Posts Tagged ‘caxixi’

Capoeira is ‘the Brazilian martial art of dance fighting’ if you believe Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie Meet the Parents. That’s one way of putting it, I suppose. But the old masters of capoeira describe it a bit differently…

Capoeira is everything the mouth eats.  ~Mestre Pastinha

Capoeira is a game, it is dance, it is fight, it is of war and it is of peace, it is of culture, of music, it is a piece of things. ~Mestre Suassuna

The impossibility of one person completely capturing capoeira, yet its potential to be touched by anyone are part of the balance of power and beauty of this magical art. ~Mestre Acordeon

Capoeira has always been rich and beautiful. We find everything in capoeira: life philosophy, self-defense, art and culture. We find part of religion in capoeira if we seek it. The word religion means ‘to re-link oneself,’ so everything to which we link ourselves would be a religion. We shouldn’t learn capoeira in order to cause trouble with it, but instead use it in the hour of defense when necessary. After all, in its life philosophy capoeira is love, celebration, and also joy. ~Joao Pequeno

For about 5 years now, I’ve been playing capoeira. I even have a capoeira name: Jaguatirica, which means ocelot. I’m not great at it, but I keep training faithfully and improve little by little. Training is about the only time that everything leaves my head and I live right in the moment. It’s my meditation, my yoga. So in spite of capoeira being challenging and demanding, it’s also the one thing that frees my mind.

I train 3 times a week when I’m not traveling. We train as a class, and training involves a combination of exercises to improve strength, balance, flexibility, playfulness, precision and control. It also involves playing the pandeiro (tambourine), the berimbau (a bow-like instrument) and the atabaque (drum) and singing in Portuguese. Capoeira music is one of the main things that drew me in.


What I love about capoeira is its mix of music, history, strategy, gaming, balance, strength, flexibility, creativity, daring, control, spirituality and community. Playing capoeira you learn to better understand where you begin and end. You learn how to interact with people in a physical and mental conversation that happens inside the roda (the circle) while the rest of your capoeira community claps and sings beautiful songs, building a ring of energy around you. There are different games within capoeira – some slow and beautiful, some fast and aggressive, and some devious and tricky. Each capoeira group has its own look and style within the different games of capoeira.

my son Daniel (aka 'Moska' meaning 'fly') is a quick and graceful capoeirista

My  18 year old son plays capoeira too. He started a couple years after I did, and plays a million times better than I do. It is one of the things that binds us, something that we do together, and a place where we share experiences and friends. So capoeira has become a part of our family and community life as well.

The history of capoeira is a bit fuzzy.  Some say that it was how the chained slaves taken to Brazil from Africa fought their masters.  Other say it was how slaves trained in secret to overthrow their masters – they disguised their fighting as a dance. Yet others say that the game came from Africa to Brazil and morphed there as a result of the many cultures and traditions that were mixing and mingling, including the native populations of the area.

Capoeira was an underground thing until the 1920s. It was outlawed and people were imprisoned, whipped or beaten for practicing it. Now things are quite a bit different. Capoeira is Brazil’s national sport and people of every social class and color play, in about every country of the world.

There’s a beautifully thorough and interesting book (if you’re into history) called Capoeira: the Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace by Gerard Taylor. It traces the roots of capoeira from various countries in Africa through the slave trade to Brazil and onward. Not enough is yet known and proven about where capoeira actually comes from and how it changed over time to the game it is today.

There is some thought that the game comes from Angola. There is a traditional dance there called N’golo that has some of the same characteristics. There are words used in capoeira such as mandinga that can be traced back to northern Africa, and which were originally used to describe magic and magicians. In capoeira mandinga is the magic and craftiness that a player brings to the game. There are similar yet distinct games found in Cuba and Cape Verde. There are still questions about where the instruments used for capoeira come from and at what point each instrument became part of the capoeira orchestra that we use today.

I do quite a lot of traveling in different parts of Africa, and I’m always on the look-out for pieces of capoeira. In Togo, I saw Evala, where young men wrestle and women sing and egg them on. I wondered if there was any connection. In Togo and Benin I heard about voudoun, the basis for condomble, the religion that many of the early (and some current) capoeiristas practice(d) in Brazil.

kashishis in Ndop...

Last week I was out in Ndop, Cameroon, with a group of local kids who are working on an arts and media project. They were filming a local pottery business. I was wandering in the craft shop, and what do I see but a bunch of little hand rattles. I recognized this hand rattle as a caxixi from capoeira. There was tag on a group of them saying ‘hand rattle kashishi’. These kashishis are made in exactly the same style as the caxixis that we use in capoeira when playing the berimbau, and we always get them in Brazil, and I don’t remember ever hearing about any strong connection between Cameroon and capoeira.

I see drums all the time when traveling, and I’ve seen different musical bows, but to now I hadn’t seen a caxixi.

So now I’m wondering. How did the kashishi get to Cameroon and when?  And who took it to Brazil? Was it people living in what’s now Cameroon or Nigeria during the days of the transatlantic slave trade? Or was it the Portuguese moving back and forth in African countries who passed the kashishi around in Africa and then in Brazil?

I suppose I’ll have to do a little research now, and maybe I’ll never know, but it felt like a little piece of home, seeing those caxixis there on the shelf of the craft store, all the way out along a back road in Cameroon. It made the world seem a little smaller and connected. It made me homesick for capoeira.

Related posts on Wait… What?

That thing you said I’d get

Read Full Post »