When Capoeira Would Land You In Prison


(Source, click to see more visual references)

Between 1890, after the proclamation of the Republic of Brazil, and the final years of the 1920’s, capoeira references could be found, not in cultural literature of the time, but in the Penal Code of the Republic. The name capoeira itself became a pejorative term applied to vagrants, thieves and undesirables, but let’s return to this theme later while we take a look at the possible etymologies of the word.

Etymology

The word capoeira was registered for the first time in 1712 by Rafael Bluteau in a dictionary he made called “Portuguese and Latin Vocabulary”, though its exact etymology is unknown. Several theories exist, the first of which was proposed by Brazilian author José de Alencar in his novel Iracema when he suggested that “capoeira” is Tupi for “caa-apuam-era” (a small, virgin forest). Another Brazilian lexicographer’s theory was that the word was connected to the name of a small partridge bird and the distinct way the male would defend his territory.

Yet another theory comes from author Brasil Gerson who believed capoeira referred to large baskets for saving wood and carrying chickens which slaves would transport to the marketplace. During their breaks, they would enjoy themselves by “jogando capoeira” (jogar meaning both play and throw). In much the way that the –eiro in brasileiro is associated with a profession (those who transported brasil-wood), the name of the big baskets may have been passed onto those who transported them.

While all these possible explanations are good and interesting, the most likely scenario for the origin of the word is that it’s simply a mixture of these theories. In the same way we use familiar, yet opposing phrases for just about any situation that requires a solution (“two heads are better than one”, but also, “there are too many cooks in the kitchen”), each possible explanation for the etymology of capoeira could very well have been popularly believed notions among different social groups. We have to remember, though, that these were tumultuous times for slaves in Brazil and just like the “-eiro in brasileiro” example, perhaps the slaves sought freedom upon escape in the small forested areas the Amerindians called capoeiras, and thus the slaves took the name of the areas they typically hid in.

Road to Criminalization

The resistance of the maroon communities along the northeastern coast of Brazil in the 18th century showed just how important capoeira was. As the Dutch invaded, thousands of slaves took advantage of the confusion and escaped their masters. They formed groups called “maltas” in order to defend themselves and their territory with capoeira.

Rio de Janeiro also played an important role in capoeira’s history as most slaves in Brazil resided either there or in Bahia. The Calabouço prison, located in a military installation at the bottom of the Castelo hill in front of Guanabara bay, was the landing place for any slave that misbehaved or was thought to have misbehaved. As per an agreement between the State and the slave owners, any slave could be brought there to receive a “corrective whipping” of 100 lashes for the price of 160 réis. Prison records from 1857, for example, show that 80 slaves were jailed that year for “capoeira” while only 30 were jailed for running away. A few years later, in 1862, the capoeira-related arrests totaled 404. Eventually, what may have been considered a suspicious reason for arrest became a nationwide law signed by Brazilian president Deodoro da Fonseca.

The 18th chapter of the Brazilian Penal Code of 1890 deals with the subject of “Vagabonds and Capoeiras”. Under the 487th Decree (Article 402), one can find the following:

“Decrees of the Provisional Government
Art. 402. Performing, on the streets and in public plazas, exercises of agility and bodily skill known by the denomination capoeiragem: to attack quickly, with weapons or instruments capable of producing bodily lesions, provoking commotions or disorder, threatening a specific or unspecific person, or instilling fear of harm: Penalty — sentencing to a jail cell for two to six months.”

(Art. 403. states that if a foreigner is caught doing capoeira, they will be deported after serving jail term.)

Something that may have contributed to the criminalization of capoeira is the “malandragem“, which refers to trickery, malice or deceit. As a martial art, being able to trick one’s opponent can be a matter of life and death, so if a slave could make a fight seem like a dance, that could have been quite advantageous when viewed by, or enacted against, their masters. In a way, it was the darker sense of malandragem, as seen by those in power, that led to capoeira being criminalized. The lighter malandragem that existed within the game, among players, was just one of the intrinsic values that eventually helped in giving capoeira a better name.

Bimba

In the late 1920’s, times were changing and one man took notice. His name was Manuel dos Reis Machado (better known as Mestre Bimba) and by making capoeira a sport that offered all of the training and discipline that any other athletic endeavor required, he uplifted the game and gave those who played it something to be proud of.

