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Bimba, Great Mestre of Capoeira

Bimba, the great mestre of capoeira (01/06/2004)


Composition/Formatting/Editing modified by AADF

Translation by Shayna McHugh

Did you know that the Capoeira so often seen on the corners of Salvador was once a crime prohibited by the Penal Code of the Republic? This occurred between the years of 1890 and 1937, when any exercises whatsoever in the street could be punished with up to six months in prison. Being one of the cultural manifestations of African descendants, the martial art was seen by the authorities as a way to identify delinquents. In that epoch, the solution found by the capoeira schools, which proliferated mainly in the suburbs, was secrecy. It was that way until the Bahian Manoel dos Reis Machado, a brave angoleiro known as Mestre Bimba, invented the new capoeira. With much cleverness, he removed the forbidden word from the name of the academy that he founded in 1932, in Salvador: the Center of Physical and Regional Culture. After him, capoeira was never the same.

A son of slaves, Bimba had fighting in his blood, and at 12 years old he learned the arts of African capoeira with the mestre Bentinho. Bimba was the son of Luis Cândido Machado, a champion of batuque, which was a type of free-fight common in 19th century Bahia. In the Center, the mestre tuned techniques of boxing with those of jiu-jitsu and created a method of teaching for the first Brazilian school. Other strategies were adopted to escape from any reminder of the origin of capoeira, like the changing of some movements. The capoeirista lost a little malícia, he came to spend more time upright on the feet, he had to use a white uniform.

Bimba created a rigid code of ethics and from that point capoeira began to win students in the white middle class. According to records, to be a student of the Center it was mandatory to have the authorization of the family and to be working or studying. Judges and doctors passed through the classes of the mestre. Not just them: upon giving airs of athleticism to the game, the mestre also attracted women, who had been excluded from rodas until then. The style was exported to the world and became known, later, as Capoeira Regional.


A little of everything

Born in the Old Mill of Brotas in Salvador on November 23, 1899, the Black King, as he was also known, lived until February 5, 1974, when he passed away in Goiânia, Goiás, where he lived for only one year. Some say that he had finished commanding another roda of capoeira, when he took a bad turn and had a devastating heart attack. Others say that he was confronted and did not resist. At almost 75 years old, Bimba still fought for the valorization of a practiced linked to the history of the blacks in Brazil. Father of 12 children (recorded, there were many others who were not recorded), he was a little of everything in life: a coal dealer, a carpenter, and more. He died in poverty, penniless, but for inheritance he left a lesson of valorization of Brazilian roots and the legacy of the ginga.

The remains of Bimba were transferred to Bahia in 1980, by the initiative of his disciples, and have been deposited, since 1994, in the ossuary of the Ordem Terceira do Carmo.


Bimba é Bamba (Bimba is Expert)

In the 1950s, when Bahia was invaded by many competitions of martial arts, it is said that the press announced challenges between Mestre Bimba and the fighters of the various recently-arrived styles. Bimba agreed to them and wanted, with that, to make capoeira stand out. During those matches arose a shout “Bimba é bamba,” which became immortalized as the nickname of the mestre.

That courage is only one of the facets of this capoeirista. One of his oldest disciples, Angelo Augusto Decânio Filho, at 79 years old, has many memories of the 36 years of familiarity with he who “was an example, a father, a leader, a master.” Decânio entered in the school of Mestre Bimba at 16 years old, hidden from his family. There, he was adopted like a son, even since the first day. “I was inspired by the news that Bimba had taken seven sabers and a revolver of a squadron that tried an ambush against him. I read that in the newspaper and decided to enter into the group,” he remembers.

Decânio says that Bimba changed the life of everyone who had the opportunity of entering in contact with him. “He was a person who marked his presence in our hearts with iron and fire.” Besides the movements of capoeira, the mestre taught lessons of ethics, moral correction, humanity, simplicity. For the boy Decânio, who later graduated in Medicine, one lesson in particular remained forever, in life and in the schools where he later gave classes: “Bimba did not teach. He did and ordered the person to do. And he tolerated the shortcomings of each one, giving to each his personal value.”

