Note from BW of Brazil: There are numerous important areas of Afro-Brazilian life, history and culture that attracts scholars, specialists and followers from all over the world. A few of those areas and genres include the music of Samba, the martial art of Capoeira, culinary arts and Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomblé and Umbanda. All of these genres are important in the understanding of Afro-Brazilian identity within the context of Latin American studies as well as studies of the African Diaspora. In recent news that has been covered by the country’s major media outlets, one of the most important religious leaders of the Candomblé religion, Mãe Stella de Oxóssi, recently passed away at the age of 93. Below are details about the passing of a huge figure in Afro-Brazilian culture.
Bahia in mourning! 93-year-old Mãe Stella de Oxóssi, one of the most important ialorixás of the country, joins the ancestors
Courtesy of A Tarde and Glamurama
Bahia is mourning the departure of Maria Stella de Azevedo Santos, better known as Mãe Stella de Oxóssi, of the of the terreiro Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá, in São Gonçalo do Retiro, in Salvador, who died on Wednesday at the age of 93. Considered one of the most important ialorixás (priestesses) of the country, she had been was hospitalized at the Incar Hospital, in Santo Antônio de Jesus, in the Bahian Recôncavo region since the 14th, when she was hospitalized with an infection. Her body was being prepared for viewing last Friday at the City Council of Nazaré, in the Recôncavo Baiano region of Bahia, where she lived since 2017. The burial was scheduled for 4:00 pm at the Cemitério Municipal de Nazaré (Municipal Cemetery of Nazareth). By means of a note on social networks, the Nazaré das Farinhas prefecture, also in the Recôncavo, reported on Thursday night that the body of Mãe Stella was already in the Hall of the City Council, where it was being watched. The wake was open to the public.
Mãe Stella had been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), but the next day she was transferred to the room. According to the latest health bulletin, the ialorixá was in a stable condition. The last time the priestess had been hospitalized was in November 2017, when she spent six days at the Hospital da Bahia in Salvador. At the time, she had severe headaches and high blood pressure.
Mãe Stella was born on May 2, 1925, in Salvador, the capital city of Bahia. At the age of 13, she visited the terreiro (holy temple) of Mãe Aninha, the founder of the terreiro Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá. A nurse by training, she practiced for 30 years. In 1976, at age 51, she was chosen by the orixás to be the new leader of the terreiro of São Gonçalo do Retiro. Mãe Stella was the fifth ialorixá to command the Ilê Axé Opó Afonjá. In 1999, she managed to get the terreiro to be registered by the Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional (Iphan or Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage). It was there that intellectuals such as Pierre Verger were initiated into the Candomblé. His book Orixás, Deuses Iorubás na África e no Novo Mundo (Orixás, Yorubá Gods in Africa and in the New World), which portrays the Yoruba gods’ cults in the countries of origin, features a preface by Mãe Stella.
More than a priestess of one of the most important Candomblé terreiros of the country, Mãe Stella de Oxóssi symbolized the cultural redemption of a people.
On the 18th of this month rumors arose that the ialorixá had died. The same information was denied by the president of the Sociedade Cruz Santa do Afonjá and administrator of the terreiro Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá, Ribamar Daniel.
“The various activities that my religious life demands and, of course, my advanced age are making it difficult to continue writing fortnightly for this well-known newspaper, which has welcomed my thoughts and my religious culture with great unselfishness. I’m not saying goodbye to the A TARDE newspaper that, understanding my reasons, left the space open for me to write some article when I could and wanted to … I will continue to write, but at the possible rhythm for my 89 years of age.” – Maria Stella de Azevedo Santos
The ialorixá became a columnist for the newspaper A TARDE in 2011 and wrote fortnightly on the opinion page until the end of 2014, when she announced in an article that she would stop publishing in a regular manner, however as a potential collaborator.
A priestess since 1976 of Ilê Axé Opó Afonjá, one of the most traditional Candomblés in Brazil, of the Nagô-Ketu nation, Mãe Stella was also active in the Mundo Afro blog, of the A TARDE website. Having earned a degree in Pharmacy from the Escola Bahiana de Medicina (Bahian School of Medicine) in 2009, she was awarded the title of Doctor Honoris Causa of the State University of Bahia (Uneb).
In 2013, the ialorixá was elected immortal of the Academia de Letras da Bahia (Academy of Letters of Bahia) (ALB). She occupied chair 33 (Poltrona Castro Alves), which was that of professor and historian Ubiratan Castro, who died in January of the same year. It was the first time that a mãe de santo (holy mother) took a seat of the most important entity of Bahian literature.
Mãe Stella, who lived with her partner Graziela Dhomini, moved from Salvador in March 2017 to Nazaré das Farinhas after suffering a stroke, when she lost almost all of her vision, and moved around with the help of a wheelchair.
The worsening of her state of health opened a silent war around her succession. Currently, at least five groups are moving to succeed Mãe Stella, who didn’t prepare any natural name for the post.