Shaded Meanings: The Colour of your Corda

15 12 2007

What does your capoeira corda mean to you?The green Brazilian flag.  The black African slaves.  The orange of a rising sun.  You cherish your corda–train with it, don it before every class, and no matter what you tell people, at some level you aspire for the next one; but do you know exactly what you’re wearing around your waist when you tighten that hand-dyed knot?

We all know that nearly every group in capoeira has a different corda system.  What I wanted to discover was: Why?  How?  It’s hard to imagine that each mestre just wanted to distinguish their school from the rest and so decided on a random order of colours merely by virtue of no one else having used it yet!  Unfortunately, I have never heard of my own grupo’s corda colours symbolizing anything in particular (so people, please enlighten me if I’m wrong!), but thought it’d be interesting to see what kind of meanings are given to corda colours in general.

Before I continue, let’s take a brief detour through Portuguese 101: Colours!

off-white/”raw”/undyed – crua
red – vermelha
orange – laranja
yellow – amarela
green – verde
blue – azul
purple – roxa
brown – marrom
white – branca
black – negra

You might have noticed that all the colours are in feminine form; despite what you may think, this was honestly for no more reason than that the word “corda” itself is feminine.  Can I help it if I want to you use proper grammar?  (I don’t rig things, I just take advantage of happy accidents 😉 )

Now, apparently many grupos do base at least part of their corda systems on the colours of the Brazilian flag, which is where cordas verde, azul, amarela, and branca come from, as well as the different combinations between them found in single cordas.  Grupo de Capoeira Lutaxé actually bases their entire adult graduation system on just these four colours, plus black and brown, which according to their website represents “the black race and time of slavery”. 

Filhos da Bahia Capoeira gets particularly creative in terms of colour placement, with nine variations of corda amarela/verde, followed by six variations of amarela/azul.  There are only so many ways you can dye one rope, and they seem to have come up with them all!  Their system intricately follows the process of nature, starting beginners off with corda verde and adding more and more amarelo to it in several stages, representing a blooming or ripening fruit.

Finally, we have what seem to be more standard symbols for each colour, the particular order here taken from Abada Capoeira.  Get ready to feel inspired 🙂

Crua
Raw, undyed, colourless–this one pretty much explains itself!  The true, unt(a)inted beginner, with no knowledge, no experience yet. 

Amarela
Represents the formation of a capoeira base as solid as gold, as well as the value of the student (yup, we’re worth our weight in it!) and their future.

Laranja
The rising sun – the quest for knowledge – the awakening of consciousness.

Azul
The sky, which opens into an infinite path towards knowledge.  Also the ocean, indicating the vastness and depth of ground there is to cover.

Verde
The forest: at this stage, the now-advanced student is expected to begin contributing back to the group, the way trees give oxygen to the earth.

Roxa
Continuity… … … … … … … … … … … …

Marrom
The soil of the earth, the source of life.  Marrom represents being grounded in the earth, and grounded in all aspects of capoeira.

Vermelha
In Abada, fairness.  In Sinha Bahia, symbolic of the blood shed by the slaves who started it all, as well as the blood we all share.  True understanding of all.

Branca
The colour of diamond–resistance, longevity, timelessness, and the colour that reflects all the rest.

Obviously, the rank of each colour affects the meaning the group will give to it, so it will be different for everyone, but this gives you a good idea of what’s out there!  What do you think?  Does your corda already have a symbol within your group?  Or do you think that symbolism stuff was all just claptrap made up after the fact?  Either way, I don’t think I’ll be looking at my corda quite the same way again!

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18 responses

31 12 2007
editor

“Can I help it if I want to you use proper grammar?”
nice.

1 01 2008
diffi

I thinks it’s all claptrap.

1 01 2008
Joaninha

Haha, thanks for commenting–fair enough!

2 01 2008
Sangue bom

If you can justify hidro-capoeira, then you can pretty much justify anything 😀

3 01 2008
Joaninha

WOW. I have never heard of hidro-capoeira before and so had to look it up, but now that I have…I’ll have to do some reading first and then get back to you! Yikes.

9 01 2008
macaca

my mestre has the red belt, and if i understand correctly this symbolizes life, as blood red is considered the link that binds the manifest and unmanifest. another mestre shared some associations between orixas and their symbolic colors, specifically mentioning that the azul refers to ogum, who is the santo of hard work and discipline. perhaps he is suggesting, just as you are, the archetypal and the universal that exists behind the curtain. blue = vast as the sea, limitless as the sky, and the work necessary to comprehend this vastness and limitlessness…

9 01 2008
Joaninha

Hey Macaca, thanks for that! I think tying them into the orixas is pretty cool…almost like a secondary personality pervading you and your training (secondary to your apelido).