For Bahia, Brazil, and the world, other lessons of Bimba helped to make a better planet, free of prejudices. “He taught that race, color, culture, are not values; the value is the image of the ethical man.” The disciple does not hesitate to say the Bimba, more than an example, was the greatest man that he knew in life. “Today I am almost 80 years old, I have known people of all species and importance, but I have no one else to put on the altar alongside Mestre Bimba.”


Brazilian Capoeira

Capoeira regional, or the Bahian regional fight, has its origin in the fusion of the capoeira that today is known as angola, and batuque, a practically extinct African martial art, known today as bate-coxa (hit-thigh). In the capoeira of Mestre Bimba are also present aspects of other oriental martial arts and of traditional arts of the Bahian Recôncavo, like samba de viola and maculelê.

Bimba believed that capoeira must be essentially a fight of attack and defense and, because of that, he saw the slowness of the angola ginga as a disadvantage for the capoeirista. Bimba tried to reach more agility and competitiveness in the fight. He removed, for example, the coin rolled up in a sheet in the center of the roda that the capoeirista catches with the mouth. Other hits were increased, like the balões (throws) that originated the “headlock” practiced in regional

There are three main roots of the capoeira born in Bahia. From the Africans came the heritage of the fundamental ritual movements of candomblé (from the Yoruba people came the ijexá rhythm and the tonal rhyme at each three stanzas, and from the Bantus came the berimbau). The Portuguese people entered with the popular improvised dance called chula, of the pandeiro and the viola. From the Brazilian natives, the inheritance was the nomenclature of the movements, the themes of the songs, the ritual, and the methods of teaching.

Bahian capoeira is characterized by the association of movements executed to the sound of the ijexá rhythm, ruled by the toque of the berimbau. They simulate intentions of attack, defense, and escape, requiring ability, strength and self-confidence from the fighter. The game happens between two people, the role of each one being to demonstrate superiority in relation to the companion. The choreography has as a base the ginga, during which the practitioner must stay in permanent movement.

The various toques executed, the accompaniment of the chorus, and the beat of the clapping by the collection of players and watchers, have a primordial role in the spectacle. The regional players, contrasting with the angoleiros, seek the faster toques that accentuate the bellicosity of the game. Hino, Cavalaria, Santa Maria, São Bento Grande, São Bento Pequeno, Banguela, Idalina, Santa Maria, Amazonas, Banguelinha, Iuna are the main toques of the Regional style.


The heirs

The sons continued the history of the father. Manoel Nascimento Machado, known as Nenel, is the president of the Fundação Mestre Bimba (Mestre Bimba Foundation), created in 1994 to fight to preserve the memory and the teachings of Bimba. He works together with his brother, Demerval dos Santos Machado, “Formiga.” The two were graduated together in the capoeira rodas, in June of 1967. By the work of the heirs, the legacy of Bimba has won recognition. The mestre already received the Prêmio Honoris Causa, granted by UFBA (Federal University of Bahia) for services lent to the culture of Bahia, among other titles.

There are social projects developed, like the Projeto Capoerê, that have already given assistance to over two thousand needy youths. “Today that number is limited to some forty children working here and another two hundred in the auxiliary work of Irmã Dulce, but we want to increase that,” says Nenel. The plans are many, but more than the will is needed to achieve the dream; the foundation must at least have a more appropriate place for the activities that it intends to develop. “We have in project workshops for musical instruments, library, classrooms and video, arenas for presentation, but the space is small for so much.”

The capoeira classes are open to the public: children from two years old and up, youths and adults, at reasonable prices (from R$15 to R$30), in the headquarters of the foundation, which functions in an old mansion, located on Rua Gregório de Matos, number 51, Pelourinho. There even exist nuclei of the entity in three cities of the interior of the state of São PauloSão Jose do Rio Preto, Araçatuba, and Limeira – as well as in Goiânia and in Newcastle, England.

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