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Capoeira Woman



Patricia Morais – João Pessoa/PB – October 1997

Part VII of “Ética na Capoeira” (Ethics in Capoeira)

Translation by Shayna McHugh



“I wouldn’t like to look at a garden that only has thorns... it’s very good to have a rose in the garden.” – Mestre Nô


The eternal battle of women to conquer their space has already affected the “capoeira rodas” of Brazil and of the world. The number of female capoeiristas was always inferior to the number of men who practiced this art. In the 1940s and 1950s few women played, among which we highlight: “Nega Didi,” “Maria Homem,” “Satanás,” “Maria para o bonde” and “Calça rala,” all students of Mestre Bimba. Today, mainly after the spread of capoeira caused by the media, the number of female practitioners grew, making the “capoeira rodas” mixed. But this growth does not mean that the women are really participating, experiencing the art of capoeira.


The concept of fragile should not be attributed to capoeiristas; as mestre Tonico said, “the woman is very strong because she is who washes, she gives birth, she nurses children, and she has to be treated with affection and attention – not as a fragile person.” With that, she has been the victim of discrimination for being a woman, and is not being respected and recognized as a capoeirista.


The songs of capoeira are prejudicial from the moment they put the women as being submissive, as in “se dessa mulher fosse minha eu tirava da roda já, já, dava uma surra nela que ela gritava” (“if this woman was mine I would take her out of the roda already, I would give her a beating so that she would scream”), or treat them as sexual objects: “mulher prá mim, tem que ser boa na escrita, tem que jogar capoeira, ser boa, gostosa e bonita, bicho bom é mulher” (“a woman for me, has to be good in handwriting, has to play capoeira, be good, tasty, and beautiful, woman is a good animal”). Most times this type of music is only sung when there are women playing in the roda. That is being renounced by many mestres, mainly mestre Nô. He also renounces the differentiation in the style of game that exists when there is “a couple” in the capoeira roda. They are inappropriate paternal attitudes of protection, by mestres/instructors/male students who play a careful game with women, different from that which they play amongst themselves, always thinking that being physically stronger also makes them stronger in capoeira, which sometimes does not correspond to the truth.


Every good capoeirista has the duty to learn and to play the instruments that compose the roda’s bateria – berimbau, atabaque, agogô – to sing and, mainly, to develop their game in order to improve the fight, the game, the Brazilian dance. Therefore the capoeira woman has to seek her space; if not, it will continue to be said that “quem toca pandeiro é homem e quem bate palma é mulher” (“whoever plays pandeiro is a man and whoever claps hands is a woman”). Women are not decorations in the roda.


Another problem in discussion is the relationship between male mestres/capoeiristas and female students. The sexual approaches, true rapes of dignity (also physical rapes) sometimes occur as much in academies/groups of Brazil as in those of other countries. Mestres who are not prepared and who are coming from conditions in which they did not have the opportunity of artistic/cultural/social (at times also financial) projection, feel they have the right to think, and act, as though all his female students were at his disposition, thus causing embarrassments, traumas, and revolts that often drive promising female capoeiristas to abandon the art.


But this does not discard, also, the necessity of having some female students courting the mestre and/or male students of the group or academy. This becomes common under the human point of view, in which we know that the tendency is for men and women to join. The reality diverges much from the ideal: the actual relationships do not have respect or discretion. In the same way that a male student, instructor or mestre goes to other groups/academies to pester the female students, many of the female students enter into capoeira attracted by the charm of its practitioners. Others are true hunters during capoeira events, pestering visiting capoeiristas, becoming vulgar. “The woman is seeking to conquer her spaces because it is very good to have a rose in the garden – now, also, there needs to be discipline, information for both sexes, so that they don’t come to confuse things,” said mestre Nô.


We know that this type of behavior will not be changed in a day, but it is fitting that instructors, professors, and mestres discipline and guide their male and female students regarding this type of fact and direct their classes in an educational and professional way, in order that capoeira does not lose so many followers because of bad-intentioned people who do not seek the exercise and knowledge of Brazilian culture, but instead denigrate its image through acts without respect for all the cultural philosophy and basic foundations.


However, it is important to remember that the great mestres like Bimba, Pastinha, Cobrinha Verde, Valdemar, Maré, Noronha, among others, never did songs denigrating any woman; much to the contrary, they always praised them.