Mestre Bimba succeeded in getting the ban lifted after he performed for the governor of Bahia and he went on to open the first capoeira school in 1932 in Salvador da Bahia where he taught Capoeira Regional. In making students wear white and earn their skill level, in the form of a belt, Mestre Bima gave capoeira a wider appeal with the public and thereby demarginalized its practice. Today, he is still spoken about with a mix of respect and emotion by the many students he taught. It could be said that our modern concept of capoeira, and the fact that it is practiced in over 150 countries on 5 continents, is because of him.

Originally written for Street Smart Brazil.

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Picanha – The Brazilian Brand of Meat

The rear of the steer (or heifer) is the most sought-after piece of meat in Brazil. In fact, I’d bet that Brazilian scientists have dreamed of one day creating an animal that only produces such meat.

One might not know it by its name in English, a cut of beef whose technical denomination alternates between the ‘rump cover’ and ‘rump cap’, but in Portuguese it’s called picanha. The reason Americans might not know about it is due to the fact that American butchers generally divide up that region into other cuts like the rump, the round and the loin. That being said, there isn’t much of a point in discussing what picanha is and isn’t because there’s a very slim chance of finding a single American cut in your local supermarket to define it.

For such a great piece of meat, it has an unusual name. One story behind the name speaks of a once important Brazilian industrialist, named Francisco “Baby” Pignatari, who used to eat at a churrascaria called “Bambu” in São Paulo and his favorite type of meat was the top sirloin. On one occasion, the restaurant served him another kind of meat by mistake. Not initially noticing the difference, he ate it and loved it, at which point he asked the Argentine server about the region of the animal that the meat came from. The Argentine said it came from the part “donde se pica la aña“, which is apparently Argentine Spanish for “where one brands (the cow with the hot iron)”. From there, it is said the name picanha is derived (pica + aña).

A more simple, yet slightly-related explanation comes from veterinarian Pedro Eduardo de Felício, at a university in São Paulo who says that in the south of Brazil, the branding iron is called a picanha. Over time, the area of the animal that received the branding was called by the name of the instrument that did the branding.

Tips

No matter where the name comes from, the main thing is that you enjoy every single piece! There are a few tips for doing just that. When buying picanha, experts say it should weigh less than two and a half pounds. Anything more and it is most likely you will be paying for part of the “coxão duro” (silverside), which is a tougher meat located next to the picanha cut. The layer of fat on the bottom of the piece of picanha should be about one centimeter thick, otherwise the bovine was raised and fed in an unfit manner. Also, the color of the fat should be either white or light yellow, if it’s yellower than that, it means the animal was most likely old and the meat will be tougher than normal.

As for the actual cooking part, picanha is cooked over high heat, so if you are a fan of black pepper and don’t want it to burn up in the process, add it afterwards. All the picanha I’ve ever had was well-salted while it cooked but it’s important to use rock salt instead of sea salt because the latter will most likely ruin your picanha. The best tip of all, though, is to watch a Brazilian do it!

Below is a video (in Portuguese) that you can watch with a Brazilian and learn how to choose the right piece. By browsing Youtube you can watch a variety of videos on all aspects of picanha, although if you’d rather just eat it, many major cities have churrascarias where you are able to eat until the cows come home!

Another one in English

Originally written for Street Smart Brazil.

There’s No Need to Fish For Compliments Here

Update: I expanded this article from 2011 to twice the size. Enjoy!


(source: portodegalinhas.com.br)

Midway up the coast of Pernambuco, less than 40 miles south of Recife, lies Porto de Galinhas (literally, Chicken Port), one of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches. Since 2001, the Brazilian magazine Viagem & Turismo has held an annual contest for its readers to elect the best Brazilian travel options and Porto de Galinhas dominated in the beach category for the first ten years straight, making it the paragon of paradise.

Aside from being located on the Northeast’s serene coastline, with its abundance of beaches, Porto de Galinhas isn’t just pretty to look at. When the high tide pulls out, natural tidal pools are created around the reefs that are both warm and transparent, making them perfect for catching an eyeful of tropical fish. Other activities include either sunbathing or riding dune buggies on the white sands of any of the 10 local beaches, and taking canoe rides through the mangroves.

