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Capoeira Angola and the novels of Jorge Amado.

During a stay in Brazil a couple of years ago, my wife, son, and 1 were invited to a Sunday afternoon open house at the private religious school where one of her nephews is enrolled--an afternoon of barbecue, guarana (Brazil's favorite soft drink), beer, fellowship, and light entertainment on what might once have been a basketball court. The first item on the program, in which the nephew, Pedro Paulo, performed, was a Nashville-style line dance complete with cowboy hats and jeans and hand-clapping, performed to music by Dolly Parton. The second, however, was a little more in keeping with our setting: several young people and two or three adults formed a ring within which two boys, dressed in white trousers and tee-shirts, circled each other with fluid, graceful movements in what appeared to be a pantomime of fighting involving cartwheels, handstands, and pretend kicks to the head. This dance, if that's what it was, was performed to the sounds of several percussion instruments, all appearing to be of African origin--a tall drum, a tambourine, a variety of hand-held instruments, and what I already knew because of my interest in Brazilian music to be a berimbau, a single-stringed musical bow. (1) I learned that this display of dance, ballet, wrestling, martial art--for it resembled all of these--was called capoeira and I looked forward to telling my friends about it when we returned to Tennessee. The first person I told when I was back on our campus said, "Oh, yes, they do that every Thursday afternoon in front of the library." I have since learned, of course, that capoeira is known and practiced internationally, not just in Brazil, is the subject of innumerable books, and has turned up in a number of films. (2)

Capoeira is believed to have originated sometime in the 17th century among escaped slaves, who established in the jungles of northern Brazil, in the states of Pernambuco and Bahia (pronounced Ba-E-uh) discreet communities known as quilombos. The most famous and important of these, Palmares, was established between 1600 and 1605 (Taylor 96) and successfully resisted many attacks by Dutch and Portuguese colonists, who were attempting to reclaim their property, for most of a century. Tradition has attributed Palmares' strength to two charismatic leaders, King Zamba Gunga and his successor Zumbi (Zoom-BEE), during whose sway capoeira is thought to have evolved. Though there is no agreement among historians about the origins of the word, one popular notion is that it derives from a term describing a type of interwoven stick and mud fortification used at the time (Taylor 32, quoting Holloway).

Far from being makeshift encampments, these quilombos had streets, churches, public buildings, and populations numbering in the thousands, not only escaped African slaves, but many Amerindians who themselves had been enslaved by Europeans in great numbers. Palmares was actually a federation of smaller units known as mocambos and covered 3,300 square miles (Taylor 128). Many inhabitants, like Zumbi himself, were born in the quilombos and lived out their lives there. Zumbi is said to have been a particularly able military trainer and leader, instructing his followers not only in combat with European-type weapons--muskets, bayonets, swords, some of which were forged in Palmares--but in unarmed combat methods, probably derived from Africa, that depended upon agility and deceptiveness, qualities that continue to be associated with capoeira. Many researchers have attempted to trace back the origins of capoeira to specific African (Angolan) practices, but such attempts have so far been inconclusive or unsuccessful. Others have pointed out the similarities between capoeira and other New World phenomena, like "knockin' and kickin," a game or play once found among former slaves and their descendants in South Carolina and other southern states, and break dancing. While such affinities no doubt exist to some degree, attempts to establish clearly defined and unarguable African antecedents for the practice have so far been unconvincing. So it seems best to say that capoeira evolved among 7former Africans and first-generation offspring during the decades that Palmares and other quilombos resisted, first the attacks of the Portuguese at the beginning of the 17th century, then the Dutch, who held northeastern Brazil for most of the first half of the century, and again the Portuguese, who displaced the Dutch in 1650.

The Portuguese and Dutch were enraged by the quilombos, not only because they contained so much valuable human property but because raids on trading routes and other communities were common, as was the stealing of liberation of other slaves. The Portuguese intensified their attempts to destroy Palmares around 1680 and finally overran it in 1690. One tradition, repeated by forge Amado in his 1935 novel Jubiaba, is that Zumbi, born in Africa, rose to his position of leadership through sheer force of character, and, when defeat was certain, threw himself off a cliff. However, historians seem certain than he was born in Palmares in 1655 and was captured by the Portuguese, who executed him and displayed his head on a pike in a public place in Recife. Historical confusion aside, Zumbi had attained mythic status by this time, even among his white enemies, for his bravery and leadership abilities, remains a folk hero in Brazil today, and is regarded popularly, though perhaps not entirely accurately, as the father of capoeira. (3)

After the victorious colonists had reclaimed their human properties, there began the difficult and cruel task of re-assimilating a people into servitude who had enjoyed, in some cases, decades of freedom, some of whom indeed had never been slaves. (4) This process included an attempt to stamp out whatever traces remained of African-based cultural and religious practices, including any such fighting or gaming techniques as might come to be called capoeira, which was looked on as a threat due to certain legends that grew up around the practice, imparting to its practitioners almost supernatural power and near invincibility, though the practice did not appear by name in any written record until 1789 (Taylor 23). Blacks clung fiercely to the practice, perhaps during this period developing the trickster aspects of capoeira, the trait or attitude known as malicia, a tendency toward pretense, as in pretending to be hurt, a subversive playfulness. I. Lowell Lewis calls malicia "the playful breaking or bending of rules which serves (partly) to reinforce them" (Lewis, "Sex and Violence" 547).

