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Celebrating November 20th: Agency and Defiance in the Construction of Memory in Capoeira Angola

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2013


This paper explores memory and surrogation in the geographic and historical revisions/reinventions created within the practice of capoeira angola in Brazil. Employing Joseph Roach's discussion of circum-Atlantic memory, the author analyzes how angoleiros/as, the practitioners of capoeira angola, look back to Africa for an origin, while at the same time carving out an empowered space in Brazil through movement and song, ritual and play. Using Diana Taylor's concepts of archive and repertoire, the paper examines how angoleiros/as reject the Brazilian archive and claim agency by becoming the protagonists of history through the music and movement of capoeira. The author examine the word “vagrancy” (vadiagem) in the context of capoeira angola and relate it to Saidiya Hartman's discussion of postemancipation vagrancy laws and “indebted servitude,” proposing that vadiagem, re-appropriated by angoleiros/as to refer to the practice of capoeira, becomes symbolic of capoeira's subversion: it both remembers a past of persecution and challenges the capitalist hegemony by underscoring capoeira's nonproductivity.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s) 2007

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1. Taylor, Diana, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hartman, Saidiya, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery and Self-Making in Nineteenth Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).Google Scholar

2. Moraes, Mestre, Capoeira angola from Salvador, Brazil (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Folkways, 1996).Google Scholar Translation by the author; the original Portuguese lyrics read as follows:

A história nos engana / Diz tudo pelo contrário

Até diz que a abolição / Aconteceu no mês de maio

A prova dessa mentira / É que dessa miséria eu não saio

Viva 0 20 de novembre / Momento pra se lembrar

Não vejo em 13 de maio / Nada pra comemorar

Muitos tempos se passaram / E 0 negro sempre a lutar

Zumbi é nosso herói / Zumbi é nosso herói, colega velho

Do Palmares foi senhor / Pela causa do hornern negro

Foi ele quem mais lutou / Apesar de toda luta, colega velho

O negro não se libertou, camarada!

3. Daibert, Robert Jr., Isabel: a redentora dos escravos (Bauru: EDUSC, 2004), 138.Google Scholar In this version of history, slavery was abolished by the law 3,353 of May 13th, 1888, known as the Golden Law (Lei Àurea), signed by Imperial Princess Regent Isabel, daughter of Emperor Dom Pedro II, the last emperor of Brazil.

4. Hartman, , Scenes of Subjection, 126.Google Scholar

5. Ibid., 131.

6. Freitas, Décio, República de Palmares: pesquisa e comentários em documentos históricos do sécula XVII (Maceió: EDUFAL, 2004), 13.Google Scholar

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8. For example, jardim-jardineiro (gardener), pão-padeiro (baker, lit. bread maker), leite-leiteiro (milk delivery man).

9. Roach, Joseph, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 29.Google Scholar

10. Hartman, , Scenes of Subjection, 145.Google Scholar

11. Soares, Carlos Eugênio Líbano, A capoeira escrava e outras tradições rebeldes do Rio de Janeiro (1805–1850) (Campinas: Editora da Unicamp, 2001), 288Google Scholar; my translation.

12. Ibid., 289; my translation.

13. Butler, Judith, “Critically Queer,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 1 (1993): 19.Google Scholar