This story is part of a small series dedicated to the people of Acupé, a Quilombo close to the small town of Santo Amaro, in Bahia. Here people find hope and a new meaning to their lives thanks to the discipline and energy of Capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art which has inclusion at its very core. Here Mestre Cobra Mansa explains why Capoeira cannot be institutionalized.
Text by Mestre Cobra Mansa — Most capoeiristas in Brazil and all over the world are construction workers, teachers, students, wives, husbands, doctors, lawyers, bums, bankers, administrators, unemployed, musician, artists etc. In brief, most capoeiristas, if not all, are part of that thing we call society. Most capoeiristas live within that society and follow many and most of the practices that society has.
We are unavoidably the basic element that constitutes that society; it exists because we are there. But at the same time we are not absorbed or assimilated by force by that society and I believe that this is where capoeiristas, like many other groups in society, make a difference. We do the things we must do as part of that society, however, there is another part of our lives that simply do not “fit” into that same society that we follow.
Capoeiristas are by nature and by choice a different kind of individual who desire freedom at the deepest levels of their being. A man once said: “If you want to be free, you just have to start being free.” Freedom is a state of mind and not a state of the body. We are part of this society and we will continue being part of it.
However, we will also continue to grow in our greatness within that same society. No system or society can swallow an individual’s greatness once that individual has come to consciously acknowledge that greatness and uniqueness. This is why the concept of institutionalization of Capoeira has not grown so deeply in most Capoeira communities, specifically in Capoeira Angola communities.
The Capoeira way of life is music to our ears, because it is creating our own space within that society we are part of but many times despise so much. Capoeira is everything that your mouth can eat. Capoeira is like the air. We all know it is there and we breathe it and need it; however, we cannot seize it. Capoeira cannot be limited by a group of practitioners, by a formal organization and not even by a group of mestres that may claim a monopoly over it. Capoeira goes beyond all of us. No society, no community and no individual will ever control Capoeira.
So, if we practice Capoeira to move away from that traditional repressive society we so strongly disapprove of, why do we want to institutionalize Capoeira? It seems like a contradiction since institutionalization means indeed following all societal protocols and detailed laws in order to fit within administrative and corporate schemes with some practical and real purposes: fiscal independence, grants opportunities, group and administrative cohesion, etc.
Different Capoeira groups throughout history and even more within the last decades have tried to create a parallel institution and organization only for capoeira and become as restricting and repressive as the original institution they moved away from. All over the world we see corruption and scandal that institutions and individuals have done.
The system now controls many sectors of society with a small group of people having a monopoly over it. If we look at Brazil as an example, we see carnaval and other manifestations created by the people becoming institutionalized. The people who originated it were the ones who lost the most.
Before we think about institutionalization of Capoeira we need to question why do they want to organize us? Why do we want an institution to control our way of life? Who will gain from that? The Capoeira? The Capoeirista? The bureaucrats? Is this institution really necessary? Who controls them?
Why are they so oppressive, elitist and dictatorial? Can we trust this institution and their leaders morally, financially, physically and spiritually? Do we want institutionalization, or a Capoeira community that works within “the system” to obtain honestly what we need without bending what the system has to offer?
Even though we are all open to growing within the spirit and knowledge of Capoeira, we want to avoid the imposition of values from a group of people and bureaucrats that have already developed their scale of values. We want a community that celebrates and encourages individuality and cooperation among its members. We want a world Capoeira community that respects different values, beliefs, views, and practices.
In brief, it will be a community that respects our different stories and histories, our different lives and our growth in different directions for its strength is and will be what we all have to offer through love and understanding under the Capoeira spirit and practice.
Photographs and video: by Claudio Maria Lerario / Contributors: Meyre Ribeiro, Laura Landi, Marco Tardio and Cultour Travel Design.