A mock submissiveness, which masked a real ability to resist, seemed the best way to preserve the art, which was important to African slaves not only because it gave them some sense of security, a way of avoiding a state of total vulnerability, but because it offered, as a cultural practice that was strongly grounded in African games and dances but was wholly the possession of those who created it in the quilombos and their followers, a focus of racial and community identity that was as important as other practices, such as samba and Candomble.

Capoeira thus survived the 18th and 19th centuries more or less under the surface of Brazilian society, acquiring an almost mythic status in folklore. A detailed history of its changing status during those periods is beyond the scope of this brief study, but can be found in several sources, notably Gerard Taylor's Capoeira: The logo de Angola from Luanda to Cyberspace. An important chapter of Taylor's book discusses the changing role of capoeira in the life of Brazil during the years of Empire, which began when Brazil declared independence from Portugal in 1822; this period lasted until 1889, when the Empire was overthrown by a military coup, the year after slavery was abolished by "The Golden Law." During these years, capoeira was feared by those in authority but capoeiristas were sometimes enlisted to fight with the government during times of need. Some capoeiristas were policemen themselves (Taylor 390), though, in general, capoeira was suppressed, sometimes quite harshly. Capoeira's status as a publicly tolerated phenomenon thus remained tenuous and equivocal until well into the years of the Republic. Mestre (Master) Pastinha, the most respected 20th century name in Capoeira Angola, recalls the early days of the century and some reasons for capoeira's disreputable status:

The blacks used Capoeira to defend their freedom. Nevertheless bad asses (malandros) and wretched souls discovered a way to assault respectable folks, reap vengeance on their enemies, and confront the police, by use of these Capoeira moves. It was a sad time for Capoeira, I know; I saw. In the gangs along the docks ... violent rumbles, nobody could contain them. I know that all this throws dirt on the history of Capoeira, but is a pistol to blame for the crimes it is used to commit? Or a knife? Or cannons? Or bombs? Capoeira Angola looks like dancing but it isn't, not really. It can kill; it has killed. Beautiful[ Violence hides behind its beauty. (quoted by Merrell 94)

The growth of capoeira's visibility and popularity in the 20th century becomes contemporaneous with the life and writings of Jorge Amado, whose treatment of the art is the intended focus of this paper. Many decades of suppression, including draconian punishments meted out to capoeiristas, ended in the 1930s, when the President Getulio Vargas (1882-1954), as part of his campaign to encourage Brazilian nationalism through institutionalization of indigenous practices, saw in capoeira a perfect example of an art form that was unique to Brazil and was worth preserving and celebrating. Thus capoeira masters, including Pastinha and Mestre Bimba, the most famous name in Capoeira Regional, were able to emerge from years of teaching and practicing more or less underground and establish open academies. They remain identified respectively with the two main schools or types of capoeira that exist today. Angola is the more traditional, pointedly the "blacker" of the two, while Regional is the more competitive, inclusive (perhaps the "whiter") form, even accommodating other martial practices such as jiu jitsu and fostering talk of capoeira eventually becoming an Olympic sport. This kind of talk is very much counter to the spirit of Capoeira Angola, which is not competitive to the degree that Regional is and embodies the idea of capoeira as a way of life, a mode of thinking and being that encompasses every area of the life of a capoeirista.

All exhibitions of capoeira of either sort share certain elements. Several people, up to 20 or even more, form a circle or oblong, called the roda. At one point on the circle stand the musicians, who play the instruments already alluded to, atabuque, pandeiro, agogo and sometimes others. One instrument is mandatory and that is the berimbau. There can never be a roda without at least one berimbau; there are usually three, all of different (but not harmonizing) pitches, low, medium, and high. Each session is begun by the presiding mestre, who plays the lower-pitched berimbau and sets the rhythm and tone of what is to happen in the roda. Through a complex series of signals, instrumental and verbal, the mestre designates two participants to enter the circle and kneel in front of the berimbaus, then launch into a series of interlocked movements which seem to simulate combat but usually stop short of actual contact, at least in Capoeira Angola. These movements, each of which is named, involve elaborate sweeping kicks, handstands, elbow feints, all of which amount to something balletic and quite beautiful when two skilled performers are confronting and reacting to each other. There is an element of improvisation, since neither performer knows what either he (or she) or the other will do or what the response will be. Thus the two players create a spontaneous work of art which is indeterminate and always changing. This seems to be what Floyd Merrell, in his fascinating book Capoeira and Candomble, means when he calls capoeira a dialogue:
 Capoeira is dialogue, with words and with body. But the idea
 of Capoeira dialoguing I have alluded to isn't simply a matter
 of words and nothing but words. There are words, of course,
 in the lyrics, and in perhaps a minimum of talk between
 partners. But the dialogue is primarily extralinguistic. It has
 to do with signs that resist precise linguistic window-dressing.
 This is where kinesthetics and somatics put on their best act.

