Aprender Capoeira

Em minha pesquisa, abordo a capoeira como uma ferramenta que tem a capacidade ajudar os praticantes. Foi a hipótese com a qual iniciei minha pesquisa e que foi confirmado por todos os capoeiristas durante meu trabalho de campo. “Capoeira é tudo para mim”, “a capoeira mudou minha vida”, são frases que ouvi durante minha estadia em São Paulo com mais freqüência do que pudesse contar. No entanto, ninguém podia explicar essas frases. Depois de perceber essa incongruência, tentei refletir sobre minha experiência na capoeira. Também posso confirmar que praticar capoeira impactou minha vida e que é muito importante para mim. Mas, por quê?

Assim como outros capoeiristas, aos quais fiz essa pergunta, não consigo explicar. No entanto, posso tentar refletir sobre o modo como a capoeira mudou minha vida.

Venho de uma família bem educada e uma linha com artistas e pesquisadores de ciências humanas e sociais os quais, desde minha juventude, ouço conversarem sobre assuntos acadêmicos diversos. Sempre tive acesso a uma boa educação, que me permitiu iniciar a universidade direitamente após terminar o ensino médio, porém, com a capoeira, posso dizer com confiança quetive acesso a um novo conjunto de habilidades e conhecimentos diferentes.

Uma de minhas principais percepções durante as aulas e treinamentos que participei, diz respeito à intuição em que a capoeira se baseia. Essa intuição é visível nos métodos de ensino, haja vista que muitos movimentos são aprendidos assistindo e imitando os movimentos de outros capoeiristas. Também é fundamental durante uma roda de capoeira, quando um jogador faz uma pergunta com um movimento e o oponente responde com outro movimento. Na roda não há tempo parapensar sobre o que fazer, se reage instintivamente com os movimentos queforam praticados repetidamente durante os treinos.

Assim como a execução dos movimentos na roda não é um processo racional, aprende-los também não é. Embora os professores dediquem tempo para explicar técnicas específicas de movimentos, a maioria dos aprendizados acontece na prática. Assistir e imitar, tentando, falhando e tentando novamente.

A capoeira não é o único espaço onde essa aprendizagem intuitiva ocorre; uma criança aprende a andar ou conversar de maneira intuitiva. O que a capoeira oferece é uma ferramenta para aprender intuitivamente. Não se aprende a capoeira lendo um livro, nem através da explicação de alguém sobre a capoeira. Aprende-se a capoeira praticando e falhando repetidamente.

Na minha experiência, esta é uma das coisas mais importantes que aprendi na capoeira e que tento aplicar no meu cotidiano. Isso é algo que uma formação acadêmica não pode oferecer, pois é uma outra abordagem do conhecimento e da aprendizagem. Não obstante, como eu entendi que “a capoeira é tudo”, certamente há muito mais para eu e outros aprendermos com ela.

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How Capoeira is learnt

In my research I approach capoeira as a tool that can help its practitioners. This is something I’ve hypothesized before starting my research and it has been confirmed by all capoeiristas during my fieldwork. ‘Capoeira is everything for me’, ‘Capoeira changed my life’ are sentences that I have heard during my time in São Paulo more often than I can count. Yet, no one can explain it. After I realized that I encountered this incongruity, I reflected on my own experience of capoeira. I can also confirm that practicing capoeira has impacted my life and that capoeira is very important for me, but why?

Just like other capoeiristas whom I’ve asked , I cannot explain this. However, I can try and reflect on the way capoeira has made a change in my life.

Coming from a well-educated family with artists and researchers, I heard my parents holding intellectual conversations with people around them from a young age. I’ve always had access to good education which made it possible for me to start university after I finished high school. And yet, when it comes to capoeira, I can confidently say that it gave me access to a whole new set of skills and knowledge I could not access before.

One of my main observations during the many capoeira classes I have visited and the many capoeira trainings in which I participated, is the intuitivity on which capoeira is based. This intuitivity is visible in the teaching methods: many movements are learnt by watching others and mimicking their gestures over and over. It also becomes visible in the roda (the space where capoeira is performed). The game of capoeira is played by asking a question with a movement, and answering with another movement. In the roda there is no time to think about what you will do, you react instinctively with the movements you practiced during the class.

