The Gullah-Geechee: A Quilombo in the U.S.

At the edge of the southeastern United States, deep in the low-lying coastal region stretching from southern North Carolina into northern Florida, lies Gullah-Geechee country. The Gullah are descendants of Africans who were brought to the United States during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century to work as slaves. Due to unique circumstances of geography and history, the Gullah community, perhaps more than any other in the United States, retains deep, direct connections to its African heritage.

A St. Helena's island resident sews a net. He learned when he was a boy, saying, "In those days, the only way you could get a net was to sew one." (Photo from Coastal Heritage magazine) What a great photo!

This area of the United States has optimum conditions for growing rice, a crop that came to the United States from Africa during the colonial period and made white farmers in the region extremely wealthy. However, the region was rampant with mosquitos carrying malaria and yellow fever (diseases that came over on the slave ships and to which Africans had built up a strong resistance). To avoid the mosquitos, whites often left the plantations in the hot summer months. Because the environment of the region was similar to West Africa and because the whites were often absent, the Africans and their descendents were able to maintain more of their African culture than in other parts of the United States, especially linguistically, agriculturally, and through craft and folklore traditions.

From the article, “Living Soul of the Gullah”:

In just four years [1804-1808], 40,000 slaves were brought into South Carolina- one third of all the legal, documented slave trade through Charleston since import records were established. Of the documented slaves in those four years, 60 percent were from Angola, says Rowland. It was common for Angola to be called “N’Gulla”. Many historians believe that the term “Gullah people” originally referred to Angolans. But the Lowcountry Gullah were not just Angolans; they were a mix of different ethnic groups.

Following the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the sea islands were highly self-sufficient and independent of the larger towns and cities. In some places, bridges to the mainland were not constructed until the 1950s. Again, this allowed the community to better resist assimilation, but Gullah culture was often looked down upon by those outside of it.

Today, the heart of Gullah country lies on the southern South Carolina coast, especially St. Helena and Wadmalaw islands. But like any small local community, younger generations often leave to find better jobs or because they are not interested in traditional activities. The culture is also threatened by the proximity of tourist resorts like Hilton Head island and subsequent high taxes.

Marquetta Goodwine, a vibrant, energetic leader and the Queen of the Gullah, is struggling to preserve the Gullah cultural traditions. She has even brought her mission to the United States Congress, and recently helped pass a bill that will work to preserve Gullah culture.

A rice winnowing demonstration by Ms. Goodwine.(Photo from Coastal Heritage magazine)

A few years ago, Amina, Franny Fran, and I, along with a bunch of Fran’s students, went down to St. Helena Island to meet Marquetta and learn about the Gullah culture and her efforts to preserve it. We toured the beautiful countryside, learned about local culture and traditions, saw a wonderful community presentation, and ate a lot of soul food. Marquetta was interested in capoeira and its relation to kicking & knocking, the martial art form developed by Africans and their descendents in the United States that has since pretty much disappeared.

You can find various articles about the Gullah-Geechee in our archives as well as on the web, but if you have the chance, you will really enjoy and learn a lot from a visit to the area.


Looking Back: FICA Conference 2004

Around here, everyone is getting ready for the Annual FICA conference this summer in Rio.

Still not sure if you are going to go?

Look at all the fun you'll be missing!

From the 2004 Annual FICA Conference in Oakland.


Pics from Chicago Rodathon & Madison Group

T Baba visited FICA-Chicago and the Capoeira Angola in Madison, Wisconsin. Besides doing Capoeira Angola workshops, T Baba also gave samba drumming classes. On Sunday, April 15th, he traveled to Chicago with some of the people from the Madison Capoeira Angola group to support FICA-Chicago's rodathon. T Baba has these pictures to share of his trip:

In Madison:

The Capoeira Angola group in Madison, Wisconsin.

In Madison, classes are held at the Center for Creative & Cultural Arts. They are led by Jack.

T Baba leading the drum class.

At the FICA-Chicago Rodathon:

T Beto with child. (Also, Hu with child in the background).

Jack, from the capoeira group in Madison, adding to the spread.

A lovely chamada.

T Beto, Seth, & T Baba on the bateria.

Thank you to T Baba for sharing his photos. There are more photos from his trip on the Portuguese side of the blog.

Here's the class schedule for the Madison group, in case you are in the area.


