• London
Lelé's Capoeira Blog

Mestre Cobrinha Verde

Mestre Cobrinha Verde

I’m copying this here, too precious to risk it disappearing!

I found/copied it from here http://capoeira-connection.com/capoeira/2011/10/capoeira-and-mandingas-mestre-cobrinha-verde-1921-1983/

Mestre Cobrinha Verde

If the facts in this book did not occur as Cobrinha Verde tells them… too bad for the facts.
Brief Introduction by Marcelino dos Santos (Mestre Mau)
I was born in Santo Amaro da Purificação, and I met Cobrinha here in Salvador. Knowing that he was one of the best capoeira mestres in Bahia, I made an effort to get close to him. And thus began my project of researching his life. I discovered that he was one of the greatest capoeiristas of all time because of his malícia, courage, and teaching. He was an heir of the famous Besouro – the greatest capoeirista of all times. When I found out that Cobrinha Verde was Besouro’s cousin and was raised as his brother, I became even more interested in the mestre’s life. This was how I learned from his wisdom and his wickedness, as the great mestre he was.

Capoeira and Mandingas – Part I
Many thanks to Contra-Mestre Perere for making this text available for translation!
[Phrases in italics and brackets are my added notes on the translation – Shayna McHugh]
My father was called João Alves França, and my mother Maria Narcisa Bispo. They were only married by the church [and not by the state], so this is why I only inherited my father’s last name. I am called: Rafael Alvez França.
Besouro, my mestre, began to teach me capoeira when I was just 4 years old. Besouro’s father was named João, nicknamed João Grosso, and his mother was Maria Haifa. Maria Haifa was my aunt, so Besouro was my cousin, and was raised as my brother. My mother raised him.
In those days, Besouro taught his students hidden from the police, because the police heavily persecuted capoeiristas. When the police showed up to attack, he would tell his students to flee, and deal with the police alone.
I was brought up in that environment. My true mestre was Besouro, but I learned from many mestres in Santo Amaro. I will give their names one by one: Maitá (who even had a samba song named after him), Licurí, Joité, Dendê, Gasolina, Siri de Mangue, Doze Homens, Esperidião, Juvêncio Grosso, Espinho Remoso, Neco Canário Pardo. Actually, Neco Canário Pardo was my machete teacher. The one who taught me razor technique was Tonha, nicknamed Tonha Rolo do Mar. A woman. She is still alive, and walks around with a machete in hand. She lives in Feira de Santana.
I grew… when I was about 17 years old, I had confrontations with the police. I had very nasty battles with them. I was strongly hated by the police because I didn’t turn myself in.
There was a deputy in Santo Amaro named Veloso, the old Veloso. He was the toughest deputy in Santo Amaro. He was the grandfather of Caetano Veloso and Maria Betânia [two famous Bahian singers]. He always walked around with two soldiers, one on each side. He wore boots and was always armed. He would beat up anyone in the middle of the street for any little thing. He didn’t know me, but he searched for me.
One day, I was coming home from a samba in Catolé. When I passed under a peanut tree on the edge of the river, I encountered him, colonel Veloso. I don’t know if it was Barauna or Tamborete, his soldiers, who pointed me out. Then he whistled. “Hey, come here.” I waited. “Aren’t you Cobrinha Verde, the tough guy around here, who goes around beating up the police?”
“No, I’m not a troublemaker,” I said. “I have never killed or dishonored anyone, I can’t be a bully.”
And he said: “Prepare to get beaten up,” and put his hand on his weapon.
When he took it out, I put my hand on the eighteen inches (the machete that I carried) and I hit him with the flat of the blade. He was startled. His two soldiers attacked… I beat them both up. They ran. I beat up the deputy soundly with the flat of my blade, but left him without a single scratch.
Then I fled. I went to Dona Sinhazinha Batista, who often protected me. She was the wife of Dr. Batista Marques. I taught her children every Sunday. When I arrived at her house and told her the story, she said: “My son, I can’t get you out of this one. You have to get out of here because Veloso is my cousin, and I can’t escape him.”
“I don’t doubt it,” I said. She gave me 100 mil-réis [mil-réis were an old unit of Brazilian currency] and told me to disappear from Santo Amaro.
I passed by the house of Padre Acelino, my godfather, to talk. He also gave me 100 mil-réis. He took me to the church, confessed me, and asked for blessing upon me. Then he turned to me and said: “Where are you going, my son?”
I said, “My father, I’m going without a destination.”
I went to Lençóis, and got involved with Horácio de Matos’ band of fighters. I was seventeen years old. I spend three years and six months fighting along with them.
