Malandragem in the modern world

Malandragem is a Portuguese term for a lifestyle of idleness, fast living, street smarts, cunning, and resourcefulness – traditionally celebrated in samba lyrics, and deeply rooted in Brazilian culture and history. It reflects a way of navigating life with a certain cleverness and adaptability, often in the face of adversity.

In the context of capoeira, “malandragem” is an essential aspect of the game. Capoeira, besides being a martial art, is also a cultural form that incorporates elements of game, music, and strategy. The “malandro” in capoeira is a player who embodies malandragem — someone who is skillful, elusive, and able to outsmart their opponent with unexpected moves. Malandragem in capoeira involves a mix of physical agility, psychological tactics, and a sense of playfulness.

Malandragem comes from colonial times in Brazil. Before the abolition of slavery, malandragem was a fake stupidity, trying to do as little as possible, trying to act as a miserable and weak slave. Malandragem, in the colonial city, was associated with petty crime and a laid-back attitude. Everything you had to do to survive a colonial city, slavery, or jungle.

Malandragem has historically stood against various threats, including slave masters, police, and law enforcement. But what are our main threats in the 21st century? Health problems associated with lifestyle: obesity, lack of physical activity, and social isolation.

Tell me how capoeira is not the cure for all of this? We have the cure for most of the illnesses that modern society has today.

Imagine you invented a cure for cancer, but you decide not to share it with everybody, but just keep it within your family. How would people feel about you when they discover you had a cure but didn’t share it? In some countries, it would be considered a crime

Malandragem in the 21st century is different from colonial malandragem (“let me scam my friend”). As Mestre Leopoldinha once said “Hoje saúde é malandragem” 1

So the question is: how to help people use this malandragem to lead a physically and mentally healthy life in the 21st century?

— From talks with Cueca

Further reading

1. “Today, health is cunning”, or another way to put it, “Today, being healthy is a crafty endeavor”. In the contemporary context, maintaining one’s health requires a certain level of cleverness or strategic thinking.