Friday, 27 July 2007

More about Cobrinha

Anyone who reads the Wikipedia entry on Mestre Cobra Mansa, better known as Cobrinha, will know that he is a well-established master, and co-founder of the International Capoeira Angola Foundation (FICA). What it doesn't say - and it may or may not be true - is that he started life as a "street kid." He certainly learned "street smarts." When I first met him in Salvador in 1987, he earned a living as a street vendor, but was more like a medieval mountebank.

He would set up a bicycle rim with large knives inserted point inwards, and offer to dive through the small hole in the middle. A crowd would inevitably gather round to witness this feat, but Cobrinha and his assistants managed to keep them going for hours with a sales pitch for a "massage ointment" laced with a local anesthetic, xylocaine (lidocaine) - a precursor of Viagra - and otherwise manage to avoid taking the deadly plunge between the knife points for as long as possible. It seemed impossible, because the hole was smaller than the breadth of his shoulders.

I only saw him do it once. He literally dove through the hole with his arms stretched well above his head, reducing his shoulders to their narrowest point like a diver into a pool. It was brilliant, and people were willing to hang around for hours - and even buy his product - on the off chance he'd do it again. He later started using his acrobatic and Capoeira skills at the Picolino circus school, both teaching and performing.

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