Horácio de Matos’ men weren’t a bunch of bandits. Horácio de Matos was fighting to be president of the north. He thought there should be two presidents in the country. He had a lot of money, he wasn’t a bandit. Lampião was a bandit. He formed a crew of rogues. We earned 10 mil-réis per day to fight with the police when they showed up.
I spent three years and six months in Horácio de Matos’ band. The last shot I fired with them was in Serra do Gentio do Ouro.
At midnight one night, while we awaited the police, I dreamt about the spirit of my father, asking me to leave that environment. When I awoke, I obeyed. Everyone was sleeping, and I filled two backpacks with spare bullets and fled.
I went to Manaus, and then I thought I might be near the band. Afraid that they would find me, I went to Rio Branco, which in those days was merely a settlement. Today it’s the capital [of the Brazilian state of Acre]. But when I arrived in Rio Branco, it was the mosquito season, and there was lots of fever, typhoid… I returned to Manaus. In Manaus I had a family with India Mansa from the Juçara Tribe. I had two children with her. When I was doing well with India (for me, I was fulfilling a mission), I received news that the Revolutionaries were marching from the interior of Ceará.
I abandoned my family and went south, joining the revolutionaries. Oswaldo Aranha, Juarez Távora and Juracy Magalhães accompanied the commander: Getúlio Vargas. We left Ceará with 60 men, and went on foot to Alagoinhas. I was just 22 years old. When we arrived in Alagoinhas we had over 3,000 men. We exchanged fire for an hour and thirty minutes, heavy fire. They say you can still find human skulls in that area to this day.
From Alagoinhas to Calçada (in Salvador) we went by train, which was called Maria Bonita. In those days, the greatest police chief in Salvador was Pedro Gordilho, who andava numa baratinha. He ran and hid on Itaparica Island.
When we arrived in Salvador, the barracks couldn’t hold all the revolutionaries. There was only room for half the men. There was no room for me. I stayed in an old museum in the Campo Grande area, where the Castro Alves Theater is today. I had been there 15 days when a revolt broke out in São Paulo.
I asked permission from my superiors, and went to São Paulo. I fought for six months. Whoever says that the war in São Paulo lasted longer than six months is lying. 3,150 men from my platoon were injured. I was the least injured. I was deaf for six months because of the explosions. When the fighting ceased, we went to gather the bodies of our dead comrades. They poured gasoline on the bodies and burned them. That was when I felt remorse…
When the revolt in São Paulo was over, I returned to Salvador. I stayed in an old barracks in the Campo Grande area. They gave me a promotion to Third Sergeant, for having been a hero in combat. I wasn’t promoted for my high level of education, because I am illiterate to this day. I ended up being the sergeant who was in charge of the bay area, caring for stables of animals, horses, etc.
In the barracks there was a lieutenant known as Querido. He was from Rio Grande. During the war, because I feared nothing, he would put me as the lookout every day and every night. One day I defied him and said I wouldn’t go. So he got mad at me.
The lieutenant was single, and slept in the barracks. One day he went out and returned at midnight. On that day, it so happened that I was also out, working as a guard. But he came back and said that he had seen me gambling with a soldier (and even today, at my ripe old age, I have never cared for gambling in any form). He made this false accusation against me, and I ended up in prison for 15 days.
On the day they let me out, I went back to my locker in the barracks and left my uniform and everything else there.
When I had returned from the revolt in São Paulo, I brought with me a small weapon that belonged to the first commander who I fought alongside during the revolt. He was shot in the chest, and fell. I jumped on top of him, stuck my hand in his pocket and found: ten mil-réis, a pair of wedding rings, and a gun. It had 18 cylinders. No one in the barracks knew that I had that gun. I kept it hidden inside my locker.
On the day they let me out of prison, after I changed my clothes, I grabbed the gun, put it in my pocket, and went up to the command offices to kill the lieutenant who had slandered me. I was very quick. When I walked through the door I said: “Prepare yourself to die right now, lieutenant!” The man gave a jump and surrendered. But Colonel Pinto Aleixo, Colonel Herculano, and Colonel Ladislau intervened. They couldn’t put me back in prison, because they had found out that the lieutenant had accused me falsely. So instead they grabbed me and dragged me to the door, saying, “Go home and rest.” I no longer lived in the barracks, I lived in the Fazenda Garcia neighborhood. So I went home. The next day, I went back to the barracks and I was listed as “suspended for an indeterminate period.” To this day, I haven’t pressed the case further or raised a fuss. I didn’t really care.
I returned to my profession as a stonemason. Today I am retired, and I earn a meager salary that isn’t enough to live on.