History

The founding of the tourism hotspot is perhaps as interesting as the destination is beautiful. It starts with the fact that the largest Brazilian tract of massapê soil (which is very fertile and rich with a reddish-brown color) can be found in the Ipojuca municipality of Pernambuco, within Brazil’s tropical, coastal region. One of the neighborhoods that makes up Ipojuca happens to be Porto de Galinhas. It’s the unique soil, as well as the region’s port, that made Ipojuca the perfect place for the European colonizers to start cultivating and selling sugarcane. In fact, the previous name of Porto de Galinas was Porto Rico, not only due to the wealth it made the local sugarcane barons but also to the large amounts of brazilwood that left the country from its shores, en route to Europe.

So, how did such a pretty place receive such a strange name as “Chicken Port”? Well, there are two theories [1]. The most oft-repeated one says that with slavery in Brazil being abolished in the late 1800s, some slave traders saw a big part of their livelihood being taken away thus they continued importing slaves, albeit in secret. The port soon served as the main point of arrival for illegal slaves in the northeast of Brazil. It is said that the slaves were frequently hidden below the crates of chickens (more specifically, helmeted guinea-fowl, known as galinhas d’Angola, or Angolan chickens, in Portuguese), which were favored for consumption by the Pernambucan upper-class. Upon the arrival of new “merchandise”, one would hear the phrase “tem galinha nova no porto!” (“there’s new chicken at the port!”). This was code for announcing a new shipment of slaves and, with time, the name of the beach eventually changed. The second theory says many of the first African slaves brought to the region were of the Fula people, also known as Pheul, which in French sounds like Poule (chicken).


(source: emcasacomsofia.com)

These Days

Today, the chickens are hand-painted, made of coconut shells and tree trunks, by local artisans to later be bought by the purchasing power and for the viewing pleasure of the many tourists to the region. This wasn’t always so, though, as it was only a few years ago that the local artists decided to find a marketable image that would serve as their golden egg, so to speak.

Chickens are definitely not the only thing being sold in Porto de Galinhas. Aside from the endless beauty of the barrier reefs and the natural pools, there are now resorts, nightclubs and refined restaurants that have moved in and exist side by side with the rustic charm that helped to make this old fishing village so popular in the 1990′s. With all the “development” and changes, I can’t help but wonder where the locals go to “get away from it all”.

Camelô – Etymology

Camelô – Traveling Merchant

The origin of the word is the Arabic khamlat, a name that was given to the rustic commercialized fabrics sold in open-air markets and touted loudly by the merchants, the camelôs of the previous century. At this point, the verb cameloter (to sell trinkets) was popularized in France by the street sellers who chose high-traffic areas to sell their wares. It is the street salesman that sells his kitsch to bemused audiences. With their power of persuasion, many times these true artists, when victorious in their craft, become rich and turn into the owners of their empires. The Brazilian media magnant Sílvio Santos has said he will never forget the teeming Largo da Carioca in Rio de Janeiro where he began his vivid career. – Source (translated by me)

It is important to note that camelôs differ from ambulantes in that the former has a fixed location while the latter is ambulatory.

What’s in a word? Americanos vs. Estadunidenses

Gene at Expat Brazil posted a link to an article where the Argentine President called Americans by the term “americanos” instead of by the more formal term “estadunidenses” (something like “United-Statesian”). Interestingly enough, I was having this conversation on a forum elsewhere just yesterday so I thought I’d chime in ‘officially’ on my own site. Personally, I use both terms when I see fit (ie, depending on who I’m talking to) but I don’t go out of my way to make sure someone knows I’m not of the opinion that I rule the world.

All of Latin America (now there’s another famous discussion, are Brazilians ‘latinos’?) uses both terms although the use of “americano” is way more widely used by all while “estadunidense” is used by two kinds of people. The first kind is the intellectual wishing to be as correct and specific as possible and the second kind is the average person who believes that Americans believe we own the world (while we all know it is the “United-Statesian” government that really wishes to own the world). Let’s stop being silly then, shall we?

The only counter-argument used tries to say that anyone from the Americas is an American. True to a point, but nobody south of the United States really calls themselves “americano” so let’s make that clear (and yes, I’m pretending to know every citizen south of the US). If the intellectual wishes to make the distinction, then he/she must be of the intellect to know that we don’t call ourselves Americans for any other reason than that is just how we are known around the world. The argument is then moot because we certainly won’t start calling ourselves (or being called by others) “United-Statesians” any time soon.

There’s a Moor on the coast…

While reviewing some (Continental) Portuguese idioms online, I found one that stood out and thought I’d share it.

