Brazil’s Candomblí© High Priestess Dies in Bahia, at Age 80

Mãe de santo Olba de AlaketuRespected and renowned Afro-Brazilian high  priestess (mãe de santo)  Olga de Alaketu, who royal ancestor were brought to Brazil as slaves, died September 29, at the age of 80, in Salvador, capital of the northeastern state of Bahia.

The death occurred in the Sagrada Famí­lia Hospital where she had been taken due to complications of diabetes. The ialorixá was the fifth generation of the princess Otampê Ojarô, from  Ketu, in the Western Africa’s Benin. Ojarô had been brought to Brazil as slave in the 18th Century.

Olga was born September 9, 1925, and took over as the spiritual leader of the terreiro at age 23. This was an unusual choice since these leadership posts are almost always given to much older people with years of experience. She married José Cupertino Barbosa, with whom she had six children.

Her temple, or terreiro as they are known in Brazil, was called Ilê Maroiá Láji. It was located in the Brotas neighborhood and was visited by several personalities including late writer Jorge Amado, French ethnologist Pierre Verger,  singer Maria Bethânia and singer-composer and current Culture Minister, Gilberto Gil.

The place, which is believed to have been built in 1636,  was declared a national heritage site earlier this year by the Brazilian Culture Ministry.

According to Brazilian anthropologist Yeda Castro, ialorixá Olga de Alaketu was the African-Brazilian religious leader who preserved the most the iorubá language. She was the high priestess of the Alaketu Terreiro for 57 years.  

Mãe (mother) Olga, as she was also known, helped bridge the distance between candomblé and Catholicism. Her friendship with abbot Timóteo Amoroso Anastácio of the São Bento Monastery of Salvador brought forth the so-called "Hill Mass," which used African instruments like atabaques, berimbaus and agogôs. The practice, however, was never accepted by the more traditional sectors of the Brazilian catholic church.  

Olga also got lots of respect from Brazilian politicians and the federal government. She received medals and merit badges in the administrations of former-presidents General Ernesto Geisel; General João Batista Figueiredo, the last military president and Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Candomblé faithfuls, gathered in terreiros often on Friday nights, sing and dance while incorporating spirits in hours-long ceremonies, which may involve the sacrifice of animals.


  • Show Comments (10)

  • Diane Theresa Brooks

    Refuse to kiss the ring and fight!
    😉 Ain’t know where in this hemisphere free of the”isms” that attempts to rob a person’s self worth. I am the child of “the african slaves”, “the dehumanized choctaw” and “the anglo trash of europa”-I have three reason to fight for my rights here in gringo land. People of the diasporia have to come to the conclusion themselves that they want to have a shift in the socio-political climate of their environment. The spirit s of those three groups keep me kicking in doors every chance I get, and if you make me kiss your ring-“Beware I am aiming to steal the stone”-HA-HA!

  • Guest

    In the interest of Christianity, the English, Spanish and Portuguese near annihilated the entire population of what Europe has termed the Americas, what modern international law would refer to as acts of genocide. In the name of Catholicism, millions of Africans were slaughtered in unknowing anticipation of Brazil. May the Gods of Candomble forever resist the brutality of this perpetual onslaught.

  • Guest

    It is not a racial subject. The blacks are not segregated in OUR earth. Our president, whon certainty possesses indigenous and black ancestors, and he is our president. Many that you imagined be white possess black ancestors in their families and, his/her blonde daughter or blonde son of blue eyes dates with pride a black human being.
    North America is eugenista, as the Nazi and the Jews, and, I notice that, unhappily, the ” Afro north American” absorbed the terrible inhabit racist of the atmosphere in that they live. Lamentable.

  • Guest

    If Brazil is so free of the ugliness and pettiness that exists in the United States then why are the people who are obviously lighter skinned In Brazil the ones who enjoy all the wealth and priviledge in Brazil while the “Black” Brazilians live in favelas and work for slave wages. I don’t care whether you cry and whine about being the ancestors of slaves or not because I’m not losing any sleep over it. That “crying and whining” that you accuse African Americans of doing has enabled them to share in some of the riches of America and be able to travel to Brazil and stay in 5 star hotels. Brazilians are always bitching about the wealthy gringos coming to Brazil and exploiting the cheap labor force that is Brazil yet on the other hand they say that are not out holding a tin cup. I’d rather hold a tin cup then be reduced to being a prostitute because my country has no jobs for me that pay a living wage and I have to resort to a life of corruption and crime. Maybe the poor of Brazil need to do a little crying and whining; it might get them out of those favelas and into 5 star hotels as something other than a maid. Read the article on this message board about the comments your fellow Brazilians give to the gringo named Jesse who they accuse of exploiting their labor force. Sounds like jealousy to me.

