- Recent Scholarly and Popular Works on Capoeira
The last few years have seen a minor surge of books on capoeira. This small boom follows decades of growth for the art and is likely the beginning of a steady stream of publications. Apart from its much debated origin as a martial art and cultural form of the Black Atlantic, capoeira's contemporary globalization dates back to at least 1966 when the incomparable master of Capoeira Angola, Vicente Pastinha, took his students to the First International Festival de Artes Negras in Dakar, Senegal. The next decade saw a wave of teachers settle outside of Brazil, sparking general interest, commercial attention, and catching the eye of academics from other countries. Today, unidentiﬁed fragments of capoeira pop up in movies and video games, capoeira-as-exercise products are marketed, and respectable instruction is increasingly available across the world and away from major urban centers. Keeping pace in its thoughtful way is an increase in scholarly and popular writing on capoeira. This has included a number of impressive studies in Portuguese during the 1990s [End Page 262] and recent books in English, the focus of this essay. This is an opportune moment to reﬂect on these works, as their range and variety indicates that future inquiries may pursue radically divergent paths, rendering a survey like this difﬁcult. For the present, however, the perennial concern with capoeira's history provides a common thread.
The ﬁrst work to consider, if only out of respect for the author, is the revised edition of Nestor Capoeira's The Little Capoeira Book. As might be guessed from the name, he is a mestre, or master, and has made a lifelong commitment to the art. While a number of mestres have written on capoeira, only Nestor and Bira Almeida, or Mestre Accordeon, have published in English.1 Nestor, who has formal academic credentials, takes a more grounded approach to his topic than the spiritually minded Almeida, though his longer book Capoeira: Roots of the Dance Fight Game does include a startling range of associations.2 The ﬁrst edition of The Little Capoeira Book was a lucid, brief text for people interested in learning capoeira and a bit of the relevant history. The revised edition keeps close to the original. It begins with a survey of capoeira's history from its appearance in Brazil to the 1990s and considers the central debate about whether the art was developed in Africa or Brazil, though Nestor does not offer a decided opinion. The following chapters, "O Jogo (The Game)" and "The Music," describe the art and explore its meaning. Nestor discusses the inadequacy of "dance" or "ﬁght" to describe capoeira and outlines the game's multiple levels. Reﬂecting on capoeira's world role he concludes: [End Page 263]
Capoeira can be a tool in the First World, a tool against the forces that tend to turn people into robots that do not think, do not wish, do not have any fantasies, ideals, imagination or creativity; a tool against a civilization that increasingly says one simply has to work and then go home and sit in front of a TV with a can of beer in hand, like a pig being fattened for the slaughter.(37)
The book's second section, more than half of the original edition, is a guide for learning capoeira. It is difﬁcult to assess its utility...