It was Besouro himself, my mestre, who gave me my nickname Cobrinha Verde (little green snake) because I was very quick. I was so fast that one day he put me in a room and threw knives at me, to see if I could defend myself. I caught the knives twice.
When Besouro had a student and he saw that the student was ready, he would lock himself in a room with the student, take one dagger and give the other to the student, and say: “Let’s have a knife fight with a towel tied around our belts, so that we can’t get away from each other.”
One time in Santo Amaro, the deputy sent eight men (four inspectors and four soldiers) to catch me, and bring back either me or my head. It was midnight and I was coming home from the factory when they attacked me. I carried with me a wide machete with an 18-inch-long blade. When I approached the group, I saw that one of them was my cousin, who was an inspector. So I arrived and asked each of them for their blessing. When I got to my cousin, saying, “Your blessing, Sula,” he responded, “Now! Today it’s you! We’ll deliver either you or your head to the deputy.” I saw that there was no way to run. So I fought them so that I wouldn’t die. If I had run, they would have killed me. So I fought them to preserve my life.
It wasn’t just with capoeira that I freed myself from my enemies. The good capoeirista is a magician. He has the ability to learn good prayers and use a good amulet, because capoeira can’t protect us from bullets.
So I used good prayers and a good amulet. Today I don’t use them anymore, but I haven’t forgotten. Everything is here in my head. The prayers were to protect me from the evil eye and from bullets. If I ever fall into water, I have the prayer of Anja so that I don’t drown.
The amulet that I used had prayers of Santa Inês, Santo André, Sete Capelas, Sete Folhas. After I used it, I would put it on top of a clean plate. It would jump, because it was alive. But there was some problem, because it went away and left me. I must have committed some error. I already had this amulet when I entered Horácio de Matos’ band at age 17. It freed me from many things. The person who gave me this amulet was an African who, to this day, when I speak of him, my eyes fill with tears. He was called Uncle Pascoal. He was a bachelor. I would go to his house when I was a boy. He lived on the other side of the river behind my grandmother’s house, in Santo Amaro.
I would leave in the morning, go to his house, and ask his blessing. He would respond: may God bless you, my son. And he would ask me: “What is it that you want?” I would respond, “I’m going to clean your house.” I would grab the gourd, go to the river, fill it up, and bring it back. I would fill up his water tank and sweep the house. After I finished things, I would say, “I’m leaving, Uncle Pascoal.” And he would say, “Okay, my son.”
One day he said to me: “You’re a brave boy, and I’m going to give you something. Only God could deceive you. And God doesn’t deceive, my son, He doesn’t deceive anyone. Now, the thing I’m going to give you, you must use it as I will teach you.” I responded: “Yes, sir.”
I was ready to learn, so he began to teach me. He put 65 prayers in my head. I know the Pai Nosso Positivo, the Pai Nosso da Palma, the Pai Nosso Pequeninho, and the Pai Nosso de Antonio Conselheiro, with which I won the war.
So old Pascoal told me that there was an old disciple named Isídio (he is dead today) in Bonfim Church, who could get me the material to make an amulet.
I went to old Isídio and he gave me the material. When I returned to Santo Amaro, I gave the material to Uncle Pascoal. He prepared the amulet, gave it to me, and said: Look, you have to use it like this, like this, like this.
Twenty years later, when I returned to Santo Amaro, I still had this amulet.
I was a man who had a family, but I didn’t sleep with my wife. She would sleep there and I would sleep here, so that my powers wouldn’t be broken [in candomblé, it is believed that sexual relations “open” a person’s body that had been protected by magic]. I didn’t pass under wire fences; I didn’t pass under dendê trees or certain other types of trees. I didn’t walk under clotheslines on Wednesdays or Saturdays.