Event in Freiburg, Germany

12th Capoeira Angola Encounter in Freiburg, Germany:

When: May 25-28
Where: Turnhalle des Deutsch- Französischen- Gymnasiums
Featured Folks: Mestre Rogerio (ACAD, Frankfurt), Mestre Indio (ACAD, Belo Horizonte), Mestre Russo (Projeto Cultural Irmaos Cosmos, RJ), Contramestre Rogerio (FICA, RJ), Contramestre Alexandre (ACAD, Curitiba), & Treineu Largatixa (Capoeira Angola Mae)
Price: 80 euros now
          90 euros before April 27,
          100 euros before May 11
          110 euros after that

Here is the brochure (in Portuguese).

Thanks to Lars and T Gege for the information.


Some Words from Mestre Jurandir

In 2002, Mestre Jurandir did an interview for Mestre Mano of the group Flor da Gente in Rio de Janeiro. Here is a bit of it (translated from Portuguese):

F.G. But you began to train capoeira as a “weapon”, a sport, when?

Mestre: Actually, I began to learn capoeira in the form that it is played, that until then, I am saying, I didn’t have a definition about what is Angola or Regional, what was capoeira. I began to do capoeira when I saw a roda in Caxias (it was the first time I played in Caxias), it was at the Festival of Saint Anthony, and from there, I saw what capoeira was. I stared to meet with Mestre Cobra Mansa and we were always looking for other groups, other rodas, and capoeira classes and we started to go to the Quinta da Boa Vista, Flamengo, Central do Brasil, the rodas that were held in Nova Igaçu, and from there we really started to involve ourselves with capoeira, and how it was played and sang, but not in the more informed way that Capoeira Angola is done today.

F.G.: Why do you pay more attention when someone is inviting you to “passo a dois” or to do a “chamada de mandinga’?

Mestre: I pay greater attention because, like I said, when a person is playing with you, you already are more alert. You are there, you are in the game, you are moving with your partner, but from the moment that your partner stops and calls a chamada, like I said to you, when I stop and do a chamada, everything is already planned; what I am going to do with my partner, just as I am certain that when someone calls me that person is also prepared to strike, the strike is ready. Now, there are people who go and don’t know, there are people who don’t know why there is chamada, there are people who don’t know how to respond well to chamada or even how to respond at all.
It’s always wonderful to hear the stories of capoeira mestres. Do you know the history of your mestre? If you know of an interview done with your mestre, send it to us and we will post a bit of it and make it available in our archives. If an interview with your mestre doesn’t exist, do one yourself!


Literary Edition: Untitled by Ayende

by Ayende

Cobra plays the game right side up
but I feel wrong side down
looking at the world from below
spinning on my toes
feet higher than my head
makes one scared
but for the longest moment
he stayed downside up,
keep an eye on the floor
they open and close like doors

Valmir plays the game inside out
but I do it outside outside
he said to think within
and that will come out
for others it’s a gimmie
John & Gilberta can do the ginga
Dale has malicia in a pointed finger

Inside outside
Upside downside
berimbau African electric slide
going in coming out
Valmir smiling
Cobra’s shout
Dear what is this
Capoeira about?

Ayende will always be the poet laureate of FICA-DC (even though he has since moved on to other things). He wrote so many good poems, it was hard to choose which one to present. This appeared in“O Angoleiro” (thank you, Sylvia!) in 1999.

Back in the day, we at FICA-DC were always writing poems. Between Ayende, Adisa, Charisse, Amanda, Chinatown, Carlos, and all the other artists (not to mention musicians) there was always some wonderful creative project going on, whether it be a banner to paint, a literary magazine to fill, or an empty corner of “O Angoleiro” just big enough for a poem to complete. And they got everyone in the group involved. It was really amazing.

It is sad to think that we have lost that spirit of poetry that used to be so strong in the group. Where did it go and why?

We would like to encourage everyone out there to write a poem, after all, where do you think ladainhas come from??


Bichos Valentes

This is one mean-looking chicken.

The picture is from a film still of "O Zelador", the documentary about Mestre Russo. The film takes place in Baixada Fluminense, an extremely dangerous suburb of Rio de Janeiro, according to the website.

Certainly it was an animal like this that inspired the ladinha below.

Na cidade onde eu nasci
Todos bichos são valentes
Mururim enchota cachorro
Largatixa morde gente
Êta lugar perigoso
Êta bichos renitentes!

