“I'm Your Teacher, I’m Brazilian!”

In the summer of 2005 groups of students turned out to perform with Achilles at two festivals in Cloisterham and two in Tolnbridge. The Tolnbridge racial harmony carnival took place on a very cold, wet, July day, and a small, but determined band of students paraded in the carnival procession and did demonstrations of capoeira getting soaked by the torrential rain. Achilles regarded that commitment to him, to the club, to each other, and to capoeira as an indicator of strong social cohesion.


The fieldnotes are full of examples of Achilles calling attention to students who have turned out for performances, or done extra service for the club. In the autumn of 2007 Achilles’s mestre Luis Renato was honoured at a festival in Brazil. To celebrate Achilles held a special roda in Cloisterham, on a Sunday. In Tolnbridge the following Wednesday he told the 40 people training how much he valued the commitment of those Tolnbridge students who had travelled to Cloisterham to participate, and called for everyone else to applaud them. The instruction to ‘clap for X’ is a common marker of Achilles’s approval, and his demand that other students recognise the involvement of their colleagues. 


Applying Bourdieu’s concepts Achilles is engaged in creating a secondary or tertiary habitus for his discipulos: overlaid upon the socialisation they received in their families and in formal education. Bourdieu saw dispositions as socially produced, and when Achilles emphasises social cohesion as a goal of his capoeira teaching he, too, is emphasising the social production of dispositions. Precisely because emotions are central to any habitus, a sense of social cohesion in a capoeira club helps to create the vital emotional aspect of the habitus into which Achilles’s students are being enculturated.


It’s Brazilian

Achilles is a proud Brazilian and wants all his discipulos to appreciate Brazilian language and culture. He summarises this:

‘capoeira is a big connection with Brazilian culture. We involve all the Brazilian cultural manifestations with capoeira. It makes capoeira rich’.

As well as the Portuguese language, the other ‘manifestations’ Achilles lists are maculele, the bumba meu boi, the puxada de rede, the samba de roda, and the nicknames. Maculele is a dance in which the participants hold two short sticks, which are clashed, in prearranged routines, against each other, the sticks of other players, or on the floor. It symbolizes slaves dancing on the sugar plantations, with the sticks representing machetes. In class maculele is done in capoeira clothing, but for public performances it is done in grass skirts. In Britain the men wear swimming trunks under the grass skirts, and the women black bikinis. Bruxa’s observation is that while some of the fittest, most energetic and most extrovert students enjoy the flamboyant dance, many are self conscious about public performance. One core member of the Cloisterham club said on the club email ‘Yes! I get to dance around in grass skirt covered in paint for all the world to see – great’. Some students may also be self-consciously embarrassed at the spectacle of rather unskilled light skinned Europeans attempting a pale shadow of an African-Brazilian slave dance.   


In the puxada de rede (fishermans’ dance) men mime hauling in a large net full of fish while the women dance and sing in praise of Iemanja, the African sea goddess. Some groups do this merely as a dance, others perform an expanded dramatic version in which one fisherman is swept out of the canoe and drowned, but is then found dead in the net with the fish. Leontis’s group in London performed that version at their festival in 2006, but Achilles’s group does not usually do so. It is not clear that British capoeira students enjoy performing this dance, but groups do it both to celebrate Brazilianess and even more to please their teacher. Achilles uses the samba de roda (described in the bicycle lesson) as a ‘fun’ ending to lessons. Samba is not just celebratory it is the Brazilian dance, a theme we return to below. The nicknames are also seen by Achilles as thoroughly Brazilian and part of capoeira. He explains:

Why do we give nicknames to the students? Part of the history of capoeira. Capoeira was prohibited. The players of capoeira had nicknames because with nicknames, the government, the police guys, couldn’t know their real names.

Bruxa said: ‘So if you were arrested, and the police asked ‘who was that guy who ran away?’ you could say ‘Big Ears’….?

Achilles went on: ‘Yeah – like Big Ears, and they don’t know his real identity, so that’s why we give nicknames. But after capoeira became a legal sport, we keep nicknames because that’s part of the culture.’

When Bruxa asked if anyone left capoeira because they hated the nickname Achilles had given them, he said:

Yes. I had a few students hate their nickname and they give up capoeira because of this – but not many, not many. Maybe these guys didn’t understand Brazilian culture, they didn’t understand our Brazilian way.

He went on to mention nicknames as a normal, well known, feature of Brazilian soccer players: ‘Zico, Pele and many more’. (Bellos 2003). So for Achilles anyone who does not accept their nickname does not understand ‘the Brazilian way’.

One reason for going with him to festivals, Achilles believes, is to experience Brazilian culture. When Bruxa asked if Achilles encouraged students to go with him to festivals to improve their capoeira skills, or to have fun, he replied:


Achilles: I think both. Amsterdam is a big festival and a way for the people to see how Brazilian culture behaves so they have fun because our way, the aim of Brazilian life is to have fun. That is our Brazilian way and they learn a lot. The level of capoeira there is really high. We have all kinds of capoeira. We experience different ideas, we experience different ways of teaching so they learn a lot.

Appreciating facets of Brazilian culture involves the Portuguese language. Many students make an effort to learn some Portuguese words and phrases, some learn it seriously. The Cloisterham club organised classes for themselves from a Brazilian member. Achilles believes learning Portuguese will enrich students’ enjoyment of capoeira, and appreciation of Brazilian culture.

Achilles: In capoeira we try show to people Brazilian culture and the first thing about any culture is the language. If they learn Portuguese I can help them a lot, because I speak it. Because I know Portuguese really well, I can teach them as well, I can help them. For me it is a pleasure to have more people speaking my language because is a beautiful language and it is part of capoeira. All the names of the moves in capoeira are in Brazilian Portuguese, our music is in Brazilian Portuguese, and for sure if they begin to speak it they gonna enjoy this art more.