology
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana
“Capoeira
Tourism
and
the
Economy
of
Authenticity”
Master
of
Arts,
with
Dr.
Anya
Peterson
Royce,
2008
Department
of
Anthropology
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana
Specializations
in
Brazil,
performance
and
tourism
Bachelor
of
Arts,
Anthropology
Major,
Dance
Minor,
December
2003
Texas
A&M
University,
College
Station,
Texas
Senior
thesis
with
Dr.
Thomas
A.
Green
Fellowships
&
Awards
Inquiry
in
Action
Fellow,
2009‐2010.
An
interdisciplinary,
graduate
student
colegium
dedicated
to
furthering
our
knowledge
of
the
literature
and
practices
of
scholarly
teaching,
made
possible
through
a
grant
by
the
Teagle
Foundation.
Outstanding
Assistant
Instructor
Award,
2007‐2008.
Awarded
by
the
Department
of
Anthropology
to
one
graduate
student
responsible
for
designing
and
teaching
his
or
her
own
course
based
on
student
evaluations
and
faculty
review.
Exceptional
Project
in
Dance
Anthropology
Award,
2003.
Awarded
by
the
National
Dance
Association
for
research
done
on
capoeira
and
submitted
to
the
Nu
Delta
Alpha
Dance
Honor
Society.
Oral
Humanities
I
Section
First
Prize,
2003.
Awarded
as
part
of
Student
Research
week
at
Texas
A&M
University
for
public
presentations
of
original
undergraduate
research.
Bachelor
of
Arts
Thesis
Award,
2003.
Awarded
by
the
Honors
Department
of
Texas
A&M
University
in
recognition
of
outstanding
undergraduate
research.
Undergraduate
Research
Fellow,
2002‐2003.
Overseen
by
the
Honors
Department
of
Texas
A&M
University,
fellows
worked
one
on
one
with
faculty
mentors
to
develop
their
own
original
research
projects,
which
resulted
in
a
senior
thesis.
Grants
Skomp
Pre‐Dissertation
Grant,
Department
of
Anthropology,
Indiana
University,
2006,
$3,000.
International
Enhancement
Grant,
International
Programs,
Indiana
University,
2006,
$1,500.
Mendel
Pre‐Dissertation
Grant,
Caribbean
and
Latin
American
Studies,
Indiana
University,
2006,
$1,000.
Teaching
Experience
Indiana
University
Bloomington
Instructor
January­May
2010
Department
of
Anthropology,
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana
“Laboratory
in
Ethnography”
A
three­credit
hour
course,
primarily
for
anthropology
majors
and
minors,
at
the
300­level
that
introduces
students
to
the
qualitative
methods
used
by
anthropologists.
The
course
utilizes
hands­on,
active
learning
methods.
Class
size
18
students.
Instructor
September­
December
2009
Freshman
Interest
Groups,
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana
“One
World
After
All?”
A
one
credit­hour
seminar
for
freshman
that
taps
into
and
extends
the
themes
of
two
related
core
courses,
modeling
a
holistic
approach
to
their
university
experience.
Class
size
11
students.
Instructor
September­December
2009
Freshman
Interest
Groups,
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana
“The
Lively
Art
of
Acting”
A
one
credit­hour
seminar
for
freshman
that
taps
into
and
extends
the
themes
of
two
related
core
courses,
modeling
a
holistic
approach
to
their
university
experience.
Class
size
8
students.
Instructor
January­May
2009
Department
of
Anthropology,
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana
“Anthropology
of
Martial
Arts”
An
undergraduate
topics
course
for
majors
and
non­majors
on
the
broad
social
implications
of
martial
arts
in
contemporary
society.
Class
size
30
students.
Instructor
September­December
2007
Department
of
Anthropology,
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana
“Performing
Lives
on
a
Global
Stage”
An
undergraduate
topics
course
for
non­
majors
on
the
various
interpretations
of
performance
in
anthropology.
Class
size
20
students.