Merrell's use of the word "lyrics" alludes to the fact that usually the music provided by the instruments mentioned also accompanies a simple song. The song, performed in unison by the musicians or by all those who form the ring, may be chosen from an established repertoire known to all present. These are often about folk heroes, people who led the struggle against oppression, reminding us that capoeira is in its purest forma kind of continuing black resistance. One of these songs alludes to "Rei Zumbi dos Palmares" (King Zumbi of Palmares):
 Zumbi is our hero
 Zumbi is our hero, old friend
 Of Palmares he was the leader
 For the cause of the black man
 It was he who fought the most
 In spite of all the fighting, my friend
 The black man did not liberate himself, comrade!
 (Groupo de Capoeira)

Others idealize the celebrity bandit Lampiao, who terrorized northeastern Brazil in the 1920s and 30s and came to be seen, in spite of his legendary cruelty, as the enemy of the wealthy and the friend of the oppressed (Taylor 434-441). Sometimes a song is made up on the spot, inspired by something that has happened in the roda (Lewis, Ring of Liberation xxi-xxii).

Merrell's discussion of capoeira is complex, not easy to grasp. He is constantly, and intentionally, contradicting something he has just said, because to him capoeira is fundamentally indefinable except as a practice, a "way of life," that each "player" is constantly in a state of becoming rather than being and that what each is becoming is itself constantly changing (43 ff.). He also asserts, at some length, that capoeira is play rather than game, that games look to the future, have objects and definable limits and that play exists for itself alone.

This raises a question, then, that must be addressed in the present context: is capoeira a sport? I have referred to it (or others do, variously) as martial art, dance, practice, ballet, and so on, but little I have said so far would indicate that it is a sport (of course almost everything I have said--and what Merrell says--applies to Capoeira Angola; accounts of Capoeira Regional, with its emphasis on extreme athleticism and competition, is something else). But what is sport, anyway? A lot of people have posited definitions, including that Mysterious Stranger who penetrated the SLA Conference in London, Ontario, a few years ago, saying (I believe we were kicking around the idea of chess as sport), "You people don't know what you're talking about," then gifting us with his definition of sport which included, as I recall, the requirements of competition, some degree of physical prowess, and an object or conclusion to determine a winner--in essence what Merrell says about games, adding the element of physical prowess, something most definitely present in either kind of capoeira. It would seem that if Merrell is right, capoeira is not a sport, only an intensely skilled and athletic, albeit serious and spiritual, kind of play: "... genuine Capoeira is play, play in the most profound sense" (Merrell 47). The Portuguese word most associated with it is jogo, used by capoeiristas in the sense of "joyful play."

However, other writers allude to the element of competition, of scoring points, of winners and losers, even in Capoeira Angola. Jorge Amado, clearly referring to Capoeira Angola, often refers to capoeiristas as wrestlers, surely participants in a sport, and, in the novel Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, designates a winner of a capoeira session, a passage we will look at later (407-408).

Whatever the final verdict about Capoeira Angola's status as a sport, it remains a force in Brazilian life, especially the life of the city, which is most identified with all things African in Brazil: Salvador, capital of Bahia. Salvador was also home to Jorge Amado, considered by some to be the preeminent Brazilian novelist of the 20th century.

Worldwide, Jorge Amado (1912-2001) is probably the best known of all Brazilian novelists. His books have been translated into at least 42 languages and have sold many millions of copies. However, his status among critics has been somewhat equivocal in recent years. He is sometimes referred to as a great literary novelist, sometimes as merely a popular novelist. On at least one occasion he refers to himself (perhaps facetiously) as "this Bahian author of popular literature" (War 296).

Ilan Stavans, writing in an introduction to a new edition of Tent of Miracles in 2003, says that Amado's reputation and stature underwent a decline from the 1970s onward, reflecting serious-minded critics' displeasure with his turning away from the proletarian protest mode he had followed until the appearance of Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon in 1958. In that book he undertook a sensual, celebratory approach to his native Bahia (though not without considerable attention to social and political concerns) and worked within that mode for the rest of his life. Among the cultural entities he celebrates are Candomble, Samba, and capoeira, three practices which are linked to each other by their strong ties with Africa and with the struggle of slaves and former slaves to retain a cultural identity in the face of European hegemony.

