Saturday, October 29, 2016

About Capoeira and cultural appropriation

Our Mestres teach us that Capoeira is not just for the 'little roda' (of Capoeira itself), but it is also for the 'grande roda' of life. Our Mestres' message, as I have heard it, has always been that we should always be striving to learn more, to challenge ourselves, to do our own research and then bring the issues or questions we find back to our groups.

Sometimes our challenges may be physical (doing a beautiful and effective au'), sometimes they may be linguistic (learning a long corrido in Portuguese), sometimes they may be emotional (overcoming our fears, or our tendency to get upset, when we play in the little roda). Sometimes those challenges come to us in the 'grande roda' of life with its many injustices.

In the context of the broader struggle for racial justice, we can often find ourselves confronting the ugly reality of the insidious ways in which racism as a phenomenon influences our lives - including in our practice of Capoeira Angola. After reading an insightful article about these issues by Maisha Z. Johnson, which I recommend to everyone, I wanted to jot down questions that should be in the back of our minds:

1) In our Capoeira practice, do we trivialize the history of violent oppression against Black people in Brasil? In general, in our lives, do we trivialize the history and current practice of violence against Black people by the state and by individuals both in Brasil and in the United States?
2) We appreciate the culture of Black people that are participating in. Do we actively seek to challenge our prejudices and stereotypes about Black people?
3) Do we judge White and Black people differently for practicing Capoeira? Or for participating in elements of African/Black culture? 
4) In our practice of Capoeira, do we gain monetary or financial benefit off of undervalued labor of Black people?
5) Do we get rewarded or celebrated for things that the creators of the art, and our Mestres, have not been acknowledged for, or are not rewarded for?
6) In our Capoeira Angola practice, are we spreading a misrepresentation of history? Do we actively seek to learn more about the history of Capoeira and the experience of colonization and the slave trade?
7) In our practice of Capoeira Angola, are we perpetuating racist stereotypes?
8) We have access to something that Black people were punished for doing. What are we doing to increase access to Capoeira for Black people?

Devagar se vai ao longe - P'ra crescer se leva tempo;
Slowly you will go far - to grow it takes time.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Indigenous People's Day

Capoeira Angola arose out of the experience of African people who were enslaved and taken forcibly to the Americas. Capoeira Angola is a living testament to their determination to resist the physical, cultural, and spiritual oppression that resulted from their enslavement - an oppression that continues today in a myriad of ways.

Another part of the experience of colonization was the disposession of Indigenous People, and a centuries-long effort to eradicate them physically, culturally and spiritually.

Though the United States federal government still celebrates Columbus Day, various cities around the country are renaming that date "Indigenous Peoples' Day." In Bellingham, the city council approved a resolution to rename it Coast Salish Day.

We can celebrate this day, and honor the treaty that the Federal Government signed with the Indigenous People of this land, as we do in the tradition fo Capoeira Angola, with a song:


Reconheço que essa terra
é a casa ancestral
de um povo bem antigo
que é preciso respeitar.

A essencia desse povo
é na terra, é no mar
é nas arvores, nos rios
é a historia do lugar.

Agora moramos juntos,
juntos vamos trabalhar
para defender essa terra
para defender o mar!

Nessa roda de Angola
é bonito de se ver
vem p’ra roda meu colega
a amizade vai crescer, camarada!

I recognize that this land
is the ancestral home
of a very ancient people
who are worthy of respect

The essence of this people
is in the land, is in the sea,
is in the trees, in the rivers,
it’s the history of this place.

Now we live together,
together, let us work
to defend this land
to defend the sea!

In this roda of [capoeira] angola
it’s good to see you
come to the roda, my friend,
our friendship will grow!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Honoring the history of Black liberation through Capoeira Angola

It was a pleasure and an honor to host Charles Hargrett (in the center, in the grey top) in Bellingham this weekend. He has dedicated much of his life to Capoeira Angola, and is the person who is directly responsible for bringing Mestre Jurandir to Seattle back in 1996. Without him, there would be no Capoeira Angola in Bellingham.

He also reminded us that we should always lift up all of the Mestres of the past who struggled mightly against impossible odds to preserve Capoeira Angola, as part of the broader struggle of Black people against physical and cultural oppression.

We were also lucky to be joined by Dr. Lowell Lewis, author of the book Ring of Liberation, in which he documented his experiences with Capoeira in Salvador at the crucial time of the early 1980s, precisely when Mestre Moraes and his students (among them Mestre Cobra Mansa and Mestre Jurandir) were revitalizing the tradition of Capoeira Angola.

As part of honoring and continuing that legacy, if you are free on Monday November 17th, you should go see the movie Do Not Resist at the Pickford Film Center, which starts a discussion of militarized policing from the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and expands to show how it affects all of us - through it targets primarily Black People and People of Color more generally.

I just came out of today's screening, and it is very powerful. (The Bellingham Police Department has asked to use the same Predictive Policing software that is prominently discussed in the movie).

Also, Ava DuVernay's documentary 13th about how we went from a system of legalized slavery to a system of mass incarceration that shares remarkable features with our previous system of indentured labor.