Review: Capoeira Beyond Brazil

29 01 2009

Back to apologies mode…sorry, guys.  My new schedule thanks to work is insane, and I barely have time to cook and clean, let alone read or write anything of substance!  I may be going on another hiatus soon, but not before I release the Mandingueira Retrospect Magazine (only table of contents left!!!).  For now, here is my long-promised review of Capoeira Beyond Brazil!

Capoeira Beyond Brazil is written by Aniefre Essien and published by Blue Snake Books. I was really looking forward to reading this book because of the “international aspect” it seemed to have, and was really interested in seeing how capoeira would be treated in an international context.  Having said that, the book had both its ups and downs.

When I was in high school (please excuse the temporary non-sequitar; this is related, I swear!), our social studies teacher gave us a tour of the school library’s references section. There was Encyclopedia Britannica, World, Canadiana, etc., and there were racks of Time Magazine, as well.  Upon showing us the latter, our teacher told us, “Here we have Time World, which is about the United States, and here we have Time Canada, which is about the world.” (That’s still one of my all-time favourite quotes, by the way.)

Well, reading Capoeira Beyond Brazil, unfortunately, brings that quote to mind. I suppose you could say it goes beyond Brazil—but only as far as the United States (skipping over Mexico and Central America along the way). Maybe it was just me, but for some reason I’d been expecting a slightly more academic, ambitious piece with a larger scope than it had. I was expecting to read about capoeira in Asia, Australia, and (present-day!) Africa, about globalization or international relations (and capoeira’s influence from or on them, of course) and sociological theory more so than personal anecdotes and basic/typical introductory capoeira lore.

However, the book does have it good points, as well.  Essien touches interestingly on some topics that I don’t think I’ve seen quite touched on the same way before, such as the horridly ironic phenomenon of some capoeira teachers using capoeira as a “tool of oppression” on their students. The book is healthily “progressive” from a feminist point of view, and I enjoyed reading the capoeirista interviews at the end (though again, the interviews, similarly to the rest of the book, only feature “A Few U.S. Capoeiristas”).

One interview which especially resonated with me was the first one, by a former capoeirista who left the game because he felt that people were beginning to bring too much ugliness into the art and violating the spirit of the game. He said a lot of things that I found insightful and agreed with, especially in regards to fighting in the roda/in capoeira, mentioning how “students have been trained to fight in the name of the instructor, not necessarily because that student feels that s/he has to fight”. The capoeirista being interviewed concludes, “I have to separate the concept of capoeira from how it’s actually practiced by individuals who tend to bring in the element of machismo.”

Overall, Capoeira Beyond Brazil was an okay read. It just didn’t turn out to be what I’d expected it to be, which is the only reason I was disappointed. I think it would be an ideal gift to give to a beginner capoeira student, and even more so for an American beginner capoeira student. The writing itself is fine, Essien’s experience as a capoeirista and capoeira teacher shows through with no question, and I’m always up for a good capoeira anecdote, so in that respect the book is great.  For what I mentioned earlier, I guess I’ll just have to wait till some international affairs post-doc gets hooked on capoeira!

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