Candomble is a blend of the Catholicism which was imposed on African slaves when they were brought to Brazil beginning in the 15th century and the African, chiefly Bantu and Yoruba, religious practices and beliefs they brought with them and which the Portuguese masters sought to repress in order to erase any sense of native pride or identity in their subjects. Through a process known as syncretism, the slaves attempted to conceal their imported practices under a veneer of Catholicism. The result was Candomble, sometimes known as Macumba. Thus important African deities were syncretized with Catholic saints, as we shall see when we look at The War of the Saints, in which Saint Barbara of the Thunder appears as the embodiment of both the Catholic Saint Barbara and the Bantu goddess Yansan.

Samba is of course known to non-Brazilians for the dance or dance music associated with it and for other popular forms which grew out of it, such as Bossa Nova. Samba is much more than a dance, however, as is evidenced by the existence of the Samba "schools" that are so visible during Carnival in Brazilian cities--the rough equivalent of the Krewes that dominate media coverage of New Orleans Mardi Gras. The purer, "blacker" form known as Samba da Roda, like Candomble and capoeira, is regarded by its adherents as a way of life and, like them, has been rigidly suppressed under different political and social regimes.

Though these three practices originated in Bahia, which has always been the most African of Brazil's many states, they have spread throughout Brazil, with Samba in the form of its music and Capoeira as a teachable form of martial art having reached around the world.

Jorge Amado, in his self-ordained role of celebrator of Bahia's cultural richness, gives particular importance to Candomble and capoeira in the novels that followed Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon (1958). This is not to say that these practices received no attention in the pre-Gabriela period (known as his "proletarian" phase); for instance, the already mentioned novel Jubiaba, published in 1935 and translated into English in 1984, has a mestizo protagonist who has grown up on the streets, mainly, where he learned capoeira. But, in a fight over a woman, he knocks out his rival with his fist, something seldom if ever done in capoeira. By chance he is spotted by a fight promoter and, in a variant of the old "Say, kid, y'er pretty handy wit' yer mitts" routine, is signed up to fight in a traveling circus. Though in his first fight he is disqualified for delivering a capoeira blow with his foot (99), he goes on to have a successful though short career as a circus fighter before moving on to join the proletariat and eventually become a working class hero.

The single reference to capoeira in Gabriela is interesting, though hardly indicative of the visibility the art would assume in the later novels, Tent of Miracles and The War of the Saints. A scene late in the novel describes a peaceful afternoon among the poor blacks and mestizos of Ilheus, a secondary city of Bahia (and the birthplace of Amado), its tone seeming to indicate that the author, who had referred to the art in previous books, is coming to look at capoeira in a fresh and different light:
 On Sunday afternoons, Negros and mulattos gathered in
 the yard behind the house to watch of engage in capoeira,
 the curious fight contest of the region. Sete Voltas played the
 one-string instrument [berimbau] that usually accompanies
 Capoeira and sang:

 "Comrade in battle,
 Together let's wander
 The wide world over,
 Comrade, oh, comrade!"

He handed the instrument to Nile and entered the capoeira ring. With cartwheels and sudden thrusts of the feet and elbows, all in rhythm, he outpointed his opponents and remained alone and victorious on the field of battle. (Gabriela 407-408)

Amado's best known novel, in America at least, is Dona Flor and her Two Husbands, which has been a movie, a television miniseries, and a Broadway play. Capoeira cannot be said to playa major role in the story, though street displays of the art occur frequently as atmospheric elements and once, when the title character is trying to confirm whether her first husband has fathered a child by a lower-class woman, she consults and takes as her guide and protector in the underworld of prostitution a capoeira mestre who is also involved in Candomble; this man represents her portal to the world where her husband disappears from time to time (Dona Flor 172).

There are, however, novels in which capoeira assumes much greater importance, and this venue requires that, having successfully obfuscated the question of whether capoeira is a sport, I now address the question of whether these books are "sport" fiction, as this question was raised by Michael Oriard 25 years ago in Aethlon. Oriard defines a sport novel "as one in which no substitutes for sport would be possible without radically changing the book ...." (8). To try to answer this question at least partially, I will look at how the art/dance/sport/game of capoeira figures in just two of the later novels, Tent of Miracles (1969) and The War of the Saints (1989).

