O Gavião é o Cobra Mansa


Picture source: www.aquelequeenxergalonge.blogspot.com

Eu tenho dois irmãos
Todos dois, chama João
Um joga pelo ar
Outro joga pelo chão
Se um é cobra mansa
Sei que o outro é gavião, camaradinho

This is the third post in the series about Masters of Capoeira Angola. In the last two ones I did mainly write about Masters who already passed away, but are still important for Capoeira Angola as it is today. There are a lot of Mestres living today who also have had a great impact on Capoeira Angola. And now to the two Mestres I am gonna post about today.

Mestre Joao Grande (born 15th of January 1933) and Mestre Joao Pequeno (born on the 27th of December 1917, so Happy Birthday by the way) are two Mestres of who you can say that a majority of today’s Angoleiros trace back their heritage to one of these. Both were students and afterwards contra-mestres of Mestre Pastinha and Mestre Pastinha himself said that they will be the great Capoeiristas of the future.  Today both Angoleiros are of high ages, but still active in terms of teaching and playing in the Roda.

Today these two Mestres are something like idols. They get invited regularly to Capoeira happenings all of the world and get doctorate titles from different universities. And really, every Angoleiro wants to meet one or both of these Mestres, if there is a possibility to do so.

Mestre Joao Pequeno

Mestre Joao Pequeno was born as Joao Pereira dos Santos in Araci, Bahia, on the 27th December 1917. As a young man he fled from the poor area he grew up in and started working in different trades. During his freetime he learned Capoeira from different friends, until he moved to Salvador da Bahia with 25. Here he met Mestre Barbosa and learned Capoeira with him until he joined Mestre Pastinha’s Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola. Soon afterwards Joao Pequeno did teach under the supervision of his Mestre and did take over lessons by 1960 when Mestre Pastinha was not longer able to. In Mestre Pastinha’s school he also got the name Cobra Mansa, and Joao Pequeno. Here he did teach a lot of different Mestres who are all still legends of Capoeira Angola, like Mestre Curio, Mestre Moraes and also Mestre Joao Grande. Other Mestres who trace their lineage directly back to him are Mestre Jogo de Dentro, Barba Branca and Mestre Pé de Cumbo. In 1982, when Mestre Pastinha died, Mestre Joao Pequeno continued to teach and is still teaching in the Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola (CECA) – Academia de Joao Pequeno da Pastinha.

Mestre Joao Grande

Mestre Joao Grande

 Joao Oliveira dos Santos aka Mestre Joao Grande was born in Itagi, Bahia at the 15th January, 1933. In the little village he was born in he spent his childhood on the farm and on plantations. When he became adolescent he started working as a migrant worker until he reached Salvador at the age of 20. The first street roda he saw was a Roda with the Mestres Barbosa, Joao Pequeno and Mestre Cobrinha Verde participating. He got excited, asked what this was, got told that it was Capoeira and was sent to Mestre Joao Pequeno to show him Capoeira. Mestre Joao Pequeno brought him to Mestre Pastinha’s Academy and taught him Capoeira. Being the student of Mestre Pastinha, Mestre Joao Pequeno and also learning with Mestres like Mestre Cobrinha Verde, Mestre Joao Grande (who was also named Gaviao) grew in Capoeira in became Mestre by 1966. He was (and still is) a popular Capoeirista, who was used by Carybe for his studies on Capoeira, and who did go on folkloristic shows, travelling throughout the world, showing Capoeira, Maculéle´and Puxada de Rede with the group “Viva Bahia”. When Mestre Pastinha died, Mestre Joao Grande did quit playing Capoeira and did earn a living with folkloristic dances and as musician. His students Mestre Moraes and Mestre Cobrinha did convice him to come back to Capoeira in the mid 80’s. In 1989 he was invited by jelon Viera on a tour to the U.S. The following year he did make another tour to the U.S. and stayed. Here he teaches in the Capoeira Angola Center of Mestre Joao Grande and from here he travels around the world, still trying to keep up the tradition of Capoeira Angola. The most important mestre Mestre Joao Grande did make is Mestre Moraes, who has a major influence in the Capoeira Angola world.