Or perhaps you prefer this version:

Na cidade a onde eu moro
Todos os bichos são valentes
Préa insulta cachorro
Largatixa morde gente
Coruru engole fogo
O que bicho renitente!


Anniversary of the Grupo Ypiranga de Pastinha

When: Saturday, April 14
Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Contact Information: Centro Ypiranga de Pastinha, Mestre Manoel
           Tel: 38859429 / 92992750 (M. Manoel)
           e-mail: cypbrasil(aroba)cypbrasil(ponto)org

10:00 am: Various Activities, including a berimbau orchestra, maculelê, samba, jongo, hip hop, and more.
Location: Timbau community donation area for family food baskets

1:30 pm: Roda de Capoeira
Location: Centro de Cultura Popular da Maré (na Antiga Fábrica de Cimento Quartzolite)

Rua Capitão Carlos n. 216 Timbau - Maré, Bom Sucesso (located near passarela 7 next to the Escola Bahia.)

Go to Av. Guilherme Maxwell, go 200 meters and go up the second street on the left (the motoboys on passarella 7 can tell you where the place is.

Grupo Ypirange de Pastinha will have a DVD for sale at the event (R$35). This DVD features M Manoel, CM Dirceu de Angola, other members of Grupo Ypiranga, and invited guests, including M Cobra Mansa, Camaleão, Pernalonga, Jocelyn, Fubuia and others.

This is going to be a very nice DVD. Check out this preview.

Thanks to T Gege for the information.


Mestre Russo & O Zelador

Mestre Russo (center) in Caxias.

Mestre Russo is a significant figure in the history of Capoeira Angola and of its true preservation, especially in Rio de Janeiro.

Mestre Russo dedicates himself to Capoeira Angola in the neighborhood of Baixada Fluminense, in Rio. He is in charge of the roda in Caxias, and any capoeira worth his/her salt will head to the roda in Caxias, one of the last true street rodas, when they are in town.

O Zelador (The Caretaker) is a documentary film that looks at Mestre Russo's life and his contributions to Capoeira Angola. Their website has a lot of great information, including a biography of Mestre Russo, photos, and a film trailer. Here's a little bit:

A good capoeirista in the roda has to demonstrate his ability to play well. A skilful capoeirista chama atencao (calls attention) while he is playing because of something special that he does, Mestre Russo cuts a striking figure with his smart dress, always wearing pressed trousers, leather shoes and a panama hat. Russo is famous for pushing other players out of the roda with powerful kicks, and he invariably demonstrates his capacity to do so. Often during the game he will corner the other player and put his hand in his pocket and pull it out rapidly, pretending that he has a knife, and then proceed to mock gut or slit the throat of the other player, evoking the violence of the capoeira gangs of old Rio de Janeiro. The moment after he has done this a smile by him will restore the inherent playfulness of the capoeirista. At other times he will distract the other player by removing his hat and then, using the advantage that he has created and will attack with a head butt.
I have no information about the release date of this film or where it will be showing. If anyone knows anything, pass it on.

Thanks to Jason in Bmore for the link.


Uma Volta do Mundo

There are many Capoeira Angola events going on around the world. Here is a summary of what we have in our calendar:

April 6-9: Padova, Italy, Workshop with the Associazone Capoeira Angola Pernambuco

April 8-14: Madison, Wisconsin, T. Babajan (FICA-Bahia) workshops in Capoeira Angola & Samba Percussion. Check out the page on our calendar for complete details.

April 10: Salvador, Third Seminary on Capoeira Today. Info below.

April 14-15: Berlin, M Roberval workshop

April 15: Chicago, FICA-Chicago Rodathon. All day!

April 27-29: Milan, 7th International Capoeira Angola Encounter with M Valmir & M Cobra Mansa. Info below.

April 29-June 5: Tokyo, Japan, Workshops & roda with M Valmir (we will post more info on this event soon).

May 4: New Orleans, Curtis Pierre Samba Man performs at New Orleans Jazz Festival. (ok, not Capoeira Angola, but Curtis is a longtime Capoeira Angola teacher).

May 4-6: Eksjö, Sweden: Workshops with M Cobra Mansa. See date on calendar for e-mail contact.

May 17-20: Montpellier, France 9th International Capoeria Angola Eventwith M. Valmir & M Cobra Mansa.

