Hilda Dias dos Santos (1923) is known, throughout Brazil, as “Mother Hilda.” Ialorixá (maximum authority in the Candomblé religion) of the terreiro (place where the rituals of Candomblé are carried out) Ilê Axé Jitolu. She carries out the synergy between religiosity and social work. Owner of a refined consciousness of Brazilian racism: “Racism is still present, but today, Caucasians respect Afro-Brazilians.” Part of this respect is the result of the work that she has been developing during 50 years.
The terreiro Ilê Axé Jitolu was founded by the pastry maker Hilda Dias dos Santos, in 1952. The terreiro–place where the rituals of Candomblé, religion originated from Africa, are carried out–was born in a straw shack. Located at the hill of the Curuzu, in the district of Liberdade, which is the most Afro-Brazilian of all the districts of Salvador, Bahia, the Ilê Axé and its Ialorixá have become a national reference. At age 82, Mother Hilda tells the story of how she embraced the religion of the Orixás, the gods of Candomblé: “As a child, I was always passing out. The doctors were not able to solve the problem. I went into the Candomblé and the crises stopped.” She married, had six children. She sold a lot of food at the doors of factories and boat terminals. One day, she felt prepared to turn her house into a terreiro for the practice of Candomblé. Mother Hilda opened up a school for the children of the Curuzu. She qualified boys and girls for the religion and for life. Through religious and recreational activities, she stimulated the strengthening of the self-esteem of the Afro-Brazilian youth. It was in a room of the Ilê Axé Jitolu that, in 1974, the Ilê Aiyê, a group formed solely by Afro-Brazilians, was born exalting afro beauty. Mother Hilda continues her work of educational extension for the construction of citizenship. Besides elementary school, there are percussion, dance and professionalizing courses. There is a team working on the Notebooks of Education that are about Afro-Brazilian cultural themes. Now, she wishes for the community of the Curuzu to become a ‘cultural corridor,’ a space that irradiates the Afro-Brazilian culture from Bahia. Mother Hilda says that “the next step is an existence, a life, with quality and peace.”