22 01 2008
chan

Hey Joaninha,
it is very interesting the meanings of the cords. I have studied capoeira with mainly three groups and all have explained the system differently. However, I do know that the cord system derived from the karate belt system. I am not sure whether you knew that or forgot to mention that. Even some groups actually had belts, exactly like karate. Some had silk, that was like wushu, mestre bimba had silk hankerchiefs to protect the neck but also to differentiate grades. Ill have a look in my books and try and get back to you about some of the different meanings of the colours. I have a great book written by carlos senna in 1980 that explains the cord system a little more.

23 01 2008
Joaninha

Hey Chan,
I meant for the post mostly to be about the colours rather than the entire system itself, but what you brought up would definitely be cool to know. I do remember reading about silk hankerchiefs at one point, but not sure from where. Thanks for the information—where do you get it all?!

27 09 2008
ginga for all

its interesting to see how different groups vary the colours used and order of which they are used. Our group (http://www.ginga4all.com) only used 4 seperate colours; green, yellow, blue and white, but we mix them alot to give 15 different ranks. Still a red corda appeals to me a lot, so does black in a way.
Anyway, enough rabbiting on. Very well done on the meanings for he different corda’s, I have been curious why so many groups decide to have there own system, not that its a problem. Anyway, see you and take care.

4 10 2008
Joaninha

Hey, thanks for visiting my site and dropping a note! =) Wow, 4 colours in 15 different variations? That must involve some creative mixing ^^”

16 10 2008
cobrador

Hey Joaninha

As far as i understand, the concept of colors was introduced when mestre Bimba tried to leagalize capoeira and gave it some martial arts “charachteristics”. Obviously these charachteristics were meant to fall on “westen” eyes and as such they held a whole different message that could not be foreseen back then.

In my point of view, adopting the colored cordas system didn’t foresee the way it would be (mis)understood in different nations once capoeira spread outside brazil. Our “western” approach brings a very distorted view of the system, rendering us to assess a person in front of us by the color of his corda (and without thinking for a second about the profound meaning that hides behind the color). Further more we assess our own progress (or our teacher’s affection) by recieving the trophy and blinding ourselves to really look inside ouselves. Therefore, as I see it, the coloring systems somehow contradict the very basic principal of freedom. (I am really in a process of writing a post about it myself in my blog so, sorry for the raw structure)

When you go to a roda de rua where no one wears a belt, you connect to a deeper perspective. you don’t rush into the game, you are much more suspicious and alert. It is amazing how fast you understand who plays-what part.

I think the mestres who poured content into the colors really meant what they said, but I equally think that the larger the group grows, the more people will misunderstand that content and use their own terminology instead, leaving way behind the original meaning and the act of reflecting upon it.

Cobrador

17 10 2008
angoleiro

Hah, that reminds me of a common question I get when I talk to capoeiristas about some other capoeirista. “What corda does he have?” I never know. I dont remember the colours of their cordas. but i can tell how they play! I mean, it really would help if I could tell which cordas they have (because well, there is some hierarchy attached to it), I just dont care about the colours of em.

18 10 2008
Joaninha

That’s a great comment Cobrador, thank you! You’re right, a lot of it goes straight back to people imposing outside values on something that didn’t necessarily mean or involve or have anything to do with those values in the first place. I don’t really know much about the development of coloured cordas in capoeira myself, beyond the fact that it was established by Carlos Senna, as Chan mentioned above. I’m wondering though, if they really did create it so capoeira would be more “accepted” by the Western world as coloured belts might be thought to give it more “credibility”, to someone who didn’t know capoeira?

What you said though, about the belts constricting rather than freeing…I think I found that out when I trained with another group for a year. I didn’t wear my belt out of respect for their system, which was different, so since I had no belt it was as if I had “no status”. But since I started with no status, that also included “not beginner status”, so by the end, I realized that had more or less given me the freedom to create my -own- status within the group, since I didn’t feel the constrains that I usually would’ve from being the belt I was in my home group!

Angoleiro—yes, cordas are definitely useful for knowing who you’re talking to, when visiting a new group!

20 10 2008
angoleiro

of course it’s a good thing if you know the belt system of a certain group, but yeah, I just dont have an eye for that 🙂

20 10 2008
Joaninha

Haha, referring to my last comment–that’s not to say I didn’t do some major googling beforehand 😄

20 10 2008
angoleiro

hm… didnt think of googling sth like that. but that again is a proof how much a corda system does mean for me. not so much… 🙂

21 10 2008
Joaninha

Haha, I just googled it so I would know who I was talking to when I visited the group…not like I randomly spend my leisure time looking up other grupo’s corda systems!! 😄

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