The teaching of the movements in capoeira, just life their execution in the roda, is not a cerebral process. Though all teachers devote time to explaining specific movements in a more analytical way, the majority of the learning happens through an intuitive process: through watching and imitating, by trying and failing and trying again.

Capoeira is not the only space where such learning form takes place; a child who is learning how to walk or talk is learning those things in an intuitive way. What capoeira provides is a tool to learn how to intuitively learn. You do not learn capoeira by reading a book, or by listening to a lecture about the theory of capoeira. You learn capoeira by practicing capoeira and failing over and over.

This is one of the most important things I learnt in capoeira, which I try to apply in my day-to-day life. This is something that a university degree cannot teach you as it is a different approach to knowledge and to learning. However, as I have understood that ‘capoeira is everything’ for its practicioners there is surely much more that I and others have learnt from it.

(Re)Iniciando um blog de capoeira

berimbau charmosa

Um dos primeiros ensaios que eu tive que escrever durante minha graduação de antropologia, foi um exercício etnográfico. Tivemos que escolher uma comunidade social ou grupo de pessoas específica e escrever sobre diferentes aspectos sociais desse grupo. Naquela época, eu já havia praticado capoeira por cerca três meses e nesse momento meu interesse e curiosidade pela capoeira foi despertado tornando então  meu grupo da capoeira sujeito  de meu ensaio. É certo que, olhando para trás a este ensaio, me sinto um pouco envergonhada pelo meu trabalho que ficou um pouco superficial ou ingênuo. Mas, ao mesmo tempo, depois de estudar antropología por apenas alguns meses e com uma pequena experiencia dentro do gigantesco  mundo da capoeira, eu escrevi tudo o que poderia naquele momento.

Agora, alguns anos depois, estou em uma posição ligeiramente diferente. Em primeiro lugar, eu possuo um papel assinado no qual está escrito que eu tenho o titulo de bacharel em Antropología. Eu também tenho uma corda colorida que eu uso com meu abadá, que simboliza meus poucos anos de experiência dentro da capoeira. Além disso, a vida me trouxe para São Paulo, onde eu estou fazendo meu trabalho de campo para minha pequisa de mestrado sobre capoeira em seu contexto urbano. Embora eu ainda esteja no processo de aprendizado da antropologia e capoeira, espero poder produzir algo um pouco mais profundo do que o primeiro ensaio que escrevi alguns anos atrás. Como que o primeiro mês do meu trabalho de campo já passou, eu gostaria de compartilhar algumas das minhas experiências e pensamentos através deste blog.

Em minha experiência, reciprocidade é uma carateristica central do mundo da capoeira. Com isso quero dizer que os capoeiristas (praticantes de capoeira) estão sempre apoiando-se, ajudando um ao outro e trocando conhecimento. Por isso, eu gostaria compartilhar algumas das minhas experiências durante meu trabalho de campo para mostrar meu agradecimento ao compartilhar minhas experiências durante meu tempo em São Paulo. Tendo dito isso, gostaria mencionar que eu irei compartilhar minha experiência pessoal e visão de capoeira através dos olhos de uma antropóloga aspirante. Ao contrário da minha tese, nesse blog eu pretendo escrever sobre temas específicos, experiências ou anedotas do campo ao invés de produzir um trabalho acadêmico.

É isso. Até logo e em breve compartilho mais sobre minhas aventuras da capoeira.

Axé

(Re)Starting a capoeira blog

berimbau charmosa

One of the first assignments I had to write during my bachelor in anthropology was an ethnographic exercise. We had to choose a certain community or group of people and write about different social aspects of that group. At the time, I had practiced capoeira for about three months and as my interest and curiosity for capoeira was already growing, I chose to look at my capoeira group for this assignment. Admittedly, looking back at this essay I feel slightly humored for the somewhat naive work I produced. Then again, after studying anthropology for just a few months, and having just gotten a taste of capoeira, I wrote all that I could write at the time.