There’s a Moor on the coast…

Há Mouro na costa…

The Moors were the Muslim people from North Africa who lived in the Iberia Peninsula, and they were the archenemies of the catholic Portuguese (and Spanish). They were “a threat” for a number of centuries. This expression, however, has nothing to do with war. On the contrary, it is related to love. You say this when there’s a person threatening to invade someone’s heart.

Etymology

Since I have an interest in etymology, that is, the study of words and their origins, I’m going to be choosing words at random or merely that are to my liking.

Lets get right into it, shall we?

Cotidiano – day to day, daily, everyday, quotidian. It comes from the Latin quotus (how many) and dies (days).

Embora – although, even, in good time (em boa hora), and when combined with the verb IR, it takes on the act of leaving, of going away. Ex. Vá embora! – Go away!

Outrora – formerly, of old, long ago, in former times. Probably from outra hora (another hour).

Folga – pause, temporary inturuption of work, leisure, rest. From Latin follicare and in Spanish, it is holgar which means to be idle and also, albeit historically, to fornicate. Ex. Este é o meu dia de folga. – This is my day off.

Cadê – meaning “Onde está”. Cadê comes from “que é feito de” (that is made of) which became “quedê” which then became “cadê”. I’ve read that in Santa Catarina, they also say “quedele” or “what is made of him” which can be understood as “what happened to him?” Don’t ask me how or why, but thats how it seems to have evolved. Cadê is only used in Brazilian Portuguese and it is informal. Another point to note is that it doesn’t change based on the noun that follows (be it singular or plural). On the internet, it’s written ‘kd.’ 

Cadê seu amigo? Cadê seus amigos? (Where is your friend? Where are your friends?)

Veado/Viado/24 – Well, Veado means deer. Viado is a derogatory term for homosexual and an obvious twist on the word deer. The number 24 is connected to both, as its the number in the Jogo do Bicho (future post), or the Animal Game which is an illegal lottery in which numbers are connected to animals. I’ve read that Viado comes from the fact that a deer is an efeminate animal, such as in the Disney movie Bambi, but this would mean that the term is rather recent (something I don’t think can be confirmed). 

Fôlego – In following with the last post on Etymology, where I mentioned folga, the word fôlego is related, meaning breath, rest, respiration, repose. Boa forma means to be in good shape, both on the outside and inside but fôlego is a way to talk about the latter. 

Eu corri sem fôlego (I ran without taking a break/rest)

Fofo/a – Soft, cuddly, sweet but it can also mean a little pudgy…so be careful how you use it. I recommend using only with children, teddy bears and the like.

Abadá – Colorful Shirts vs. Colorless Pants

Abadá is an African word, from Yorubá, brought to Bahia by Arabic-speaking Africans. It is a type of white bedtime dress used by the Muslims that came to Brazil as slaves.

Abadá is also the name of the pants worn by capoeiristas (players of capoeira). It is probable that this form of dress that served for prayers was also found suitable for capoeira circles. There is a legend that speaks of capoeiristas using white as a form of demonstrating their abilities: the best players would be those that maintained their abadás in impecible condition after the fight.

Yet another use is seen going back to the Carnival of 1993, when a Carnival designer launched a new type of dress to substitute the old costume sheets. In homage to a capoeira master and friend called Mestre Sena, the designer baptized the new ‘costume’ as abadá. This new name caught on and spread rapidly through Brazil aiding in the popularization of the term. Some dictionaries merely cite one of the terms while others cite both.

For Carnival

909dd_1jpg

For Capoeira

Portuguese Words That Entered Into English

As many of you know, English has a long history of borrowing words from other places and times. Here is a list of English words borrowed from Portuguese, whether or not they originate from Portuguese itself.

