Mother Gisèle de Iemanjá

Intangible Cultural Heritage , People - Duque de Caxias


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Daughter of a French couple, the writer and anthropologist Gisèle Cossard Binon was born in Morocco in 1924. She married a diplomat with whom she lived eight years in Africa. Though, it was in 1960, on a trip to Brazil, that her life changed. She met Joãosinho da Gomeia's "terreiro" (an outdoor area where African origin religious practices take place), in Duque de Caxias, and then she initiated herself in Candomblé (an Afro-Brazilian religion). "At a party for Iansã (an Orisha of the Afro-Brazilian religious faith Candomblé), I went into a trance and lost control of myself. When I woke up I was no longer the ambassadress, as Father Joãosinho called me."


Mother Gisele de Iemanjá. Photo Isabela Kassow/Diadorim Ideias


Soon after, Gisele returned to France. In 1970 she defended a doctoral thesis in anthropology at the University of Sorbonne in Paris, in which Brazil received the title of "Awo: The Mystery of the Orishas". In this period, separated from her husband she became friends with Pierre Verger, a French photographer and researcher of Bahia's Candomblé. In 1972, back to Rio de Janeiro, Gisele had pai-de-santo Balbino Daniel de Paula, a Bahia native, as a guide. They were introduced by Verger.


The socialite who lived between Paris and Rio de Janeiro faced her family to live in "Baixada Fluminense" (Rio's Lowlands) as a "mãe-de-santo" (a priestess of Umbanda, Candomblé and Quimbanda, the Afro-Brazilian religions). In 1974, she bought a house in Santa Cruz da Serra, where she keeps the terreiro Ile Axé Atara Magba. "I built the house with eucalyptus wood that I brought from Africa. This is the foundation of Candomblé: one has to plant in order to have something," says Gisele, who overcame prejudice in Rio for being a white mãe-de-santo.


Retired from the French public service in 1980, Mother Gisele de Iemanjá has initiated hundreds of "filhos-de-santo" (person who has a commitment to the Candomblé, or other African religion) into Candomblé. "Due to the excess of Candomblé's secrets, much of its essence is lost." She has also fought to end the ban on information about the religion of African origins. "Unfortunately Candomblé became a show with a lot of luxury and labels, but it is a religion of the people," she laments.


Recently, Iemanjá (a goddess in Brazilian Candomblé and Umbanda religions) would have shown Mother Gisele that the heir of her terreiro is the filha-de-santo Akindelê, 40, raised  in the terreiro - one of the only ones still active in Caxias.

General Information

Address: Almirante Tamandaré Street, 8, Equitativa Park, Duque de Caxias.
Phone: (+55 21) 2679-1755

Secretaria de Cultura do Estado do Rio de Janeiro Petrobras

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