Teaching
Assistant
January­April
2007
Assistant
to
Dr.
Anya
Peterson
Royce,
Department
of
Anthropology,
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana.
Chocolate:
food
of
the
gods:
a
lower­level
undergraduate
course
on
chocolate
that
discussed
history,
ancient
civilizations,
colonization,
and
globalization
as
related
to
chocolate.
Duties
included
occasional
lectures,
grading,
meeting
with
students,
and
assisting
in
exam
design.
Class
size
90
students.
Teaching
Assistant
September­December
2006
Assistant
to
Dr.
Shane
Greene,
Department
of
Anthropology,
Indiana
University
An
introductory
undergraduate
topics
course
for
non­majors.
Duties
included
two
lectures,
grading
and
meeting
with
students.
Class
size
90
students.
Teaching
Assistant
September­December
2005
Assistant
to
Dr.
Marvin
Sterling,
Department
of
Anthropology,
Indiana
University.
An
undergraduate
topics
course
on
globalization
for
non­majors.
Duties
included
one
lecture,
grading
and
meeting
with
students.
Class
size
90
students.
Other
Teaching
Experiences
Instructor
June­July
2009
Institute
of
Reading
Development,
Evansville,
Indiana
&
Indianapolis,
Indiana
Responsible
for
implementing
standardized
lesson
plans
for
8
reading
and
study
skills
classes
to
ages
4­adult.
Class
size
ranged
from
7
to
28.
Instructor
June­July
2008
Institute
of
Reading
Development,
Evansville,
Indiana
Responsible
for
implementing
standardized
lesson
plans
for
8
reading
and
study
skills
classes
to
ages
4­high
school.
Class
size
ranged
from
6
to
15.
Instructor
October
2007
Institute
of
Reading
Development,
Evansville,
Indiana
Responsible
for
implementing
standardized
lesson
plans
for
reading
and
study
skills
to
college
students.
Class
size
15.
Instructor
June­August
2007
Institute
of
Reading
Development,
greater
Indianapolis
area,
Indiana
Responsible
for
implementing
standardized
lesson
plans
for
24
reading
and
study
skills
classes
to
ages
4­adult.
Class
size
ranged
from
3
to
22.
Substitute
Teacher
October
2006­May
2008
Monroe
County
School
Corporation,
Bloomington,
Indiana
Miscellaneous
teaching
duties
as
assigned
by
the
regular
classroom
teacher.
Substitute
Teacher
January­May
2004
Bryan
Independent
School
District
Miscellaneous
teaching
duties
as
assigned
by
the
regular
classroom
teacher.
Guest
Lectures
Chocolate:
Food
of
the
Gods
Spring
2007
Invited
lecture
for
Indiana
Student
Programs,
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana
Research
Experience
Field
Research
Dissertation
Fieldwork
July­December
2008
Studied
the
negotiation
of
legitimacy
among
foreign
and
local
capoeiristas
with
the
group
FICA
Bahia
and
other
capoeiristas
in
Salvador,
Brazil.
Pre­Dissertation
Fieldwork
July­August
2006
Spent
two
months
studying
the
language
and
conducting
preliminary
research
with
capoeiristas
and
tour
guides
in
Salvador,
Brazil.
Domestic
Fieldwork
January
2005­July
2008
Participant
observation
fieldwork
and
various
interviews
with
members
of
North
Star
Capoeira
group
in
Bloomington,
Indiana,
formerly
known
as
Grupo
Acupe.
Pre­Dissertation
Fieldwork
July
2005
Initial
trip
to
my
field
site
in
Brazil
where
I
took
language
classes
and
met
capoeira
contacts.
Domestic
Fieldwork
May
2002­December
2003
Participant
observation
fieldwork
with
FICA
Austin
for
my
senior
thesis.
Other
Research
Experiences
Assistant
April
2009
Assisted
Professor
Mary
Beth
Camp,
Economics,
and
Joan
Middendorf,
Office
of
Campus
Instructional
Consluting,
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana
with
research
design
and
implementation
for
a
pilot
study
on
student
visualization
in
statistics.
Assistant
January­February
2008
Liberal
Arts
Management
Program,
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana
Assisted
with
interviews
related
to
teaching
in
a
specialized
honors
program.
Graduate
Assistant
January­May
2006
Department
of
Anthropology,
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana
Assisted
April
Sievert
and
Rika
Kaestle
with
SOTL
funded
research
on
hands‐
on
instruction
in
anthropology.
Research
Assistant
September
2004­May
2005
Assistant
to
Dr.
Anya
Peterson
Royce,
Department
of
Anthropology,
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana.
Assisted
with
miscellaneous
research
duties.
Professional
Experience
and
Development
Master
Class
February
2010
Graduate
students
from
across
the
university
were
invited
to
sit
in
on
my
E302
class
as
a
‘master
class’
designated
by
Campus
Instructional
Consulting.
Following
the
75‐minute
class,
we
had
a
45‐minute
discussion
session
in
which
graduate
students
discussed
my
teaching
methods.
Transcription
January­February
2009
Transcribed
eight
faculty
interviews
as
part
of
a
Scholarship
of
Teaching
and
Learning
funded
project
on
visualization.
Graduate
Assistant
January­May
2008
Campus
Instructional
Consulting,
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana
Duties
included
assisting
with
pedagogical
research
studies,
interviewing
faculty
on
teaching
methods,
and
assisting
with
campus
wide
teaching
and
learning
events.
Attendee,
PFF
Conference
Spring
Semester
2005
A
one
day
conference
on
different
aspects
of
becoming
a
faculty
member
including
job
searches
and
professional
growth
opportunities.
Professional
Service
Preparing
Future
Faculty
Conference
Panelist
2010
This
one‐day
conference
is
designed
to
give
IU
Bloomington
graduate
students
experience
to
others’
experiences
preparing
to
become
future
faculty.
In
this
presentation,
I
will
speak
to
the
teaching
experiences
I
have
had
and
how
they
have
contributed
to
my
development
as
a
future
faculty
member.
Co­Sponsor
of
Individualized
Major
Program
2009­?
Serving
as
a
co‐sponsor
for
an
undergraduate
student’s
individualized
major
program
on
martial
arts
in
contemporary
practice.
Responsibilities
include
advising
the
student
on
curriculum
issues,
acting
as
the
student’s
advocate
in
front
of
the
IMP
board
and
mentoring
as
opportunities
arise.
Teaching
Interest
Group,
Founder
2009­?
Founded
and
managed
an
informal
teaching
group
composed
of
graduate
students
in
the
anthropology
department.
Bi‐monthly
meetings
were
centered
around
the
goal
of
creating
an
engaged
community
of
teacher‐
scholars
and
providing
a
forum
for
discussing
teaching
related
issues.
Grant
Writing
2006­2008
Assisted
with
grant
writing
opportunities
for
North
Star
Capoeira
group,
Bloomington,
Indiana
Faculty
Representative
September
2005­May
2006
Acted
as
the
anthropology
graduate
student
representative
at
all
departmental
faculty
meetings,
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana.
AGSA
Secretary
September
2005­May
2006
Served
as
secretary
for
the
Anthropology
Graduate
Student
Association
(AGSA),
Indiana
University,
Bloomington,
Indiana.
Conference
Presentations
Conference
Papers
Sievert,
April
and
Lauren
Miller
Griffith
2010
A
View
From
IU’s
Scholarship
of
Teaching
and
Learning
Program
(SOTL):
Graduate
Student
Instructors
and
the
Individualized
Major.
Individualized
Major
Programs:
Assessment
of
Effective
Learning
and
Best
Practices,
Bloomington,
Indiana
Griffith,
Lauren
Miller
2010
A
Theoretical
Model
for
Claiming
Legitimacy.
“Exploring
Difference”
Anthropology
Graduate
Student
Association
Symposium,
Bloomington,
Indiana
Griffith,
Lauren
Miller
2010
Teaching
Panel:
What
is
the
Scholarship
of
Teaching
and
Learning?
“Exploring
Difference”
Anthropology
Graduate
Student
Association
Symposium,
Bloomington,
Indiana
Miller,
Lauren
E.
2009
Attitude
as
a
Route
to
Legitimacy
for
Capoeira
Pilgrims.
Radical
Intersections
Conference,
Evanston,
Illinois.
Miller,
Lauren
E.
2009
Volunteerism
and
Capoeira.
Central
States
Anthropology
Society,
Champaign,
Illinois.
Miller,
Lauren
E
2007
Candomblé
Para
Turistas
Ver.
American
Anthropological
Association,
Washington
D.C.
Miller,
Lauren
E
2006
Capoeira
Workshops:
Finding
a
Place
in
the
Family
Tree.
American
Anthropological
Association,
San
Jose,
CA.
Miller,
Lauren
E
2006
Discussant
Paper:
Migrating
Religions.
Qualitative
Interest
Group,
Athens,
GA,
2006.
Miller,
Lauren
E
2006
Selective
Importation
of
Candomblé.
Qualitative
Interest
Group,
Athens,
GA,
2006.
Workshops
Kearns,
Katherine,
Lauren
Miller
Griffith,
and
Valerie
D.
O’Loughlin
2009
Developing
Evidence‐Based
Tools
to
Assess
Pedagogy
Course
Outcomes
for
Multiple
Teacher‐Scholar
Populations.
International
Society
for
the
Scholarship
of
Teaching
&
Learning,
Bloomington,
Indiana.
Conference
Posters
O’Loughlin,
Valerie,
Mark
Braun,
Katherine
D.
Kearns,
Isaac
Heacock,
Carol
Subino
Sullivan,
and
Lauren
E.
Miller
2009
Lasting
Effects
of
a
Graduate
Pedagogy
Course
on
the
Development
of
Teacher‐Scholars
(Featured
Poster).
International
Society
for
the
Scholarship
of
Teaching
&
Learning,
Bloomington,
Indiana.
Miller,
Lauren
E,
Valerie
Dean
O’Loughlin,
Katherine
D.
Kearns,
Mark
Braun
and
Isaac
Heacock
2009
A
Pedagogy
Course’s
Influence
on
Graduate
Students’
Self‐Awareness
as
Teacher
Scholars.
SOTL
Poster
Session,
Bloomington,
Indiana.
Miller,
Lauren
E
and
Kimberly
M.
Bohannon
2005
Costuming
Tensions.
American
Anthropological
Association,
Washington
D.C.
,
2005.
Publications
Miller,
Lauren
E
2006
Selected
Importation
of
Candomblé
In
Anthropology
News,
Vol.
May
2006.
Miller,
Lauren
E,
Valerie
Dean
O’Loughlin,
Katherine
D.
Kearns,
Mark
Braun
and
Isaac
Heacock
n.d.
A
Pedagogy
Course’s
Influence
on
Graduate
Students’
Self‐Awareness
as
Teacher
Scholars.
Miller,
Lauren
E
n.d.
Capoeira
Workshops:
Finding
a
Place
in
the
Family
Tree.
J.
Marion
and
J.
Skinner,
eds.
Miller,
Lauren
E
2010
Post‐Bimba
Capoeira.
T.
Green
and
J.
Svinth,
eds:
ABCLIO
Miller,
Lauren
E
2010
Martial
Arts
Tourism.
T.
Green
and
J.
Svinth,
eds:
ABCLIO.
Miller,
Lauren
E
n.d.
John
Hines.
In
African‐American
National
Biography
Project:
Oxford
Press.
Listings
Exploring
Horizons
2005
Article
on
my
senior
thesis
and
future
plans
in
the
magazine
produced
by
the
Office
of
Honors
Programs
and
Academic
Scholarships,
Texas
A&M
University,
College
Station,
Texas

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