Brasilien: Maria Stella de Azevedo Santos

Without peace and freedom, nothing can be done.

— Maria Stella de Azevedo Santos

Maria Stella de Azevedo Santos (1925) is a spiritual leader in the Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá ‘terreiro’–place where the rituals and cults are carried out–of Candomblé, in the city of Salvador. For the last 30 years, Mother Stella has occupied the position of Ialorixá, which is a priestess, the maximum female authority of the Candomblé. Through her religiosity, she works in her community and irradiates her pride of the Afro-Brazilian culture all over the country.

She learned with her grandmother the secret and the force of the Orixás that are the Gods of the Candomblé. Her grandmother learned with her mother. Maria Stella's great grandmother came to Brazil when she was nine years old. African, she came as a slave and never forgot the Ioruba's (people from the Southwest of Nigeria that had a strong social and cultural influence on the Northeast of Brazil) religion. At age 14, Stella began her initiation in the Candomblé. She worked and studied simultaneously. She graduated in nursing. In 1976, with 50 years of age, she was chosen as Ialorixá of the Terreiro Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá. She became ‘Mother Stella of Oxóssi’ (the Orixá that represents the figure of a hunter). Mother Stella is a woman who is also tuned into the problems imposed to Afro-Brazilians. In spite of how powerful the culture is, they are systematically discriminated and deprived of their rights and opportunities. Today, the country is learning how to live with its religious diversity. Mother Stella has contributed to this effect. “People no longer have to hide their devotion to the Orixás.” She stimulated the creation of an elementary school inside of the ‘terreiro.’ Maintained by the city hall of Salvador, the school teaches the Iorubá language and the respect to differences. Mother Stella also coordinates projects of income generation, through the industrial arts of the universe of the Orixás. She maintains a museum where the visitor makes contact with the cosmogony of the Candomblé. 80 years old, Maria Stella de Azevedo Santos is the testimony of a life dedicated to one love: the Candomblé. She is also a testimony of lucidity, in teaching us that the freedom for the practice of afro-descendent religions is the affirmation of Afro-Brazilian culture.