The informations I did post here about Cobra Mansa and o Gaviao are publicly available and as these two Mestres are so popular, you will find a lot more information. I still hope to be able to meet these Mestres, not only because I want to learn from them (there are a lot more Mestres I’d like to learn from), but because these men are living history! And at the end of this post I will again put one of my favourite Youtube videos, showing Mestre Joao Pequeno and Mestre Joao Grande back in 1968, when they were only 51 and 35 years old.


Filed under Mestres

15 responses to “O Gavião é o Cobra Mansa

  1. xixarro

    1) I had no idea there was such a big age difference between the two o them.

    2) I didn’t know they were also named Gaviao and Cobra Mansa.

    3) I hope I’m still as agile as JP when I’m 51

    4) Great post


  2. Methi

    Like everyone else, thanks for these and other posts. They are very informative and you have obviously put a lot of time into them.

    I just returned back to Holland from a trip to Salvador where I trained with FICA for 3 weeks. In there academia, they have a great “lineage tree” hanging which shows a most of the known Mestres. Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures of it. I’ll see if I can lay my hands on a copy of it.

    When I was there, I was told that Mestre Joao Pequeno would be celebrating his 92nd birthday today. Then again a couple years ago when I asked Mestre Leopoldina how old he was, he said, “At least 100!” 😉

    Just some tit bits for your post.
    Mestre Waldemaar is also known for his skills of making berimbaus. His student, Mestre Olavo, is himself a great berimbau crafter.
    Mestre Moraes and Cobrinha adopted the tactic of daily dropping by Mestre Joao Grande’s house to chat about the good ol’ days until he finally agreed to come out of “retirement” to teach at GCAP.

  3. That was an awesome post!

    I knew a little of the history of both Mestres, but your post really helped to put everything together and give a good overview. I learned a lot from it.

    Also the video of both of them playing was great. Just as a heads up, here’s a great youtube video of Mestre Pastinha playing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmlivXc2eAQ


  4. Hey people, thanks for all your comments!

    Xixarro, I also think it would be great to be as agile as joao pequeno with 51. that would of course mean that I have to increase the amount and intensity of my trainings…

    Hey Methi, the lineage tree you were talking about sounds interesting. As far as I have seen it, all lineage trees are kind of incomplete. Somebody should take care of that, because the more mestres come up the more complicated it gets to have an overview (making frauds easier more and more). About Joao Pequeno being 92 or 91: well, as far as I have seen it it’s always said that he’s 91 now… but, I think when you are of that age, it really doesnt matter if it’s one year more or less! 😉 thanks for the bits of information you added. I especially like te info about how Moraes and Cobrinha did manage to get mestre joao grande back!

    hey norberto! welcome to my blog! I know that video of mestre pastinha. I love it! keep on going with your webpage. I’ll check it out once in a while!


  5. The influence of these two great mestres goes beyond their teachings and the beauty of their games. They are truly icons of capoeira with many famous paintings, sketches and photos of these students of Mestre Pastinha being displayed in posters, flyers, cd covers, books and other media to this day. It is not uncommon to find a Carybe drawing or still of the famous game on the docks of Mestre João Pequeno or Mestre João Grande on the home page of regional and contemporary capoeira websites.


  6. Hello James, welcome to my blog. You are right and I did the mistake to forget mentioning it specifically. Like the mestres Bimba and Pastinha Mestre Joao Grande and Pequeno are now more than just their teachings and their games. They are icons and symbols, which everybody loves to connect himself to. And I guess everybody knows which picture you mean.
    for an example, see this link:

  7. jason

    The Colorado student group page is an understandable usage of the image, as they are directly affiliated with Mestre Joao Grande. What is more curious is that so many other groups co-opt these images without having any link to these men.
    The film Mandinguero in Manhattan was, in my mind, not a good document on Mestre Joao Grande. The title was a direct reference to him, but the film only briefly focused on him. Rather, it was an exploration of Capoeira as a globalized phenomenon. At a screening for the film, when someone brought this issue up with the film maker, the film maker said something to the effect of
    “Well, Mestre Joao Grande is famous so we wanted to associate the film with him…”
    This is troubling with Capoeira today. As it’s popularity has risen exponentially, the true sources for it’s wisdom have not. So people have strained to make connections to the few well springs of tradition that exist–to the point of fabricating that connection altogether. People see Mestre Joao Grande as a legend (which he is), but they neglect to make the connection from the legend to the teacher to the man. Similarly, they fail to connect Capoeira to it’s African origin. It is easier for many people to emphasize the “Brazilian-ness” of Capoeira because of prejudice. They therefor overlook the African-ness or acknowledge it only in passing. They impose as many non-African methods of understanding Capoeira as possible in order to water it down to a level that is easier for them to comprehend.
    Mestre Pastinha did not award belts for accomplishment. In the case of Mestre Joao Grande, he was awarded a diploma some 18 years after beginning his study.
    Mestre Moraes insists it was the community and not an individual who conferred upon him the title of Mestre.
    While so many people are caught up on titles like “Mestre,” “Contra-Mestre,” “Trieniel,” “Prof.,” and what ever else, these clearly marked titles fail to tell that much, beyond aiding in class marketing.
    If you are caught up in your ambition to teach and make a living off of this tradition, your understanding will be clouded by that ambition. If you are an active part of African tradition and a spoke on that wheel, you will learn much more.

    • Jasper Jordan

      Hey Jason,
      The documentary was actually titled, “Mandinga in Manhattan” not “Mandigueiro in Manhattan” which is why it didn’t focus on Joao Grande, but on the spread of Capoeira around the world.

  8. Ramsey

    Well said Jason, well said.

  9. Hello Jason, thank you for your contribution! very interesting thoughts. But I have the feeling that you are not very fair with the producers of “mandinga em manhattan”. I have seen the movie and I really liked it. It did tell the story of Capoeira in recent time and the history and effects of Capoeira’s spreading all over the world. When I would make a documentary like that I would also look around for one of the old mestres who represent Capoeira (and especially Capoeira Angola) like no other in the world. And Mestre Joao Grande and Mestre Joao Pequeno are exactly that. Of course you can go more into their personalities and you would have enough material for 3 documentaries per mestre, but that was not the intention of the movie (as far as I got it, of course).

    For the rest I can tell you that you are mostly right. The Africanity in Capoeira is sth extremely endangered and with every new development in Capoeira it seems as if the Africanity is one of the first things people are willing to discard. Maybe it’s because most Capoeiristas and Angoleiros alike are not African. And more and more are not even Afrobrazilian or at least “just” Brazilian. It’s a dilution effect. The more Capoeira grows the more diluted the African traditions get. And that’s why Angoleiros try to keep things together – with more or less success…

  10. Methi

    Just a little input from my side. I watch Mandiga em Manhattan with Cobra Mansa. He “sponsored” this documentary by helping the film makers make contact with different Mestres and to ask them to help out. (None of them asked for any money.) According to Cobra Mansa the main theme of the film was to show how Capoeira developed, went abroad and then came back to Brazil. Joao Grande is symbolic for how Capoeira (Angola) went abroad. For me it was interesting to see in the film and in Brazil itself, the influence of the reimportation of Capoeira back to Brazil.

    For good or bad, Capoeira has become a “hobby” for many. This allows the people practicing it to define it which way they like. Though it might be diluting and changing, it is wonderful what Capoeira has done for many people around the world. Find the style and the people who fit with your definition and don’t stop asking yourself what Capoeira means for you. This has helped me enjoy Capoeira without getting irritated at others or myself.

  11. Hello Methi,

    thanks for your comment and I abslutely agree. that is some wise words you wrote there.


  12. Kumiko

    I absolutely agree with jason. people fail to recognize that capoeira originated in africa and not in brazil as many people have put on their websites and in the soposed “histories” of capoeira.

    I also have a comment relating to the use of the word “Mestre” and other variations of it. Teaching capoeira does not give you the right to call yourself a “Mestre”. That title requires a great level of discipline and understanding of the art as well as its principles. Today most all of the so calles masters have very little or no deep understanding of the martial art they “teach”. It is in my expierience that many also dont know who Mestre Joa Grande or Mestre Joao Pequeno are.

    In my opinion this is a great diservice to the capoeira community to teach capoeira and yet not know or teach who the legends and great instructors and educators of capoeira are to your “students”.

    So more power to Jason. I look forward to more topics.

  13. Hi Kumiko, thanks for your comment. I think you are right that the word “mestre” is used far too often, whereas it is often a reasonable question to ask “who made you mestre?” but I am glad that most people do recognize this problem, not only in capoeira angola, but also in the other styles.
    but more power to jason? that’s something you gotta explain to me.


  14. Pingback: Mestre Moraes

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