Dear Members and Friends of Filhos de Bimba Toronto,
November is known for its dark days and cold rain. What better time than this to remember our ancestors, as the Mexican do on the “Day of the Dead”, or with our very own Halloween? Divali, the Indian “Festival of Lights”, is at the end of October, as well. Many cultures around the world recognize the fading sunlight as a time to turn within.
Capoeira, too, has its darker side. Beyond the laughter, joy and celebration that it is famous for, the Afro-Brazilian tradition has its roots in the pain and struggles of slavery. Of course, capoeira is also a testament to the unbreakable human spirit, however, at times it serves us well to remember its origins.
And just what are we remembering? Every year, our mother school Filhos de Bimba Escola de Capoeira (FBEC) based in Salvador, Bahia, celebrates Zumbimba. We honour the death of Zumbi, the 17th Century warrior king. “Zumbi dos Palmares”, as he was known, headed the longest-running Quilombo, or runaway community of slaves (a.k.a. “enslaved people”) in the northeastern state of Alagoas.
Our school also acknowledges the birth of Mestre Bimba, or “Manuel dos Reis Machado”, the father of our capoeira master, Mestre Nenel. Bimba, the creator of Capoeira Regional, is arguably one of the biggest names in the capoeira world. These two great men, Zumbi and Bimba, deserve our respect and admiration.
So why the name Dandara, of whom so little is known? Dandara, Zumbi’s wife, was a warrior in her own right, the mother of 3 children, and queen of her people. She committed suicide when arrested by the invading state army, rather than return to a life of slavery. It is not known whether she was born in Africa or Brazil, but she is one of the few female figures mentioned in Brazilian history.
To me, Dandara is a symbol of all those voiceless, nameless Afro-Brazilian women - the ones who fought and the ones who didn’t, the ones who ruled and the ones who toiled, hidden in the homes and fields of the Portuguese. History is truly the story of those in power, so although there has been much restitution to include Black voices in the last decades, women are still rarely part of the discussion. This silencing of half the population is something we need to address in capoeira schools, homes and political offices where decisions are made.
I hope you will join me on Sunday, November 13, from 1:00-4:00 pm for a celebration of Dandara, Zumbi and Bimba. We will have special guest, Professora Borboleta of Filhos de Bimba Fort Worth, Texas, speaking to us on Zoom about the history of slavery and capoeira. We will also have a short berimbau lesson with Professor Trovoada from Filhos de Bimba Detroit. Last but not least, there will be a Roda. You are welcome to join, followed by snacks and refreshments!
Location: The Capoeira House (223 Winnett Avenue)
Cost: Guests - By Donation / Filhos de Bimba Students - $25
**Regular Classes run Wednesdays from 6:00-7:30 pm at this location throughout November. Please contact me for more information!**
Please also check out the inspiring piece below written from the heart by our very own Loba (a.k.a. “Felicia Perricelli)…
Layers of Capoeira
The sounds I make on a berimbau are not something that you would describe as beautiful, elegant or even rhythmic. But capoeira is a journey, not a performance or a destination. Like an ocean, vast, complex, and mysterious, it has a rhythm and life all its own. This might not be perceptible at first glance, not even to a student. Only through time, by maturing into and with capoeira, have I noticed the bounty and surprise it continues to bring.
A few weeks back at the Toronto Capoeira House, I experienced a moment of capoeira magic. It was awe-inspiring and spontaneous, and it caught me off guard, like a shooting star, or like seeing the Northern Lights. During some practice games in a weekly class, Professora Lang invited me to play the berimbau at the head of the roda. Playing berimbau is essential to a roda, of course, but it was a role that I had never stepped into. So, in the spirit of diving in, feeling safe with my group, I went for it. “It might not be pretty but trying is part of the journey too!”, I thought to myself.
I took a seat and my peers created a circle radiating out from me. I struck a few notes and the pandeiros on either side of me chimed in. Players appeared at my feet, looking up at me expectantly. I needed to stick out my foot. Could I manage? I did. My friends started to ginga to the rhythm of our collective song.
These details might be unsurprising, even mundane, for the seasoned berimbau player. I had witnessed others sit in that spot and how the game would fall into place hundreds of times. But to feel that… It was spectacular! I wasn’t just seeing the roda from a different vantage point. I was experiencing it like never before.
Each member of the group was contributing to bringing the roda to life, individually and collectively, like an orchestra, an ecosystem. The pandeiros kept the beat steady. The players spun, “esquiva-ed” and laughed, responding to one another’s movements. Others sang and clapped. I felt as if I had broken into a new dimension, where reality is both surreal and super-charged. I was lit up and tingly inside from the joy of seeing the games come to life.
I was witnessing one of nature’s great spectacles and I was a part of it! At the helm of it! Yet, I didn’t feel the burden that often comes with a leading role or the responsibilities of orchestrating a group. Instead, I felt light, silly, gleeful (and pleasantly pleased that no one seemed to notice my terrible berimbau skills!) because everyone was doing their part to make it whole.
I am already several years into my capoeira journey, yet everything felt so alive, so new and full of potential. Which leaves me pondering… as I continue to deepen my relationship to capoeira, what will it reveal to me next?