A few years later I find myself in a slightly different position. First of all I can say that I have a signed piece of paper  stating I am a Bachelor of anthropology. I also have a colored cord I wear with my capoeira clothes that symbolizes my few years of experience within capoeira. Above this, I have found myself in São Paulo – Brazil, studying capoeira in its urban context to complete my Masters. Though I am still in the process of learning both anthropology and capoeira, I hope to be able to produce something slightly more profound than that first essay I wrote a few years back. As I am one month into my fieldwork at the moment, I wish to share some of my experiences and thoughts from the field through this blog.

I have found the capoeira community to be a very reciprocal one: meaning that capoeiristas (capoeira practitioners) are always supporting each other by sharing friendship, help or knowledge. Because of this I wish to try and share some of my experiences during my fieldwork to show my appreciations for this community. Having said this, I would like to add that I will be sharing my personal experience and vision of capoeira through the eyes of an aspiring anthropologist. Unlike my thesis, I intend to write about specific themes, experiences, or anecdotes from the field rather than producing an academic work.

This is it for now. You will hear from me soon with more talk about capoeira.

Axé

UFMG – A cultural comparison between a Brazilian and Dutch university

The university where I am on exchange is called UFMG – Universidade Federal Minas Gerais. Before coming here I had already heard a lot of good things about UFMG, and so far I am not disappointed. Every day, the countless differences between the VU (Vrije Universiteit van Amsterdam) and UFMG still surprise me. In this blog post I will try to bridge the differences between the two institutions.

As the name of the university indicates, the UFMG is a federal university. The federal higher education in Brazil is free and is usually considered better than private universities, which are also very expensive. Having free higher education is in itself a good thing; in the Netherlands (where most of the university are funded by the government) students still have to pay close to two thousand euros and the tuition fees get higher each year. The Brazilian education system, though, is far from free of problems. To get into a federal university you need to pass the vestibular, a sort of exam which is difficult to pass unless you went to a private high school. This creates a contradiction where almost only the people who are able to afford private high school, have access to the free and better public universities. In reality this system and dilemma is more complicated and nuanced but I think that this does give some background info about Brazilian education.

The UFMG is located not too far from, and not too close to the center of Belo Horizonte. I live in the neighbourhood right next to the university and the walk from my house to the entrance is about fifteen minutes. To get from that entrance to the social science building is about 30 more minutes. Most of the campus is like a giant park with stony roads going over the hills of Belo Horizonte. The buildings of the university are scattered around this enormous campus, though all the buildings where I need to be are near the central road and relatively close to one another. Because of the size of the campus there are free internal bus lines that go around the university, but you can also stand near the entrance of the university and hitch-hike, which I have only done once so far, but is way more fun and adventurous.

The campus has many facilities. Not far from FAFICH (Faculdade de Filosofia e Ciências Humanas), the social science building, you’ll find ‘Praça dos servicos (service square), where you can find anything from a bank to a drugstore, to a cafe where coffee is sold for 1,50R$ – less than fifty eurocents.

The FAFICH building itself has a very specific atmosphere. Because of the much, much, much warmer climate of Brazil a lot of the buildings are semi-open, something I had to get used to. This is also the case with FAFICH. You will find cats wandering around the building on the first floor, and occasionally on the second floor as well. Wherever you go in the building you will find texts and phrases written on walls and in corners. The walls are full of graffiti, because, as I am told, social scientists love to express themselves.

The people walking around here are the type of people you would expect to write stuff on walls. Besides the smell of cat piss in the hallways you smell a lot of weed, which makes me feel like I’m home… in a way….

All the activities connected to the social science department take place in this one building, unlike at the VU, where my classes could be in buildings and classrooms all over campus. Besides classrooms, the secretary, researchers, rooms for research groups and social science library can be found in the same building. The classrooms here are generally much smaller. In every classroom you will still find a blackboard and there is no computer or beamer. You have the kind of chairs with a little table on the side of it and in some classrooms it looks like they have had these chair-tables for the last 50 years.

The atmosphere during classes is informal. In all of my anthropology classes here the teachers often times sit in front of the class and talk in stead of standing and presenting the material as they do in the Netherlands. The lecturers here are much more approachable. Generally it feels less hierarchical here than in the Netherlands. Teachers and students both are very willing to help me when I do not understand something. I think I have had about ten anthropology students (and many more outside of the discipline) offering to help with the readings and the classes.

Maybe it is because it is more difficult to get into this university, and maybe it is because Dutch students only see accomplishments in the bureaucratic way of passing a test, but the students here are much more motivated. During class many of them remark on what the teacher is saying, and many more people actually read the texts and want to learn; it feels like the university here is more academical. Nearly all students participate in research groups, and there are even bachelor students who get payed for their research. Many bachelor students already have some experience researching and writing, some already have published articles. Most people here know much earlier on what they want to research and have much more opportunities to find their research topic and gain experience. There are countless research groups, projects and activities that students can participate in.

One particular thing I have noticed about these topics and also about the classes and the literature that comes with it, is how the anthropology here is very Brazil oriented, while in the Netherlands, at least in my anthropology department, there are researchers who study many different countries. Here it is mostly (not always, but mostly) within the Brazilian boarders with exception to al the classics. The first few lectures of all of my anthropology classes had many texts written by classical anthropologists on the reading list. In the Netherlands I have had a few subjects where those classics were discussed but generally we did not get more than one or two of these old texts per subject. But here in Brazil all the students are given much broader and deeper image of the classics.

The reason that students here have a more extended knowledge has to do with something else as well: for none of my subjects will be any exams. You learn anthropology by discussing the literature in texts, writing essays and researching, in contrary to the Netherlands where almost all of the classes are graded by an exam at the end of the block.

It is difficult to believe how great the difference between the two universities is. It feels like the three year degree of the Netherlands can’t be properly compared to the four (and often five) year during degree of Brazil. I think that how the small differences between the universities almost shift the meaning of ones degree, is a good representation of the differences between the two cultures. Though generally everything is the same – you have classes, seminars, different subjects etc. – the way it is executed is so different it is immediately clear you are on the other side of the world.

Bahia, Nossa Bahia

Soon after I arrived in Brazil, I heard that the university I will be attending is on strike. None of the administrative organs are functioning, and thus no one can register for the classes, and the start of the academic year will be delayed. After a long time without knowing what was going to happen it was decided that classes would start three weeks later than planned.

To my delight, the Portuguese course that I am taking as one of my subjects this semester, did start. It meant kind of tied to Belo Horizonte, but not having too much to do. So to create a nice balance for the situation I had found myself in, I decided with some friends to travel to Bahia, a province in the north-east of Brazil.

I have never planned a trip so last minute. We ended up as a group of seven people, and we came together only one day before departure to book the return flight.

For those of you who don’t know, I do capoeira. Which you should know, because if you don’t, it probably means I have never talked to you… For the others, probably a slightly larger percentage of the people who found themselves reading my blog: capoeira originated in the state of Bahia. Now, I was the only one in the group who practices capoeira, so I told myself beforehand that it would not be the focus of the trip; but as it turned out that choice wasn’t entirely up to me. When you are in Bahia, capoeira is more or less shoved in your face.

After a very, very, very long time spent in the bus, we arrived at our first stop, Porto Seguro. Porto Seguro was the first place where the Portuguese arrived, back in the day. The most impressive thing there, was the historical city centre. After climbing many stairs, which looked like they were leading nowhere, we arrived at the tourist attraction of Porto Seguro. Running from one tourist shop to another I saw the many icons which Bahia uses to sell itself to tourists; one of them is the berimbau, the most important musical instrument of capoeira. They were sold in so many random sizes; I don’t know how tourists bring them home with them, but that’s not for me to consider…

In the historical centre I ate Acarajé which is one of the most typical foods from Bahia, which is wonderful. You guys, you are all missing out.

People here love telling you how each part of Brazil has an entirely different culture, and though I wouldn’t say it is entirely different, I do see the differences. For starters the stereotypical things of the states are different. In Minas you won’t find berimbau keychains in souvenir shops, but in Bahia, Pão de quijo, a treat originally from the state of Minas Gerais, isn’t sold everywhere, which is quite sad. But then again, there are people selling tapioca everywhere, which is the new love of my life. 

The way people speak is also different. In Bahia it is much easier to understand what people are telling you because they actually say the whole word and they speak much slower.