Not everyone knows that Saturday is the most important day of the week. It’s the day that God set aside to rest. It’s the day of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary – she is my patron saint. I am of Nanamburucu and Oxalá, Oxalufá, all deities of the ground.
I have been a spiritist for thirty-something years. I work for good in my house. There will never be a time when my guardian angel instructs me to do evil, to desire evil for someone. I know how to do it. I know too much. I know how to put someone away within 24 minutes, God help me. For the love of God, I neither do this nor teach it.
I want for my spirit, when it tires of this material world, to be friendly so that I can reach the path of good adventures.
I think this is so beautiful. The worst thing in the world is when a person dies and his spirit stays wandering here among us, not reaching the place that God destined for it. The spirit attacks people, thinking it is doing good.
My greatest disappointment in capoeira was having lost my childhood. And no longer having the force of will that I once did. When I arrive in some academies and I see people playing so differently from me… that’s when I feel remorse and I remember my childhood. It is so beautiful when a person knows… I would like to go there and teach how it is.
In years past, I liked to hang out with the veterans here in Salvador. I’m not talking badly of anyone, because I never did – but I never heard of Pastinha. Never, until after the death of Aberrê. Before Aberrê died, Pastinha used to accompany him. It was after Pastinha took over the academy that he started saying he had been Aberrê’s mestre. But Aberrê never told me who his mestre was.
One time, I was without an academy, because I had moved to the Liberdade neighborhood. Pastinha asked me to go to his academy. So I went a few times. I asked him, “Who taught João Grande?” And he responded, “I did. I taught João Grande, João Pequeno, Moreno.”
One day he was invited to do a presentation in the naval base in São Tomé de Paripe. Eulampio – who I called my brother – and I went with him. When we arrived, the commander had us play, and threw money into the roda. The capoeiristas picked up the money from the ground, and Pastinha had them give it to me. On the way back, the commander had a guard give us a ride back in a truck. When we were in the truck, I put my hand in my pocket and said: “Take your money.” He said: “Not now. Give it to me when we get back to the center.” So when we got back, I gave him the money, and I didn’t keep a single cent.
Gigante trained with me. He is still alive, and can verify my story. I never pocketed money that was thrown inside the roda. When we finished playing, what did I do? I would take the money and give it to the capoeiristas to divide amongst themselves. Thanks to God, I was working in my own profession. I was in charge of three or four projects. So why would I want money? And that’s why people sought me out to teach them. Other capoeira instructors wouldn’t give their students the money from the center of the roda. They wouldn’t even pay for the students’ transportation to the performance.
I taught capoeira out of my love for Besouro. On his deathbed, Besouro called together all his students and told me that I, Cobrinha Verde, was the only one to whom he was giving his spirit to teach capoeira. This is why I taught for free. So when we came back from the presentation at São Tomé de Paripe, I took out all the money and gave it to Pastinha. He turned to me and said: “I’m going to give you some money.” And I responded, “No, I don’t want any,” and left.
The next day, I returned to the academy to teach the boys like João Grande… I was the one who gave classes to Pastinha’s students. I was the one who taught singing and berimbau, because he neither sung nor played. When I came to give class, the boys told me that Pastinha said that the reason I didn’t accept any of the money was because I had already pocketed half of it. Because of this, I even challenged Pastinha to a fight. I told him: “I wish you were the same age as me so that we could settle this dispute. You’re a vagabond, and I’ll never set foot in this academy again, understand?”
I was the first person to travel outside of Salvador and present capoeira. I traveled to São Paulo. After me, then Bimba, Canjiquinha, and Caiçara began to travel.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: