Written by Letícia Cardoso de Carvalho
Translation into English: Shayna McHugh
Francisco Tomé dos Santos Filho (Mestre Bigo) was born in 1946 in Salvador, Bahia. He began capoeira in the mid-1950s, after watching a capoeira presentation in which he saw Mestre Pastinha and Mestre Cobrinha Verde playing.
He trained in Mestre Pastinha’s Academy until 1975 (when he married and came to São Paulo), training with great capoeiristas such as João Grande, João Pequeno, Natividade, Papo Amarelo, Jonas, Bola Sete, Gildo Alfinete, Genésio Meio Quilo, and Roberto Satanás, among others.
After moving to São Paulo he spent a time away from capoeira, but he says that although he was away, capoeira is in his blood, coursing through his veins. In 1989, Mestre Bigo founded the Academia de Capoeira Angola Ilê Axé, where he continues his work until this day
Check out the exclusive interview that Mestre Bigo gave to Praticando Capoeira Magazine.
What was Capoeira Angola like when you began to practice?
It was a little different. Mestre Pastinha trained quick Angola, which was dangerous. We used to exchange beatings with the Regional practitioners. The regionalistas lifted their legs high and the angoleiros gave rasteiras. The angoleiros didn’t lift their legs up there, because they know that if they lift them, they would fall.
In those days, a ladainha was sung for every game, and afterwards came the improvisation and then the corrido. The capoeirista played for a while, and then the roda stopped and another ladainha began. It required much of our time. Today there are more capoeiristas; because of this, there is less time to play in the roda.
Many capoeiristas who practice Capoeira Regional state that Capoeira Angola is weak as a martial art. What is your opinion?
I disagree. Angola has more malícia. Regional is just attack, defense, and anger. The angoleiro enters into a roda laughing. Capoeira is two snakes. Capoeira Regional has just one poison. And Capoeira Angola has the poison of various snakes. The Regional practitioner enters the roda, closes his fist, and closes his face in order to hit you. In other words, he is like a rattlesnake, who warns you that he’s going to get you.
The angoleiro is the opposite. He is like all the snakes that aim to attract the aggressor and laugh, in order to give just one strike in the right moment. The angoleiro, when he sees that he will give the strike and not get you, will not give the strike. He only gives the correct strike. In angola there are few blows, but they are all original.
The angoleiro does not waste a movement. Angola is malícia, it is cleverness, wickedness, deception, attack and defense, joy and sadness. Later comes the mandinga, which comes with time. The angoleiro trusts no one. He trusts and mistrusts. He pretends that he doesn’t see, that he doesn’t hear.
The practitioners of Regional (without generalizing) disregard Angola. It’s like a mother and child. Angola is the mother, and a mother never disregards her child. There are many Regional people going to Angola in order to acquire knowledge, because the knowledge is in capoeira Angola. Capoeira Angola was born in the longing for liberty. It was born as a fight.
The capoeiristas who fought in the Paraguayan War weren’t Regional, they were Angola. People think that Angola is weak, but it’s not. When angoleiros are playing it looks like the two are just one person, since each transmits such a strong energy to the other.
What was the teaching system like in Mestre Pastinha’s Academy?
He started with the ginga; this was the first step. Later, the first blow he taught was the meia lua de frente, which was done in order to get to know one’s opponent. Later he taught more frontal attacks. Then, he began to teach the spinning blows: rabo de arraia, meia lua de costas, and others.
Bola Sete and I liked to arrive early in order to talk with Mestre Pastinha; we asked him many things and he responded. He gave us much counsel, such as:
- “Always turn an open corner.”
- “Don’t enter dark places.”
- “If you suspect that a person is armed, throw a lit cigarette on him and he’ll put his weapon in his hand.”
- “Whenever you are in a bar, seat yourself so that you are looking in the eyes of the owner of the bar, because if something happens, his eyes will warn you.”
Today, why are great mestres of Capoeira Angola somewhat “forgotten,” like what happened with Mestre Pastinha at the end of his life?
Yes, that happened. I say that Capoeira Angola often punishes us. If you do the slightest thing wrong, it punishes you. In Mestre Pastinha’s case, it was too much envy. Mestre Pastinha never played barefoot. Before his trip to Africa, he did a performance in a gym in Bahia. There was some person there who told everyone to play barefoot, that capoeiristas weren’t born with shoes on. Until that day, Mestre Pastinha had never played barefoot in a capoeira roda. So Mestre Pastinha took off his shoes and went to play. While he was playing, they put a voodoo fetish in his shoes. But the person who did this has also already died.
The capoeirista must always ask for much protection. When the capoeirista crouches at the foot of the berimbau he has to bless himself, he asks God’s protection, because he will enter a capoeira roda without knowing the intention of his opponent. The capoeirista must discover in his opponent’s eyes the intention that he will take from that moment forward.
Today the capoeirista goes to hook up with his girlfriend and then goes to the capoeira roda; he can’t do this, he is going with his body open.* The capoeirista must be of clean body and spirit in order to transmit a positive energy in the capoeira roda and in his life.
*In the beliefs of candomblé, certain practices (such as sexual intercourse) “open” the body and make it unprotected and vulnerable to attacks.