Tent of Miracles is considered by some Amado's best novel, at least the best of the post-1958 period. It begins with a panoramic description of the Salvador district known as Pelourinho and its inhabitants:
 In the neighborhood of Pelourinho in the heart of Bahia, the whole
 world teaches and learns. A vast university branches out into
 Tabuao, the Carmo gates, and Santo-Antonio-Beyond-Carmo, into
 Shoemaker's Hollow, the markets, Maciel, Lapinha, Cathedral
 Square, Tororo, Barroquinha, Sete Portas, and Rio Vermelho,
 wherever there are men and women who work. And from the
 working of metal and wood, the blending of medicines from herbs
 and roots, and the cadence of quick-blooded rhythms, is created a
 fresh, original image of novel colors and sounds.

 Listen to the wood and leather drums, the twanging bow, the
 beaded Gourds and rattles, the tambourines and coconuts, the metal
 bells and Gongs, atabuque, berimbau, ganza, adufe, caxixi,
 agogo; musical instruments of the poor, rich in melody and rhythm.
 Music and dance were born on the common man's campus:

 Camaradinho e
 Camaradinho, camara

 Next door to the Slaves' Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, on a
 second floor with tire windows opening out into Pelourinho, Master
 Bidiao set up the Angola Capoeira Academy (4).

Tent of Miracles is a complexly structured book about a man named Pedro Archanjo, who spends thirty years as a "runner" of messenger at the local medical college, where he earns the respect of some professors because of his self-acquired erudition (he is fluent in French, Spanish, and German, among other languages, and is widely read in science, philosophy, psychology, and social theory) but is looked upon with contempt and condescension by others because of his mixed blood and what they regard as his pretension to knowledge. Archanjo is a mestizo or mulatto and, during this phase of his life (born in 1868, he becomes a runner in 1904), the idea of maintaining racial purity is very strong among certain elements in Brazil's intellectual classes, among whom, influenced by Fascism and the rise of Hitler, it is an article of faith that blacks and mestizos are incapable of original thought. During his tenure as a servant at the medical school, Archanjo writes three books (and one after he is dismissed), which are printed on the cheap by himself and his best friend Lidio, who is the proprietor of the "Tent of Miracles" of the title. Lidio is a printer and a painter of miracles: people who have experienced what they think is a miracle--an unexpected healing, a fortuitous escape from some calamity--come to him, describe the event, and he renders the experience in oil. His tent is a gathering place for poor people, that is to say the people of Pelourinho and similar neighborhoods of Salvador--prostitutes, devotees of Candomble, drunks, capoeiristas, poets, balladeers--all the kinds of people that Amado loves (and some say sentimentalizes) in his later work.

The narrative begins, after the opening I have cited, with Pedro Archanjo's death on the street, alone, of a heart attack at the age of 75. This takes place in 1943. After the funeral is dealt with, the narrative jumps 25 years to 1968, to the visit to Bahia of a Nobel-winning American scholar and social scientist named James D. Levenson. Of course the local press sets up a press conference, at which a self-important journalist asks what Levenson, known for his unorthodox political views (as in opposition to the war in Viet Nam), thinks of the work of Herbert Marcuse and whether Levenson would agree that it has supplanted the thinking of Marx. Levenson replies "with the rudeness that suits artists and scholars so well":
 That's an idiotic question and only a fool would venture an
 opinion on Marcuse's work or discuss present-day Marxism
 in the framework of a press conference. If I had time to give a
 speech or a class about it that would be something else again;
 but I haven't got time and I didn't come to Bahia to talk about
 Marcuse. I came here to see the place where a remarkable man
 lived and worked, a man of profound and generous ideals,
 one of the founders of modern humanism--your fellow
 citizen Pedro Archanjo. That, and only that, is what brings
 me to Bahia. (20)

