Instructor Discovers Parallels Between Native Culture And Capoeria

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Benjamin Shendo, a Capoeira (Afro-Brazilian Martial Arts) instructor, holds a berimbau, the primary instrument of Capoeira.

By Dan Ninham

“Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian Martial Art that incorporates music, singing, dance, acrobatics, culture and a resistance from colonization,” said Benjamin “Gaviao” Shendo (Jemez/Cochiti Pueblo), an instructor of Capoeira.

“It was developed by the people brought from Africa to Brazil. Capoeira was a way to keep their tradition alive by training the body, mind and spirit. It allowed them to endure the hardships and make the best of what they had at the time. Capoeira was an outlet for emotional expression within the community and a facilitator for teaching youth to become leaders, educators and providers for the people,” said Shendo, who is head Chef/Manager at the Gatherings Café inside the Minneapolis American Indian Center. He has been living in Minnesota with his partner Sibella and dog Fwa-La for the past year and a half.

“The core values in my tribe historically have been rooted in language, songs, dances, farming, hunting, and connection with nature,” said Shendo. “As I grew in Capoeira, so did my appreciation for my homeland, culture, and history. I understood as an instructor of Capoeira that I must continue the wave of resilience that was given from teacher to student, Mestre to Capoeirista. This has helped me align and continue to discover parallels between Native culture and Capoeira.”

“The people who have influenced me to become an athlete have been my community coming from a tribe that loves to run long distances,” said Shendo. “Children are encouraged to keep running long into their adulthood. My late grandfather, Benny Shendo Sr., was a big influence and continues to remain as my reference for being an athlete and hard worker. His words have always remained with me: ‘You must always be ready for when your people need your help, so continue to train and take care of your body, if you take care of it, it will take care of you.’”

Nicholas DeShaw, an elementary physical education teacher, lacrosse coach and capoeira teacher said, “I first heard of Ben’s program through a friend I played lacrosse with. I was really curious about what he was doing because I hadn’t met very many other Native people in capoeira. I started going to his classes at the Minneapolis American Indian Center.”

“I teach physical education at an elementary school,” said Nicholas. “After seeing how good Gaviao was at teaching kids, I invited him to come teach several of my classes with me and do a demonstration of capoeira for the whole school. The kids loved it and I was blown away by just how good of a teacher he was! I have been in capoeira as a practitioner and a teacher for over a decade and I have never seen anyone who is as good of a youth instructor as Gaviao. His passion, dedication and energy are so genuine they’re contagious. Training with him has been fantastic and it really helped to take my love for capoeira to another level.”

Shendo says he grew up on a couch next to the fireplace at his grandparents’ house in Jemez Pueblo, “I never thought I would travel the world and see the places I have been blessed to see. I was always told to put out my ashes out every morning, to pray outside with cornmeal to the sunrise, and to feed my spirits that protect me every day. I continue to do this and share this knowledge with my partner so that someday our children will do the same. In 2014, I was able to travel with my Mestre, Mestre Acordeon, on a bicycle journey that took us to his hometown in Bahia, Brazil. Seeing the world one pedal at a time, praying in lands I only read about in books, and returning with the gift of appreciating and caring for others on a level I never knew I had. It is now my turn to follow in my ancestors’ steps and teach the youth to believe in themselves and to love the land and everyone who walks on it.”

Shendo is featured in the video “Kewa House – Capoeria” on Youtube at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=z270nFhXoRQ.