  • Guest

    Keep it at home
    Bom Fim – you said it! Well said!!
    Keep your racism at home yankee! Your racial profiling has no place here. Everyone has “dark skin” here in Bahia – at least to some variable. That is profoundly stupid. I guess you were in the mall and 5 star hotels/ restaurants repressing us dark skins like you’re brothers did when they sold us into captivity to the white traders in Africa – where there is still slavery. Is that part of our heritage too? Or just brute human ugliness part of every man from every color?

  • Guest

    Free indeed…
    Stay and fight your race war in the US. Don’t spread your ugliness to the rest of the world. You would like to divide our people with your pettiness. We have accepted our past and moved on. We are Brazilians not black of white. If you had really been here you would see that in Bahia as elsewhere here in the North East there is a beautiful blending of races to be just one race.
    No one is being held down except in your mind and that is what is frustrating to you. It must really bother you that our ancestors were once slaves and we aren’t out crying about it to anyone who will listen – holding our tin cup out trying to make everyone feel like they owe me something. No thanks, I’d rather work than beg. We are free! It is ugly, backward and wrong for you to come here for a few weeks and think you know Brazil. Sell your things in the US and come live in Brazil and leave your racism behind.

    Bom Fim

  • Guest

    There Is A Form Of Racism At Work In Bra
    Ignoring race like Brazilians do is just as bad as being obsessed about it like us Americans are here in the United States. When I was in Salvador in 2003 it was hard for me to fully appreciate the scale of slavery in Brazil but I knew that the millions of African slaves brought into Brazil in far exceeded the number brought into the United States. The thick,sour breath of Salvador’s bloody history seems to rise from the cobblestone streets and infuse the air. Salvador more than other states in Brazil though are at least on the surface coming to some type of racial awakening because the number of Bahians who look white in the American sense is quite small.

    I also noticed while in Salvador that no dark skinned Brazilians were present at 5 star hotels,upscale shopping centers and restaurants except the ones parking cars,cleaning the hotels or serving the drinks.I think this absence of racial identification in Brazil is what keeps dark Brazilians or Brazilians with African ancestry unable to become leaders in the more political sense and to wrestle away political power from the elite because despite being a clear majority,black people in Salvador and other parts of Brazil have none. They’re not even trying to elect Black canditates to push their issues to the fore and press for change the way African Americans have done here in the United States. Black Americans have long since confronted the white majority here in the States,got into the nation’s face’s face and insisted on being seen and heard and Black people in Salvador aren’t doing that. In America,despite all our problems,I can still put together a dozen magazine covers of Black role models that include more than basketball and soap opera stars which the average Brazilian can’t do in Brazil.

    The idea that if you refuse to acknowledge race,somehow you can make it just go away like Brazilians do is wrong. This thinking tends to hold Black people in Brazil down,harm them and worse it even denies them the awareness that they are being held down and the anger to do something about it. This is backward,ugly and WRONG!!!

  • Guest

    So Sorry…
    I am sure as an american you cannot appreciate the wonderful space that brazilians can give one another because we do not suffer your racism. One reason it exists so poingnantly in your nation is because you still persist in calling yourself African American – what a racist title. Why not just be Americans instead of European Americans or African Americans. Come back to Brazil and live among the Brazilians and leave your racism and hatred behind
    Having lived in and worked in West Africa in Benin and Togo among the Fon and Aja peoples that you would glamorize, I can tell you that they would trade what they have (dangerous and deadly spiritism) with you any day of the week and never go back. It has nothing to do with race or class, just escaping dispair and fear that pervade everyday living because of this spiritism. And obviously, it enslaves people here as well.
    I am sorry that my comments offended you gringo. And that is not racist for you truly do not understand what you see and that’s what gringo means. A quick study of history may help you find that Christianity did not originate in Africa but in the subcontinent of Asia. May God truly bless you as you seek for spiritual answers. At least you are looking.
    but for my people, again I say wake up my beloved country!

    Bom Fim

  • Guest

    Candomble Rocks!
    I am a 45 year old African American woman and having searched for many years for a form of spirituality I finally found in Candomble the spiritual space that felt comfortable to me. After having visited Bahia and Ile Axe Opo Afonja in 2003 I really have a new respect for Candomble and the mae de santos that have preserved the rich spirituality from Africa. Why is any form of African based spirituality demonized as witchcraft or black magic. Making a statement that AFrican spiritual practices such as Candomble is the same as devil worship is a RACIST statement! I guess only things European and white are pure,holy and good. Chrisitianity originated in Africa so is it witchcraft too?

  • Guest

    as flights of demons wing her way home… Any wonder our government can never escape it’s corruption influenced by such hellish soothsayers? hmmm… let us grieve yes, but let us also realize! Wake up from your witch induced sleep my beloved country!

    bom fim

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