Manoel Henrique Pereira better known as Besouro Mangangá was a capoeirista from Bahia who at the beginning of the 20th century became a strong promoter of capoeira in Bahia. Its fame reached the national level from the 1930s and, with the expansion of capoeira to other continents, it became international.
Besouro Mangangá became a folk legend in Bahia in Brazil, as he became renowned for fighting injustice and standing up for the oppressed and impoverished black population in the area. Although slavery was officially abolished, many poor black workers were only “paid” with accommodation and food: it was really still slavery, just under a different name.
The “police” were the armed enforcers of the powerful landlords, ensuring the status quo. The legends state that Besouro refused to accept these injustices, and would demand fair pay for his labour and that of the local people. When the plantation owners would call in the police in an attempt to quell the uprisings, he would use his amazing capoeira skills to fight for justice. There are numerous stories where Besouro would be hugely outnumbered by police armed with weapons and guns, but would escape unharmed to fight another day. His apelido “Besouro” referred to this ability to always escape these precarious situations: Like a beetle he could scurry away or take flight, evading capture.
Manoel Henrique Pereira was born in Santo Amaro, Bahia in 1895, and died in 1924 from "a puncture wound". There are official records of his birth, death, plus arrest records which document that he was also known as Besouro, so we can be pretty certain that the man really existed. Aside from these few official documents, however, there is very little we know for sure, only the stories which have been passed down from generation to generation, mainly via oral tradition.
You can watch the retelling of the man or myth via a film under his namesake Besouro Based on the life of a legendary capoeira fighter from Bahia, Besouro spins a fantastic tale of a young Brazilian man of African descent in search of his mission.