Celebrating 90 Years All Month Long!

This month in Salvador, Mestre João Pequeno will celebrate his 90th birthday. There are a bunch of events lined up that will take place in his academy (see below), including a birthday celebration. Since not all of us have the luck to be Salvador, we'll also be celebrating his birthday here on the blog, dedicating the month of December to various posts about this important and influential capoeira mestre.

We'll start with a little history. This biography comes from João Pequeno's book, "Mestre João Pequeno, Uma vida de Capoeira", and was sent as part of the invitation to the December events at his academy. Enjoy.

Ninety years is no joke, its history

On December 27, 1917, João Pereira dos Santos was born in the city of Araci, in the interior of Bahia, son of Maria Clemença, a ceramicist and descendant of native Indians, and Maximiliano Pereira dos Santos, a cowboy on Fazenda Vargem do Canto in the Queimadas region. When he was fifteen (in 1933), João fled on foot from the drought, going all the way to Alagoinhas. Later he went to Mata de São Jorge where he stayed for ten years, working on the sugar cane plantation as a cowboy. He met Juvêncio, a metalworker and capoeirista, on the Fazenda São Pedro, and it was then that João learned about capoeira.

When he turned 25, João moved to Salvador, where he worked as a tram conductor and as an apprentice bricklayer in civil construction. He continued in construction, eventually becoming a master bricklayer. It was during his time that he met Cândido, who introduced him to Mestre Barbosa who worked as a porter in the Largo Dois do Julho. Barbosa led trainings, gathered a group of friends, and went to Cobrinha Verde’s rodas in Chame-chame on the weekends.

João became a part of the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola, which was a group of capoeiristas coordinated by Mestre Pastinha.

From then on, João stayed with Mestre Pastinha, who soon offered him the position of treinel. This was around 1945. Some time later, João Pereira became known as João Pequeno.

At the close of the 1960s, when Mestre Pastinha could no longer teach, he passed the responsibility to João Pequeno, saying, “João, you take care of this, because I will die, but only my body will die, my spirit lives. As long as there is capoeira, my name will not disappear.”

At the academy of Mestre Pastinha, João Pequeno taught capoeira to all the other great capoeiristas who came from that academy, and later became great mestres, among them, Moraes, Curió, and João Grande - who became his great capoeira partner.

Mestre Pastinha advised João to work less and dedicate himself to capoeira. Even though he thought that he would not live longer than 50 years, he thought that he would live much better til this age.

Having to deal with the difficulty of a big city, João Pequeno worked as a market stall merchant and as a coalworker. He became known as João do Carvão. He lived in Garcia, a neighborhood close to the Dique do Tororó.

His first wife passed away, but a while later he met Dona Mãezinha in Pelourinho, during the Golden Age of Mestre Pastinha’s academy. He had a family, and with much effort, built a house in Fazenda Coutos, far from the city center, where they went to live and receive visits from capoeiritas from all over the world.

For João Pequeno, a capoeirista must be well-educated; “a good tree to produce good fruit”. Capoeira is good not only to maintain a flexible and fit body, but also to develop the mind. It can even be therapeutic. It can be worked like the earth from which we take sustenance.

João Pequeno sees capoeira as a process of individual development, a struggle created for the weak to confront the strong, but also as a dance in which one should not hurt their partner, demonstrating that the good capoeirista knows how to stop their foot as to not hurt their opponent.

In 1982, a year after the death of Mestre Pastinha, Mestre João Pequeno re-opened the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola in the Forte Santo Antônio Alem do Carmo, where he created a new base for resistance, where Capoeira Angola emerged for the world. Even though he faced many difficulties maintaining the academy, he was able to graduate mestres and a large number of students.

In the 1990s, the Bahian state government made various attempts to evict the residents from the Forte Santo Antônio in order to reform it. Paradoxically, at the same time, João Pequeno was honored as “Citizen of the City of Salvador” by the town council, awarded an honorable doctorate degree from the University of Uberlândia (Minas Gerais), and honored as “Protector of Culture of the Republic”, by President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Everyone who has had the opportunity to meet Mestre João Pequeno agrees that "he is a sweet person", whose simplicity, spontaneity, and charisma seduce all those who go to the Forte Santo Antônio to participate in his rodas. He’s a joker, but he also does not anyone forget the fundamentals of the play and the dance.

His birthday is truly a spontaneous capoeira event, where there is big roda with the participation of many mestres and members of the capoeira community.

Beyond impressing all those who have the opportunity to see him play his excellent capoeira and mandinga, João Pequeno has distinguished himself as a capoeira educator, a major authority on capoeira, a reference in the struggle and life in defense of this noble Afro-Brazilian art.
More to come!

If you have something you would like to contribute regarding M João Pequeno, please e-mail it to us at ficadcarchives (at) gmail (dot) com.

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