First published: 11 December 2014
Video and Summary: A Liberdade Do Corpo – Roberto Freire
Mestre José Antonio posted this great video with Roberto Freire (SOMA’s creator, writer, psychiatrist, politician). It explains how Capoeira can be a weapon in the fight against authoritarianism and what he calls ‘modern white slavery’ (i.e. almost everyone living under the Capitalist system is enslaved) and in dealing with neurosis. I watched with the English subtitles and they are terrible. This video could really do with being translated by someone fluent in both languages, rather than the YouTube translator robot.
So I wrote a summary while I was watching it (see below)
Title: Body’s Freedom – Capoeira Angola
Brazilian society was divided into whites and blacks, blacks serving whites. Slavery must have originated after the hunter-gatherer period ended. The creation of agriculture enabled man to dominate nature, and with that came the discovery of the power of war in search of land. A consequence of war was imprisonment, and slavery. Slaves were used to increase productivity in agriculture.
Living creatures have an instinct to seek freedom; a biological instinct known as irritability. This enables any living organism to defend itself against threats to his ability to survive. Whenever freedom is taken away, man is biologically programmed to fight for freedom. But also, on a more conscious level: freedom is an essential part of life, justice and human rights.
In Brazil, slaves started to use African rituals, mimicking animal movements and dance in a game which prepared them for fighting: Capoeira Angola.
All creatures’ irritability and need for conservation manifest themselves through the physical body. Bacteria, for example, generate a lot of bodily activity when fighting against antibiotics. When a person is a slave there’s a need to physically react. A slave’s body is incarcerated, therefore it’s the body that needs to be worked on, to develop the dexterity to fight against the oppressing force. And so the slaves invented Capoeira, which not only energized their bodies, but also gave them special abilities and turned their bodies into weapons which could defeat the white enslaver’s weapons.
Through this physical training, the slaves started to rise up and form the first Quilombos. The Quilombos offered freedom and justice to runaway slaves. Eventually the ‘Lei Aurea’, which abolished slavery, was signed on May 13th 1888.
The world was changing through the Industrial Revolution. The slave was replaced by the worker. Capitalism established itself as a disguised form of slavery, where few people utilize and exploit the working masses for financial gain.
In Brazil the recently formed working class organised themselves into free syndicates. The Anarcho syndicalism was brought in mainly by Italian immigrants – but it couldn’t defeat the Estate and the market economic forces. And so Brazil endured two violent dictatorships. Dictatorships blackmail us with weapons, violence, incarceration, exclusion, human misery, ideologies and lies. And ultimately, emotional blackmail. Because the suffering of everyone involved can stop the revolutionaries from taking action, by creating fear.
During the dictatorship started in 1964, anyone who disagreed with the powers that be was persecuted and tortured. Many died. One of the most violent tyrannies had been established. Less explicit than slavery but equally as absurd. This was the background against which SOMA was created. Created by Roberto Freire, it’s a form of physical group therapy which aims to help people living under the military regime to find a way out. As Capoeira, SOMA aims to act as a catalyst for political and social freedom.
Military domination is different from slavery, but the repression manifests itself in the same manner: by taking away personal choice. White slavery is the modern neurosis. If you get to know someone suffering from neurosis, you will see that they are imprisoned, with various symptoms which stop them from being productive, creative, loving and self-fulfilled. This imprisonment process starts in the family, through the bourgeois capitalist mentality and life plan, then the school completes this incarceration. However, capitalist society creates a structure in which sometimes people can’t even work or eat, and ends up like now, in Brazil, where 40% of people live in abject misery*. It’s a dramatic situation which Roberto Freire calls ‘White slavery’, with the false veneer of there being no masters or slaves.
The aim of SOMA is to enable the patient to regain their freedom, through the physicality of Capoeira. Roberto Freire observes Capoeira’s power to dismantle the neuro-muscular armour which holds the neurosis in. Furthermore, Capoeira teaches people to be alert, lucid and prepared to deal with life’s challenges. Capoeira puts people in ready state to fight. Therapy needs to teach people how to fight to get out of the neurosis, and how to be free.
The power mechanisms which try to control the individual expressions’ of originality do more than manufacture neurosis. Conformists are easily controlled. And this is how authoritarian societies perpetuate themselves. Neurosis condemns individual life to be just a small cog in an institutionalised and officialised machinery: The Capitalist system.
There’s a big difference between obtaining freedom and utilising its full potential. Roberto Freire’s patients often ask him: ‘Now that I have found freedom, what do I do with it?’ Roberto Freire says that a patient asking this question is thinking from a Capitalist perspective. He has no ideas of how to live differently from the system he was raised in. SOMA’s ideology is Anarchism and it offers an alternative life plan to that of Capitalism. The individual of the future: free, decisive, who doesn’t accept any form of authoritarianism, dictatorship or slavery.
Freire thinks that people who start the therapy and soon embrace the fighting aspect of Capoeira are proto-mutants 🙂 They are closer to what humanity will be like in the future. Theirs and Roberto’s vision of the future is that we will live differently. There will no longer be exploitation of men by men.
*I think this video must have been filmed in 1979, as the narrator says the military dictatorship started in 1964 and has lasted for 15 years – so when this was filmed Brazil was still under the regime? But, confusingly, the opening credit says 1996… Roberto Freire lost his eyesight during one of his many arrests for resisting the dictatorship, hence the eye patch.
A lot has changed since then, but on a more fundamental level, a whole other lot hasn’t changed at all. This is a real gem of a video!
Roberto Freire (São Paulo, b. January 18, 1927; São Paulo, d. May 23, 2008) was a medical psychiatrist and Brazilian writer, who created somatherapy (Portuguese: somaterapia), also referred to as SOMA, an anarchist therapy based on the then radical new ideas of Wilhelm Reich, as well as the Brazilian martial art Capoeira Angola.
Somatherapy (or Soma) was created by the Freire in the 1970s as a group therapy, based on the research of the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich. With the objective of freeing the individual to be more creative, the exercises in Soma work with the relationship between the body and emotions. Other essential ingredients in Soma are the studies of antipsychiatry related to human communication and the Brazilian martial art / dance Capoeira Angola. Soma groups last a year and a half, with frequent sessions, including usually one full weekend per month for the entire group, as well as frequent capoeira classes, study sessions, social activities, and two self-organized group trips. These times together allow the participants to build and develop the group dynamic, in line with the principles of anarchism.
yes, certainly bring me back memories, but also the feeling that within Brazilian society many many people resisted AND resist oppression and exploitation in all its forms
Thanks for this
What’s different now is that African-Brasilians are developing their own conciousness and narrative through movements and groups.
I went so see the exhibition From Valongo(port in Rio where Slave ships arrived) to Favela, organised by new MAR(art museum of Rio) and learned about how the marginalised ex-slaves went to occupy those areas and hills close to Rio’s port/docks area and to create a new type of marginalised housing made almost exclusively by poor unemployed socially marginalized African-Cariocas.
The new wave of using the word Community instead of Favela seems to me another attempt, this time a language one, to smoke-screen the origins and the history of African people in Rio as to make it more palatable to NGOs, white Europeans volunteers and profiteers, property speculators, adms officers, Rede Globo, UPAs..
Certainly makes you think about capoeira in an empowering way.