Porto Seguro

After Porto Seguro we moved to Arreial D’Ajuda. This is another town, which is very close to Porto Seguro. The atmosphere is very charming and village like. And while this was the case in Porto Seguro as well, instead of a fisherman’s village of Porto Seguro, Arreial D’Ajuda felt like a beach village. One of the most notable things in Areial D’Ajuda, was that a worldwide capoeira event was going on the day we were staying there. People were walking around in their Abada (capoeira clothing) in the streets, which was a strange and wonderful thing for me to see. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to participate because we would only stay there for a day.

After the wonderful beaches of Arreial D’Ajuda, we travelled up north, to Morro de São Paulo, a town on an Island without cars, only donkeys and wheelbarrows. We travelled by bus to Valença from where we took a ferry, to arrive at the bus station at four in the morning. There were a few shady taxi drivers trying to convince us to take a cab, but going by our gut, we waited until it got light enough to walk the fifteen minutes it took to get to where we needed to be. At the bus station we met a guy who was on the same bus as we were, carrying several wooden sticks. I talked to him, and as I suspected, the sticks he was carrying were for making berimbaus. He told me that the most important thing about making a berimbau is having the right type of wood. He was on his way to a Quilombo nearby, where his Mestre lived, and like us he was waiting for the sunrise because it was too dangerous to walk there in the dark. I am pretty sure that this scene would make a wonderful capoeira song.

So, after dissing the taxi drivers back at the station, after sunrise we started walking. We had to walk to another point where we would take a bus, which would take us to the ferry that goes to Morro de São Paulo. This town seemed to have many poor neighbourhoods. Especially on the bus we could see the many small, broken down houses outside. This was really different from the touristic areas of Porto Seguro and Arreial D’ajuda, and Morro de São Paulo as well, where we were heading. It was interesting to see the other face of Brazil, that you hear about. You could feel the tension in the air, and so moving on to the next touristy area was probably the best thing that a group of seven foreigners could do.

Morro de São Paulo was very well maintained and full of cute little houses and shops on the main road, which connected the port with the beach and hotel where we were staying.

In Morro, I saw several shops that had Hebrew signs on them which was very amusing. I know that there are a lot of Israeli backpackers in South America, but only once during the whole trip I heard Hebrew spoken in the streets.

At one point, while we were enjoying ourselves at the beach, I saw a man with a berimbau walking around. He was playing berimbau and a few of the people who were selling stuff on the beach went up to him, and so did I. Eventually I ended up playing the berimbau while a few of the sellers were playing capoeira. Another romantic image to cross off my list!

In reality playing capoeira on sand is a most difficult thing, because you either slip through it, lose stability or it keeps you from jumping. That afternoon we went up the hill where the lighthouse was, to zip line, which was an amazing experience. You can see the whole town and three beaches, after which you quickly end up in the water.

Morro de São Paulo

Next on our list was our final destination Salvador, the capital of Bahia. Never in my life have I encountered a city like this. I have heard so much about this city because about every capoeira song is about this place. In the other places in Bahia I had encountered capoeira, but in Salvador, capoeira was in the air. It was one of the main icons for all the tourist stuff. The amounts of berimbaus, pandeiros, magnets, key chains with capoeira symbols and anything else you can think of was unbelievable. Right in the centre of Pelourinho, where we were staying, was a capoeira roda going on the whole day. It was really strange to see capoeira in such a different light. It was a sales item, an icon. But Salvador is also the birthplace and home of capoeira; it is really part of the culture, such a different way to experience it!

This is Salvador. Another thing that is Salvador, is getting off the ferry and straight off seeing a favela on the hill in front of us. When we were in the bus, I checked my phone and a man in the bus warned me that it is better to put it away because people might try and grab it through the window. The famous wish ribbons we got apparently shouted ‘I am a tourist!’ to everyone. And when it got dark and we walked to a café with music, 20 meters away from out hotel in the most touristic and protected place in Salvador, we encountered endless amounts of people begging for money and food.

But then again, during the day people were playing capoeira almost in front of our hotel and I saw so many people walking around in abada’s. Salvador was quite something, an atmosphere that I have never felt anywhere else. It has beautiful and ugly parts and is either way an amazing experience.

