Oct 26 2011

Capoeira for Exportation

Written by Ana Carolina Araújo   
Source: Correio da Bahia, 03/08/2006
Translation into English: Shayna McHugh

[important]I found this article in the local Bahian newspaper, and I thought it’d be interesting to share. It offers a glimpse into a very different reality for capoeiristas from the one most of us experience.[/important]

Whoever passes through tourist areas such as the Mercado Modelo or the Terreiro de Jesus is used to seeing the capoeira rodas that form daily, attracting the tourists’ attention and monetary contributions. Few people, however, have the opportunity to get to know these artists, for whom August 3rd is reserved for the celebration of Capoeirista Day. In their majority, they are simple people who ended up making their hobby into a profession. Some are lucky enough to travel outside Brazil and build their careers, but the majority really struggles to win their daily bread.

The lower floor of the Mercado Modelo is the stage for one of the city’s oldest capoeira rodas. There, for over 50 years, there is not a single day without capoeira. Various mestres take turns performing with their groups, but people who show up occasionally can also enter the roda. Mestre Cacau is among the regulars. At 52 years old, he has 41 years of experience in capoeira. He arrived at the Mercado selling coffee. He would sit on a crate and serve coffee, and amused himself by watching the roda. “My brother already played and I would watch. Later I ended up learning, and I never left,” he says.

In capoeira, Mestre Cacau got married, had five children, and traveled to eleven countries. The only thing missing, he says, is being able to construct a shed in order to give classes. He is responsible for the collection and distribution of the money among the capoeiristas, but he preferred not to tell the amounts. “There are days when we eat steak. There are days when it’s bread and eggs,” he says. The money also comes from the photos taken by the tourists – which can cost R$2, R$3, and even R$10 – which adds a little more to the capoeiristas’ income. “In the roda, we don’t earn more than R$5 (translator’s note: about two and a half U.S. dollars),” says one of the capoeiristas, who preferred to remain anonymous.

A quick conversation with the capoeiristas of the Mercado reveals that the majority are poor, with a low level of education, and does not have stable jobs. Each one, however, deals with the situation in his own way. José Carlos Ferreira, known as Rasta, is 29 years old but living the hard life makes him appear older. He began capoeira for fun as a child. He even worked in the town hall at one point, but when he became unemployed, he had to seek alternatives. “It’s a life-saver for many people and for me as well. It would be really good if I had another, better job,” he confesses.

Every day, Ferreira wakes up at 8 AM, gets ready, and goes from the neighborhood of Lobato to the Commercial Center on foot (translator’s note: that’s at least an hour-and-a-half walk). According to him, it’s good for getting in shape, but his greater motivation is saving the R$3.40 he would otherwise spend on the bus fare. The work begins at 10 AM. The roda starts with few capoeiristas: one on the berimbau, one on the atabaque, one on the pandeiro, and about four others.

More capoeiristas arrive as the hours pass, and by noon the roda is large, with loud music, forming an enchanting spectacle. The only break is taken at 2:30 PM. Until then, Rasta alternates between playing berimbau and playing in the roda. “Then I stop, I eat lunch, and return at 3 PM for the last roda, which ends at 5 PM,” he says, as if this were nothing tiring. In general, he takes home about R$10 between tips and photographs. On a really good day, he manages R$15. “My real dream was to have an academy to teach children, but with what I earn, there’s no way for me to save up enough money.”

Learning on the city streets

“Capoeira is my job but not my profession.” With this phrase, 23-year-old Ruben de Jesus Lima, a nursing student, summarizes his relationship with capoeira. Like the majority of the capoeiristas of the Terreiro de Jesus, he hasn’t had an easy life. He and his four brothers were raised by their mother, who died last year. His older brothers married and left the house; the youngest one already has a son. Beija-flor (his name in capoeira) is proud of being the only one in his family to finish high school and fight to enter a profession.

His childhood and adolescence were lived on the streets, and he could have turned towards drugs and violence, but instead he became an apprentice. With his decision to practice capoeira and to study in school, Beija-flor ended up learning five languages, so he is able to teach the art to tourists. “The last place I gave classes was the Mauá Institute, where I worked with street kids,” he remembers.

A few weeks ago, Ruben Lima received the chance that everyone dreams of: a plane ticket to Spain and a guarantee of places for performances. The ticket was a present from a Spanish girlfriend, who wants him to travel there and marry her. “In order to live and work there I have to get married. I left my job, but I’m giving up. I don’t just want money; I want to be able to be myself.” He states that he would exchange life in Spain for a scholarship to finish his nursing course, a marriage with a woman of his choice, and a job where he could “help many people.”

With the same reality as the majority of his roda companions, Beija-flor looks towards a different future. When asked about his motives, he responds with conviction: “My mother educated me, but she didn’t teach me these things. I never talked with her about this. It was necessity that made me think this way. When I see an elderly person getting onto the bus to ask for spare change, I think ‘I don’t want to end up repeating that same story,‘” he says firmly.