The problem is that, except for a few remaining personal acquaintances, nobody knows who Archanjo was. His books are forgotten in Bahia, but Lidio sent a few copies to places outside Brazil, including the library at Columbia, where Levenson teaches. Levenson has discovered them and now regards Archanjo as a great pioneer in ethnology by virtue of his four books, Daily Life in Bahia; Bahian Cookery; The African Influence on the Customs of Bahia; and Notes on Miscegenation among the Families of Bahia, a genealogical study which "proves" that every Bahian family, no matter how "white," prominent, or rich, is of mixed European and African stock. This is the book that got him dismissed, in 1934, from his job at the medical school, outraging as it does one professor who is a worshiper of Hitler and who dreams of racially purifying Brazil by whatever means necessary, including even forced evacuation of all blacks and mulattos to Africa of, failing that, some form of genocide. To Archanjo of course, the idea of racial purification is a grotesque absurdity since everybody is of mixed blood. The theme of this novel is miscegenation, a positive word in Archanjo's (and Amado's) lexicon, since it presents the best opportunity for permanent peace and stability between the races. The novel's celebration of diversity as represented by the richness and vigor of Afro-Brazilian culture, especially as it exists among the lower orders of society, embraces Candomble, samba, and particularly capoeira. There is no great examination of the art in this novel and it cannot be said that capoeira plays a part in the book's plot. Archanjo is said to practice capoeira himself, though he is never described doing so; his involvement with the art is a part of his personal immersion in the culture he documents and celebrates in his writings. He loves eating, drinking, talking late into the night. He has fathered unknown numbers of children by many different women, including several prostitutes and one very young Danish woman who sojourns in Salvador. So, in the strict Oriardian sense, it is not a sport novel. However, since the book advocates a way of life that includes acceptance of all different sorts, a merging, blending of all sorts, African and "white," of sensuality, sexuality, good food and drink, of Candomble, samba, and capoeira, and given that Angolan Capoeira is particularly regarded by its adherents as a way of life in which all duality, Cartesian or otherwise, is swept away, the book incorporates the spirit of capoeira, as seen by Floyd Merrell, into its very makeup. Merrell has been discussing the five levels a capoeira adeptly passes through during the course of a complete experience:
 At [the] final level, we might say that we should never mind
 mind and matter is of no matter, at least in the customary
 sense; as far as genuine Capoeira is concerned, there is only
 bodymindspirit. Within Capoeira living, there is no such
 thing as races but only race, the human race; so also, there are
 neither masters nor slaves, neither dominant nor subservient,
 neither strong nor weak, neither aggressive nor passive,
 neither haughty nor humble. There is only Capoeira. (91-92)

It is not only this spirit, but the actual practice of capoeira that figures importantly in the next book I will discuss, The War of the Saints.

Excursions into Magic Realism seemed for a time in the last century almost obligatory for South American writers; Amado rarely ventures into the area of mysticism, however. When Pedro Archanjo in the book just discussed proclaims himself a strict materialist, I suspect that he is speaking for his creator. But Archanjo loves and respects Candomble for its rich tradition and ritualistic beauty, as clearly does his creator. As it is put by Maria Luisa Nunes, "[Archanjo] indicates his belief in Candomble by asserting that his materialism does not limit him" (100). At the beginning of War of the Saints, a famous old wooden statue of Saint Barbara of the Thunder (a syncretism of a Catholic saint and an African deity, lansa or Yansan), borrowed from a small provincial church for an epochal exhibit of Bahian religious art, rises from the litter on which she is being removed from the sloop that brought her into Salvador's harbor, and strides off into the crowd, setting off the plot of this novel.

Saint Barbara of the Thunder/Yansan, also known as Oya, has come to life to right a great wrong. Manela, a beautiful, sensual, and passionate young girl, is being cruelly repressed, even abused, by her aunt, Adalgisa, who became her guardian when Manela's parents were killed in a car crash. Adalgisa, who is nearing forty, means well but is warped and distorted in her moral and ethical sense by Spanish Catholicism, mixed with the pro-Franco Falangist sympathies (she is of Spanish ancestry) that are being promulgated by her confessor. Adalgisa is herself a beautiful and potentially sensual woman who has been married for 19 years to Danilo, a notary's clerk and former soccer star, but Danilo, who made a terrible mistake on the honeymoon by taking his wife's virginity brutally and thoughtlessly, has settled into a sad acceptance of the way things are, which consists of predictable, conventional sex once a week, on Tuesdays. Danilo, who except for the episode of the honeymoon is a thoroughly sympathetic character, has paid a high price for his barbaric treatment of Adalgisa on the honeymoon.

She strives to keep Manela from the mulatto boy she has fallen in love with, only a taxi driver and a preto (translated here, by Gregory Rabassa, as "nigger"), and frequently resorts to the leather strap given to her by her sinister and manipulative confessor and which she keeps hung on the living room wall. When she discovers a note referring to elopement plans, she secures a judge's order committing Manela to an infamously repressive convent, effectively imprisoning her. Danilo, who has always deferred to his wife's wishes in all things, including her methods of raising Manela (though he silently disagrees), is on this occasion outraged and vows to free the girl.

Meanwhile, the boyfriend, Miro, who once studied capoeira but did not finish his course, appeals for help in freeing the girl to a gathering of capoeiristas and masters, namely The First Grand Meeting of Angola Capoeira Masters, called by Master Pastinha. Pastinha, like dozens of characters that appear in Amado's novels, was of course a real person, credited with preserving the truest form of the art, Capoeira Angola. He was a friend of Amado's, who helped in the preparation of Pastinha's autobiography in 1964. He died in 1981, sick, blind, and forgotten, during the last years of the most recent dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1984. Amado resurrected him in this novel set, according to the author's preface in the late 1960s to early 1970s, but not written until 1987-1988.

