"Quem não pode com Besouro..."

Besouro Preto de Mangangá is one of the most prevelant, yet also one of the most mysterious personalities in the history of capoeira. There are many capoeira songs that mention him, end even more legends that surround his life. Born in the city Santo Amaro de Purificação in 1885, Manoel Henrique Pereira, also known as Besouro Preto de Mangangá, or Besouro Cordão de Ouro, became a mythic figure and distinguished himself as one of the greatest capoeiras ever even though he died before he reached the age of thirty.

In the book, “Bimba, Pastinha e Besouro de Mangangá, três personagens da Capoeira Baiana” (Bimba, Pastinha and Besouro de Mangangá, three personalities of Bahian Capoeira), the author, Antonio Liberac Cardoso Simões Pires documents the changes that capoeira undergoes (largely from the street to the academy) at the start of the twentieth century through the lives of three great master capoeiristas: Mestre Bimba, Mestre Pastinha, and Besouro Preto.

The author also charts in detail the studies that he undertook to find information, especially in regards to the legendary figure of Besouro Preto. At times, the author even doubted the existence of the man because the stories surrounding him were so fantastic – that he escaped the police by turning into a beetle and flying away, or that he could not be wounded because he had a corpo fechado.To ascertain the truth as best he could, the author examined the registry books at the docks of various cities in Bahia, as well as the police records. He also interviewed citizens of Santo Amaro to piece together the history of Besouro Preto. Much of the information presented in the book comes from interviews done with a friend of the famous capoeirista known as Noca de Jacó. Here is an excerpt from the book that talks about them both:
Noca de Jocá became the principal informant regarding the life and work of Besouro de Mangangá; he guarded the memories and followed the life of the mestre, in the most tranquil times and the most intimate, like when he was working on the boat “Deus Me Guie”, meeting with women, and playing in capoeira rodas. Essentially, in both his moments of war and of peace. In this way, it is with good reason that Noca de Jocá was known in the city as one of the oldest capoeiristas still living when this study was done. According to him, Besouro was a person who did not like the police, street riots, nor cowardice. He was a good man, but also a valentão. When he was in Santo Amaro, he usually stayed around the warehouse. Sometimes he would travel by sailboat. He had to deliver merchandise, crossing the Bay of All Saints. Besouro challenged anyone who was well-known, or who could increase his reputation, as it is with all valentões, and at times, he also had to confront the police, who also had valentões in their ranks, and that is what happened during the time that Besouro worked on the docks:

“It happened in the Largo da Cruz. The solider challenged Besouro (Besouro responded) come back, come back. I’m not going to do anything. Besouro grabbed the revolver of the solider.”

… Besouro ran through the Beco do Xaréu, crossing the bridge. José Costa [the solider] who was a good runner, was able to get close to Besouro, but he was hit by shots from the revolver. The bravada of Besouro is remembered by all. In this case, he shot two bullets in the arm of the policeman. The fact that he had confronted the police turned him into a hero, a mestre for all the kids at the warehouse known as Trapiche de Baixo, where they played capoeira barefoot and plain clothes. His reputation turned into legend. People created stories about his in which he performed impossible stunts in impossible situations, mixing it all with the possible. An air of mystery surrounds this figure. They told me that at some times, he had the power to disappear, transforming himself into a beatle and flying from his enemies. His fantastic escapes from the police are one of the defining characteristics in his adventures, kept in the memory of the public…
This is a great book. Especially interesting is its description of the relationships between capoeira and the street, violence, and the police in the beginning of the twentieth century, and how these relationships influenced the development of capoeira.

You can find this book (in Portuguese) in the Center for Afro-Oriental Studies at the Federal University of Bahia, or if you want a copy for yourself, in many of the book stores around the center of the city of Salvador.

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