Afro-Brazilian High Priestess Dies at 80
By MICHAEL ASTOR, Associated Press WriterSat Oct 1, 2:04 AM ET
Olga de Alaketu, the high priestess of one the oldest temples of the Afro-Brazilian religion Condomble, died of complications from diabetes, hospital officials said. She was 80.
Alaketu presided over the Ile Maroia Laji "terreiro," as Candomble temples are known, which was established in 1636, making it one of the oldest in the coastal city of Salvador da Bahia, where the religion is based. She was buried on Friday.
Alaketu's terreiro was frequented by prominent figures, including Brazilian writer Jorge Amado and French anthropologist Pierre Verger. Earlier this year, the terreiro was declared a national heritage site by Brazil's Culture Ministry.
Candomble is an animist religion brought over with the African slaves, mostly from Nigeria and Benin. Followers incorporate spirits in ceremonies filled with music and dancing that often last throughout the night. The ceremonies can also involve animal sacrifices.
"In the last 40 years, we can consider Mother Olga as the greatest proponent of the religion of the Orixas in all Brazil," said popular singer and Culture Minister Gilberto Gil at the ceremony declaring the terreiro a national heritage site.
Historians said Alaketu was a fifth generation descendent of the royal family of Aro, from present-day Benin. Her family members were brought to Brazil as slaves and were instrumental in establishing Candomble in Brazil.
For many years, Candomble was banned in Brazil and its followers practiced their religion by worshipping the Orixas — the Gods of their African ancestors — disguised as Catholic saints. The sea goddess Iemanja, for instance, became the Virgin Mary, Saint Antonio became the god of iron and war, Ogum.
In the 1980s, spurred on by a growing black pride movement, Candomble moved to distance itself from Catholicism, eliminating the saints and worshipping the Orixas directly.
Alaketu was buried Friday at the Bosque da Paz cemetery in Salvador. Information was not immediately available regarding survivors, although, media reported that her eldest daughter would assume the terreiro.