May 25-28: Freiberg, Germany, Capoeira Angola Dobrada Workshop

June 10: Philadelphia, Odunde Festival featuring a Capoeira Angola roda hosted by FICA-Philadelphia

July 4-8: Stockholm, 7th Annual Encounter of Filhos de Angola.

July 26-29: Rio de Janeiro, 11th Annual FICA Encounter with many invited mestres.

August 7-12: Salvador, 4th Annual Encounter Grupo Semente do Jogo.


Happy Birthday Mestre Pastinha!

Mestre Pastinha on the berimbau.

On this day in 1889, Vicente Ferreira Pastinha was born.

The story goes that when Pastinha was ten years old, he was always getting beat up by a bigger boy. An old African man saw this, and one day called Pastinha over to him. He promised Pastinha that he would show him a way to get the bigger boy. The man's name was Benedito, and he showed Pastinha the movements of capoeira. Sometime later, Pastinha met the larger boy in the street again and won the fight. Pastinha said that the bigger boy became his friend and admirer.

Later, Pastinha taught capoeira in the navy, and eventually opened his own school. In 1941, Mestre Amorzinho, a well-known capoeira mestre who held weekly rodas in Liberdade, passed the leadership of Capoeira Angola to Mestre Pastinha.

Throughout his life, Pastinha held a number of different jobs, and was an accomplished painter, but he was always best known for his devotion to Capoeira Angola.

Ie! Viva Pastinha!


Atlanta Women's Conference in Photos

CM Janja, T Andrea, and CM Alcione get things started at the opening roda.

The conference got started early Friday morning with a class at FICA-Atlanta’s space. Following the class, some people went for a tour around the city which included viewing some community gardens and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (others of us had breakfast and slept—especially the folks from Washington, DC & Baltimore who had driven down the night before). Later Friday night there was an opening ceremony, a capoeira roda, and a roda de samba.

T Gege and M Cobra Mansa at the opening roda.

CM Alcione & M Cobra Mansa at the pé do berimbau.

The rest of the weekend was packed with classes, lectures, rodas, a party, and lots of sunshine. CM Janja made a fantastic presentation about working with children, and showed us a video that interviewed three children from São Paulo who train with Grupo Nzinga. We also heard from women leaders. CM Alcione led a dance class in Bumba-Meu-Boi.

CM Janja's music class.

The future of capoeira in the United States!

CM Alcione spinning round and round.

Juan was available throughout the weekend for back adjustments and support.

There was a big group from Oakland, including Bessa, Deepa, Maia, and Alexis. From LA, we had Xavier, Neva, and friends. A whole bunch of people came down from Indianapolis and Boston. There were folks from the group at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Dina, ex-Oakland student, now in Philadelphia, was there. Driving the ten hours down from the DC-Baltimore region were Katie, Troy, Jennifer, Maria Luz e Nena, and Nandita, Drea, Thiambe, and Nica. Kristen and Deepa from DC made it down. And all the way from New Orleans, Lauren, Rose, and Emily.

If I have forgotten anyone, let me know.

Cali women and Boston women.

Ugo presents CM Janja with a thank you gift.

Thank you Atlanta group!

Thank you to Gege, Juan, & Xavier for the photos. (There are even more on the Portuguese side of the blog.)

Xavier snapping away.

What was your favorite part of the conference?

Third Seminary on Capoeira Today

When: April 10
Where: Teatro Gregório de Mattos, Salvador, Bahia

1:00 pm
I – Panel
Mestre Moraes – Capoeira as an instrument of resistance
Mestre Rafael Flores – Returning to the roots of Capoeira
Mestre Luiz Renato – The Brazilian state and capoeira
Prof . Carlos E. Líbano – Capoeira in the universities

4:00 pm
II – Project Living Capoeira (Capoeira of Today)
Rui Pereira – evaluation & results of the project
Fundação Gregório de Mattos – the continuation of the project

7:00 pm


Capoeira Event in Milano, Italia

If you are of the mind to jet off to Milan for the weekend, make it this one:

VII Incontro Internazionale di Capoeira Angola

When: April 27-29
Where: Accademia Bisofica, Via Ettore Ponti, Milano, Italia
Price: 80 Euros
Invited Mestres: M. Cobra Mansa & M. Valmir

For more information, click here