I am pretty sure though that I will have to return to Bahia because we’ve only seen a tiny part of the state. But for now I am back in BH with one more week until the university finally does start.

Salvador

Bahia, nossa Bahia
Capital é Salvador
Quem não conhece a capoeira
Não pode dar o seu valor
Capoeira vem da África
Áfricanos quem nos trouxeram
Todos podem aprender
General e também doutor
Quem desejár aprender
Venhá aqui em Salvador
Procure o mestre Pastinhá
Ele é o proféssór

Rio De Janeiro

This last weekend, in between my Portuguese classes, I traveled to Rio de Janeiro. One of my room mates works there part-time at a hostel, where I was able to stay.

From Belo Horizonte I can take a bus straight to Rio which is about a six hour journey. I arrived Saturday morning and came to the hostel. The hostel was in the west side of Rio on an island. You can only reach it by boat. The islands have this hidden rural feeling to them, surrounded by beautiful nature. You can wonder through the small paths in between the houses. The hostel is located on the shore of the island, and when you stand on the veranda you have a beautiful view of the river that floats between two of the islands, which is polluted, but that just adds to the real Brazilian feeling.

After arriving and eating breakfast, we went on a boat tour together with some people who were staying in the hostel. The boat picked us up from the hostel and sailed in between the islands. The view was magnificent, you could see all the flora of the islands and in the background the mountains on the mainland. We approached another island where we saw crocodiles chilling in the water which was amazing.

Eventually the boat driver dropped us off at the beach. We walked along the coast line and bought coconuts that are sold there and then went to the beach which was wonderful. It had been years since I have actually swam in the sea and this was a perfect place to do so. The beach where we were is not as famous as Ipanema or Copacabana so it wasn’t crowded at all which was really nice.

The next day we had an activity planned to climb a mountain, Pedra da Gávea.

I remember the first few days after arriving in BH my legs hurt so much from walking around. I never walk in Amsterdam and if I do it’s flat. So this was going to be quite an experience. Especially since I’ve been told that it’s not the easiest mountain to climb. The group with which we climbed the mountain was a group of tour guides from an organization called ecoesporte. My room mate works for that organization and the hostel where I stayed was theirs as well. They organize different activities and day trips that one can part take in when staying at that hostel. All the tour guides went on the climb to get to know the mountain and learn more about how to guide people through the climb.

I didn’t mind because there were about ten professionals always around me to help me.

The first part of the climb was quite tiring. It wasn’t really difficult so it was purely walking up the mountain. The environment was beautiful. I really felt like I was in the rainforest with so many plants that I’ve never seen before and vines hanging from the trees. At one point we even saw some monkey climbing around the trees. After about a third of the way up we encountered the first part which was more of a climb than a hike. For about thirty meters we had to climb from one rock to another.

When we got even higher up the flora changed. There weren’t as many trees and because it was already passed noon the sun was shining brightly above our heads. Then the hardest part came. It was about 20 meters of a stone cliff that we had to climb. It looked really impossible especially when looking at the people who were coming down and recognizing that I will have to do the same later on. For a part of that climb we had a rope that we could hold on to but it was without being fused. Nonetheless I managed to get up and after another small hike we reached the top. The view from there was beautiful. We were able to see a big part of the coast line, dois irmãos, pão de açúcar and Cristo. Rio is built along the coast and there are a lot of mountains throughout the whole city which makes the city stretch out a lot and separates different parts. For example the part of the city where I was staying is much more hidden and less touristic, which is nice. Besides, the islands are really safe so you can walk around there and be really relaxed.

We stayed up on the top for quite some time and took many pictures, as good tourists do and then initiated the descend. The climb took place on Sunday so it was actually pretty busy and we often had to wait for people who were coming down or other people who were going up. This made the hike that was supposed to take three hours, to become much longer. We started around 9 am and got back around 5 pm.

Monday was more of a relaxing day, I was mostly around the hostel and in the afternoon we went to the beach where I got to see Rio in the sunset. This was a perfect way to close this short trip and that night I returned to Belo Horizonte.

if anyone wants to know more about the hostel or the tours you can visit this site:

http://www.rioecoesporte.com.br

facebook: http://www.facebook.com/recoespt