There are a lot of different words in Capoeira which do have an own meaning in the Capoeira world. I am not talking about movements and their names, which are anyway different from group to group. I am more talking about conceptual words. These words make up the basic elements of Capoeira Philosophy. Just to mention, malicia, malandragem, axé, mandinga and jogo are words which do have special meanings in Capoeira. One of the strongest words in this context is Mandinga.
If you just translate it from Portuguese into English you will find “(black) magic” or something related to it. If you hear it in the context of Capoeira, people are generally talking in a respectful way. As if Mandinga is partly amazing and partly frightening.
I actually wanted to dig into the meaning of Mandinga and found three very good sources, which will explain you the meaning of ‘Mandinga’. There is a) the trailer of ‘Mandinga em Manhattan’ which shows a part of the movie where several mestres (big names all of them) explain in few words what Mandinga is. You will see that there is no direct definition of Mandinga, but that Mandinga is more of an umbrella for different characteristics of a person, if they are secular or more part of the mystical world. Source b) is actually a very good elaborated post from the site Mandingueira, a highly recommendable blog for Capoeiristas. And here she goes into the meaning of Mandinga in a more structured and definitive way. And then there is c) another post from a blog, but this time from the Capoeira Connection Blog, which is a great blog with highly valuable translations of texts about capoeira. The post I am referring to is a definition of Mandinga given by different Mestres, but this time written down.
Alright, after having viewed these sources you might have an idea about Mandinga, although I think there is a difference in reading it and seeing it happening in the Roda. The best way of experiencing it is being the victim of an Mandingueiro. It happened to me a couple of times when I realized that I am getting deceived by the other one, that he is influencing my attention, my concentration – and that, thus, I fall under his control. It’s nothing you got to be sad or angry about. I admired it every time when it happened to me.
Can we learn it? Some people say yes, others say that Mandinga is a natural attribute which you have and which you don’t have. One quote is definitely right: “You can learn Mandinga, but you cannot teach it.” There is no way somebody can teach you how to “put a spell” on somebody, because Mandinga has a lot to do with natural expression, smartness, instinct and – of course – malicia and axé. Most of these are things you can’t learn, you just have.
My idea upon this is that everybody has a kind of way of expression. Everybody is smart in some way and instinct and malicia and expecially axé are all things every person does have. Of course, for some these things are coming more naturally, others inhibit themselves because they are thinking too much or trying to be too clever about things. But this all doesnt change my opinion that everybody HAS these things. It is just about developing them. Some can be actively developed, some come with experience and time. You grow in Capoeira and the more you grow, the more you learn, the closer you will come to be a Mandingueiro.