This gathering that Miro barges into, called by Pastinha to approve a code of honor to be followed by all capoeiristas, is attended by a host of journalists, filmmakers, scholars, and politicians and is extensively described in terms indicating the importance Amado and the Brazilian nation have come to ascribe to the art (226ff). He then gives his own brief history of the form:
 A means of defense born in slave quarters, the creation of
 Bantu slaves, capoeira had been subject to the most ferocious
 persecution: Its practice had been prohibited, its practitioners
 punished. It was considered, along with candomble, to be an
 expression of barbarism. In those days, the whole African
 component of Brazilian culture was being repudiated,
 knowledge of it erased, its manifestation forbidden. But
 capoeira, disguised as a collective dance, survived to the
 sounds of the belly berimbau, and its efficiency and beauty
 caught on, a ballet of magical steps, a fight with mortal
 blows, it attained the status of a martial art. (228)

Amado goes on to list the names of all the famous capoeiristas that he can think of, colorful handles like Coral Snake, Cat, Tapeworm, Vagabond, Boob, Hose, Swollen Donkey, Sausage--almost a hundred of them ("If anyone has been overlooked, may he pardon the clumsiness on the part of this ignoramus") (230). (5)

Master Pastinha, who was Miro's teacher, asks why he has come and Miro tells him and the rest of the gathering that his girlfriend has been imprisoned by her aunt, a woman with "the fanatical soul of a Francoite, a racist, a fascist." Pastinha reacts:

"It can't be," Master Pastinha said, and repeated, "It can't be, I won't allow it. I won't permit it!"
 In the code of honor of capoeira fighters, which Master
 Pastinha was submitting to this very meeting, the very first
 of its seventeen articles states that those who practice Angola
 capoeira have an obligation to go to the aid of those who call for
 help, those who suffer, the persecuted. Freedom is the lamp of
 the masters who study, practice, and teach that Brazilian art,
 because capoeira was born out of the struggle of slaves against
 slavery--that was what it said in the introduction to the noble
 document. (233)

A veritable army of capoeiristas is thus mobilized to march upon the convent to free Manela (233-34). The group merges with a family group, instigated by Danilo, led by Saint Barbara of the Thunder herself; she bears a signed order, obtained apparently by magical means, from the same judge who signed the papers of confinement countermanding his own previous order.

Adelgisa has never known that her name was taken at her birth from one of the many avatars (or daughters) of Yansan, of Oya; in the ritual she is known as Aldagisa of the Saddle. The real Adalgisa was dedicated to Yansan when she was still in her mother's womb and she was never told of has forgotten. Thus she is a different kind of "saint" than she imagines herself to be. Yansan has come to collect what is owed to her, and to deliver Manela from the cruel oppression of her aunt, who will herself ultimately be redeemed. This is the "War of the Saints" of the title. At the final confrontation between Adalgisa and Yansan/Saint Barbara, Adalgisa loses consciousness and reawakens to her former identity as a daughter of Yansan, returns to Candomble, and is seen in a religious trance being ridden by Oya (314). When she re-emerges from the trance she remembers her true identity as a daughter of Yansan and is introduced for the first time in her life to her own sensuality and to a transformation in her sexual relations with her husband.

The War of the Saints is not a deeply serious book, but it does contain some of Amado's most deeply felt convictions, if their reiteration in book after book, beginning with Gabriela, Clove and Cinammon, is a true indication of the author's beliefs. Among these are the social benefits of the free intermingling of the races, the beauty to be found in the lives of the poor, the necessity that human beings accept and act upon their full sexuality and sensuality, and the importance of preserving what is unique and beautiful in Bahian culture, especially Candomble and Capoeira. In developing these themes, Amado uses the senses in ways few writers in my experience have. There is scarcely a page, a paragraph, in which we do not see, hear, touch, smell, and taste the atmosphere of Bahia, its streets, its food (especially its food), its drinks, its music, and its people (especially its women). This vivid sensuality comes through no matter the translator. So, while Amado does not describe in these two later novels "games" of "contests" of capoeira, the meaning of the art as a unique expression of Afro-Brazilian culture, as a manifestation of a spirit of living that Amado sees as vital and necessary, is something that neither book could do without.

But the main thing to remember about these books, particularly the latter, is that they, like life, are meant to be enjoyed. In a brief note that precedes the text of War of the Saints, Amado says that he thought about the story for twenty years before sitting down to write it in 1987 and 1988. "It's been fun to write," he says. "[I]f someone else has fun reading it, I'll consider myself satisfied."

I am left with a question, however: Amado clearly advocates the treasuring and preservation of all aspects of Afro-Brazilian culture in Bahia and elsewhere in Brazil. He also advocates complete integration in all senses, cultural, social, and racial. It is difficult to see how either of these worthy goals can be achieved without damage to the other.

Works Cited

Amado, Jorge. Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. 1969. Trans. Harriet De Onis. New York: Avon, 1988.

--. Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon.1958. New York: Avon, 1962.

--. Jubiaba. 1935. Trans. Margaret A. Neves. New York: Avon, 1984.

--. Tent of Miracles. 1971. Trans. Barbara Shelby Merello. Madison, WI: U of Wisconsin P, 2003.

--. The War of the Saints.1993. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. New York: Bantam, 1995.

Groupo de Capoeira Angola Pelourinho. Capoeira Angola From Brazil. Smithsonian Folkways, 1994.

Lewis, I. Lowell. Ring of Liberation: Deceptive Discourse in Brazilian Capoeira. Chicago: LI of Chicago P, 1992.

--. "Sex and Violence in Brazil: Carnaval, Capoeira, and the Problem of Everyday Life." American Ethnologist 26 (2000): 539-557. ISTOR. 15 Oct. 2007 <>

Merrell, Floyd. Capoeira and Candomble: Conformity and Resistance Through Afro-Brazilian Experience. Princeton: Markus Wiener, 2005.

Nunes, Maria Luisa. "The Preservation of African Culture in Brazilian Literature: The Novels of Jorge Amado." Luso-Brazilian Review l0.1 (1973): 85-101. JSTOR. 15 Oct. 2007 <>

Oriard, Michael. "On the Current Status of Sports Fiction." Aethlon 1.1 (1983): 7-20.

Taylor, Gerard. Capoeira: The Jogo de Angola from Luanda to Cyperspace. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2005.


(1.) I have since learned that the tall drum is called atabuque; the tambourine is known as pandeiro; there is a double-belled hand-held instrument known as agogo; The berimbau consists of a bowed wooden stick with a wire, today usually salvaged from a place where tires are burned, and a hollow open-ended gourd with, at the closed end, two small holes for a loop of heavy string that is slid over the bottom of the bow and the wire, adding tension to the wire. The gourd resonator may be slid further up the bow to increase tension; this also provides two lengths of wire of different pitches. The player supports the instrument by slipping the little finger of the left hand under the string that holds the gourd, while using the other fingers to hold a flat stone (pedra) or a coin, preferably a very old Brazilian coin, to the wire to produce different qualities of sound as the wire is struck, above or below the resonator, with a stick held in the right hand, which also supports, strapped to its back, a small calabash rattle (axixi--"a-Shee-shee") filled with dry seeds or pebbles. The open end of the gourd is pressed to the belly of the player with more or less pressure to produce a variety of sounds using the player's own body cavity for resonance. In the hands of a skilled player, the instrument can produce an astonishing array of effects. I suggest going to and typing in "Berimbau."

(2.) These numbers vary from day to day, but entering "capoeira" into Google will yield about 8,000,000 hits, amending the term to "capoeira Angola" reduces the number to just under 300,000. Again, many clips of capoeira sessions may be seen on YouTube.

(3.) I am irresistibly reminded of the fate of Metacomet, or King Philip, at the bloody end of King Philip's War in New England some 15 years earlier. Metacomet, son of Massasoit (whose help was vital to the survival of the Plymouth colonists) had achieved a status of almost mythic notoriety because of his recklessness, fierceness, and cruelty. After his defeat and execution his head was similarly placed on a pike in Plymouth and was, some say, displayed for several years. Increase Mather is said to have used his mummified hand as a watch fob.

(4.) Though Palmares and other quilombos were destroyed in the late 17th century, some form of culture seems to have continued in separate black communities, forms of which persist in northern Brazil and Amazonia, according to a 2006 film by Leonard Abrams (Quilombo Country: Afrobrazilian Villages in the 21st Century). Whether these villages have enjoyed continual existence is not clear to me from the film, but their inhabitants continue to practice African ways of agriculture, food preparation, play, and worship, while existing in parallel with modern society in major cities like Belem. The film, though fascinating, was of limited use for this study because there is no mention of capoeira.

(5.) Amado places in attendance at this gathering another real-life Bahian who often appears as a character in Amado's fiction, "the painter Carybe--that guy shows up everywere! He doesn't have to be called!" (230). Born Hector Julio Paride Bernabo in Argentina but largely raised in Rio, Carybe (1911-1997), he fell under Bahia's spell while there to fulfill a commission from the state governor. He was enormously successful and became a very wealthy man. He shared with Amado a passion for the customs, the street life, of Bahia, and drew and painted them. He produced many wonderful line drawings of capoeira and a gallery of Candomble figures, the most famous of which is that of Yansan (she and other saints can be seen at <>), perhaps explaining why the enlivened statue of Yansan/Saint Barbara is said to pass near his mansion during her first night's excursion through the dark, mysterious streets of Salvador, visiting festivals where she is invoked by her followers, her "daughters" (110).
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Author:Morefield, John
Publication:Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:3BRAZ
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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