This Sunday, February 5th, marks the 49th anniversary of the death of Manoel dos Reis Machado, known as Mestre Bimba, the creator of Capoeira Regional that conquered Brazil and the world. Even today, Mestre Bimba is a reference and inspiration.
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Hellio de Campos, baptized Mestre Xareu by Mestre Bimba, graduated in Capoeira Regional with Mestre Bimba himself and, alongside Raimundo Cesar de Almeida, known as Mestre Itapoan, founded the Ginga Associação de Capoeira in Salvador (BA).
“Mestre Bimba is the black (…) from Salvador, he had no formal education and that’s why he worked as a carpenter, biker, loader and cart driver, but he had the courage to become a capoeirista and be a Capoeira Mestre. And then also create a capoeira that is a watershed called Capoeira Regional de Mestre Bimba. He set up an academy and as he himself said ‘I took capoeira from under the foot of the ox’ in order to get out of the streets. That capoeira that was persecuted by the police, which was persecuted by the Brazilian penal code at the time and took to the four walls ”, he recalls.
Capoeira originated at the time of slavery in Brazil, when many black Africans were kidnapped and brought to work on mills, farms, fields and houses of lords. Capoeira then begins to emerge as a form of struggle and resistance, but with disguised movements so that the planters would not think that the slaves were organizing a rebellion.
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After the abolition of slavery, there was no implementation of public policies for the insertion of this population in society, which ended up being marginalized. Mestre Bimba then plays a very important role in the history of resistance building when he creates Capoeira Regional, founding the first Academy in 1932.
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“When he, observing the capoeira practiced at the time, called today Capoeira Angola, that capoeira that was practiced in the street. He often said that people practiced capoeira on the street, with many gestures, as a way to get money on the street. And the police followed suit and arrested these people, as he himself said, they tied up the cavalry, tied the capoeiristas by the wrists and dragged them along the route to the police stations. And when he saw that, he didn’t agree with this situation and thought that capoeira was losing its essence of struggle and resistance, so he created Capoeira Regional”, says Mestre Xareu.
Mestre Bimba had some rules for Capoeira Regional practitioners. No drinking and no smoking – as they influenced the performance and awareness of capoeira; avoid demonstrations of all techniques – because surprise is the main weapon; practice the fundamentals every day and do not disperse during classes; and keep your body relaxed and as close to your opponent as possible.
Mestre Bimba, creator of Capoeira Regional / Acervo Ginga Associação de Capoeira
With a new connotation in society, starting to be seen as fight, dance and art, capoeira was gaining space. Only in 1937 did the demonstration cease to be considered a crime in Brazil and Mestre Bimba’s Academy gained its operating license with the decriminalization of the practice.
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“Mestre Bimba was above all a great communicator, he was a visionary Capoeira Mestre, who said that he wanted to see capoeira all over the world and did not shy away from presenting capoeira in any setting. Whether it was at the gymnasium, whether at a public school, or how was the presentation for the governor and president of the Republic Getúlio Vargas and so many other presentations that he made, including the departure from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro, to go to São Paulo, to go to Minas, to go to Ceará to present his capoeira”, continues the Soteropolitan Mestre”, explains Mestre Xareu.
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Mestre Itapoan, who has practiced capoeira for 57 years, recalls that it was only after this presentation to the president that capoeira ceased to be a crime.
“In the 1930s, Mestre made several presentations to the Governments of Bahia and in 1953 he performed at the Palácio da Aclamação, in Salvador, for President Getúlio Vargas who, after watching the presentation said: ‘This must be considered the National Sport Brazilian’. Then the persecution diminished and the Penal Code of 52 no longer included the article: Dos Vadios e Capoeiras”.
Today there are two types of capoeira, Capoeira Angola, represented by Mestre Pastinha, and Capoeira Regional by Mestre Bimba, explains Mestre Xareu.
“The issue of preserving these cultural activities, of capoeira as a cultural activity, of African descent, is of fundamental importance. In the sense that in order to show a little of this history of Brazil, in fact, perhaps much of the history of blacks, slaves and the way of life of this people and what forms this capoeira which, in addition to being an important cultural issue, it must also be preserved as a a form of education, of culture, of promoting people’s lives”.
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In 1996, Mestre Xareu was part of the movement that granted Mestre Bimba the title of Doctor Honoris Causa by the Federal University of Bahia.
“In my view, in my perception, today capoeira is recognized throughout the world as a very important activity for Brazilian culture, for the manifestation of knowledge of Brazilian culture because it is seen as an educational, cultural, tradition activity, which represents resistance of the Brazilian people, which represents the resistance of the enslaved people in Brazil. And in addition to telling the story of Brazil, it also appears as a great diffuser, let’s say, of the Portuguese language ”, he explains.
legacy in time
But who was Mestre Bimba? Many trained by him do not want to be called former students of Mestre Bimba, because they say that, even today, they continue to learn from his teachings, explains Mestre Xareu.
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A visionary man, poor in terms of financial economics, but very rich in terms of knowledge, honesty and character.
“Now that I’m talking to you here, with you here, somewhere in the world, someone is singing Mestre Bimba, someone is paying homage to Mestre Bimba. Singing the song, talking about him like I’m talking about here right now, and that’s huge. Mestre Bimba is one of the figures in the heroic cycle of black Brazilians who deserve to be revered”, he says.
legacy not world
Yara Cordeiro has been a capoeirista for 39 years and is part of Abada-capoeira in the Washington DC area, in the United States. She is a student of Mestre Camisa, formed by Mestre Bimba.
“The presence of Mestre Bimba will always exist in capoeira, the survival of capoeira passed through the innovation he created. This foundation is present in every day when we teach because of the methodology he created, the way of simulating the game in sequences for practice, it’s something that, although obvious, wasn’t done before and nowadays it’s the way everyone teaches. So it can’t be missing. The graduation rituals, graduation rituals, all these innovations, which it has an even academic character, which Mestre Bimba put into capoeira and is still present today, so this is present”, he explains.
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She says that every year at Abadá-Capoeira, Mestre Camisa organizes the Zumbimba in November, a moment of study of where capoeira is today and where it came from. For her, if Mestre Bimba were alive, he would still be innovating.
“He was a person with a vision ahead of his time. The 47 years since his death certainly have to be remembered. His presence, his influence on capoeira is so great that I think it has to be remembered always, not just anniversary, but throughout the transmission of capoeira’s legacy”.
In order to respect his legacy, in addition to knowing what he did, it is important that we understand that we have to evolve and grow, but without losing the connection with the roots, with the foundation, which is the way to maintain the essence of the capoeira.
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Mestre Bimba went beyond the walls of Salvador, Bahia, and conquered the world. According to Mestre Xareu, there are followers and students in more than 175 countries who keep Mestre Bimba’s teachings alive. He explains that the creator of Capoeira Regional inspires many capoeira professionals to perpetuate the struggle and resistance in every corner of the world. Capoeira Regional today is recognized as Brazilian Intangible Heritage and World Intangible Heritage with the Roda de Capoeira.
“So in this moment of 47 years of Mestre Bimba’s death, we really only have to celebrate. Celebrating for his greatness, that is, for his legacy that he left for all of us and for the world. And I’m going to extrapolate, it’s not just Salvador, it’s all over the world. If capoeira is being practiced all over the world, somewhere someone is paying homage to him right now, it’s because he has world recognition”, concludes Mestre Xareu.
Editing: Lucas Weber
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