Albacore
from albacor from Arabic al-bukr (=”the young camels”)
Albino
from albino, with the same meaning, from Latin albus
Albatross
an alteration of alcatraz, under influence of the Latin word albus (“white”);
Alcatraz
(=”gannet”) from Arabic al-ġaţţās (“the diver”)
Banana
from Spanish or Portuguese (more probably from Portuguese, as the most widespread Spanish word is plátano); Spanish, from Portuguese, of African origin; akin to Wolof banäna banana
Baroque
from barroco (adj. = “unshapely”)
Breeze
(= “from Portuguese word brisa”)
Buccaneer
from Tupi mukém
Caramel
from caramelo, caramel, from Late Latin calamellus
Cashew
from caju (a tropical fruit)
Cobra
from cobra (snake)
Coconut
from côco (boogeyman head, grinning skull, goblin, coconut)
Commando
from comando
Embarrass
from embaraçar
Emu
from ema (=”rhea”)
Fetish
from French fétiche, from Portuguese feitiço (“charm”, “sorcery”, “spell”), from Latin factitius or feticius
(“artificial”)
Flamingo
from Portuguese flamingo, from Spanish flamenco
Macaw
from macau
Mandarin
from mandarim, from the Portuguese verb mandar and the Malay mantri, from Hindi matri, from Sanskrit
mantrin (=”counsellor”)
Mango
from manga from Tamil manggai
Mangrove
probably from Portuguese mangue mangrove (from Spanish mangle, probably from Taino) + English grove
Manioc
from mandioca from Tupi
Marmalade
from marmelada, a preserve made from marmelo (=”quince”)
Molasses
from melaço
Monsoon
from monção
Negro
Negro means “black” in Spanish and Portuguese, being from the Latin word niger of the same meaning. It came to English through the Portuguese and Spanish slave trade. Prior to the 1970s, it was the dominant term for Black people of African origin; in most English language contexts (except its inclusion in the names of some organizations founded when the term had currency, e.g. the United Negro College Fund), it is now considered either archaic or a slur in most contexts.
Pickaninny
from pequenina or pequeninha
Piranha
from piranha, from Tupi pirá (“fish”) + ánha (“cut”)
Savvy
from sabe he knows, from saber to know
Tank
from tanque
Tapioca
from tapioca
Yam
from inhame from West African nyama (=”eat”)
Zebra
from zebra, given after a kind of extinct horse living between Portugal and Galicia when these languages were the same

Tupi-Guarani – Tribes & Tongues

The Sound of Conquerers

There’s a book in Portuguese called “Triste Fim de Policarpo Quaresma” by Lima Barreto in which the main character (Policarpo Quaresma) is a nationalist who revolts against the Portuguese language, dismissing it as the language of the colonizers. His answer is for all Brazilians to return to their native linguistic roots, in this case, Tupi-Guarani.

A possible flaw in Policarpo’s reasoning can be found in the fact that the Portuguese, the Tupis and the Guaranis were all conquerers of “lesser” peoples and tribes. For all intesive purposes, Tupi-Guarani wasn’t the only native language of Brazil, but due to both the Tupi and the Guarani violent way of life, it was the dominant language of the time.

With the release of Barreto’s novel in 1911, there have been pushes by select groups of nationalists and linguists alike over the years to bring Tupi-Guarani back as the official language of Brazil. The issue has however only been taken as far as the educational system, where attempts have been made to get it accepted into the school systems as an elective class. The general marginalization of the tribes have taken their tongues with them making Tupi-Guarani virtually non-spoken among modern Brazilians.

The meaning of Tupi is “the great father” or “leader” and likewise, Guarani means “warrior”. Their language still can be seen in an extremely large number of geographic locations throughout Brazil. A few of these names were mentioned in the post on State Etymologies on this site. Tupi-Guarani is actually a sub-group of the Tupi langauges, which encompasses 53 langauges in 11 groups, of which Tupi and Guarani are the most widely used.

A Little History

When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, they found that wherever they went along the vast coast of this newly discovered land, most natives spoke similar languages. Jesuit missionaries took advantage of these similarities, systematizing common standards then named línguas gerais (general languages), which were spoken in that region until the 19th century. The best known and most widely spoken of these languages was Old Tupi, a modern descendent of which is still used today by Indians around the Rio Negro region, where it is known as Nheengatu, or the “fine language”.

In the neighbouring Spanish colonies, Guarani, another Tupian language closely related to Old Tupi, had a similar history, but managed to resist the spread of Spanish more successfully than Tupi resisted Portuguese. Today, Guarani has 7 million speakers, and is one of the official languages of Paraguay and Bolivia.

The Tupis, Guaranis and other tribes had many advantages over the Portuguese and could have put up quite a fight if they so desired, instead they aided in the founding and building of São Paulo (Portuguese for Saint Paul), or as it was known by the Indians, Piritininga (Tupi-Guarani for Dried Fish).

Some Tupi-Guarani Words

English speakers know…

– Jaguar

– Tapioca

Other examples include…

Capoeira – Old Forest

Carioca – White Man’s Hut

Tijuca – Mud

Guanabara – Bottom of the Sea

Ipanema – Bad Waters