Mãe Zezé

People , Intangible Cultural Heritage - Santo Antônio de Pádua


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Mãe Zezé. Photo: Tasso Marcelo/Diadorim Ideias
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Recife native and from a Catholic family, Maria José Coelho dos Santos started in Candomblé (an African-Brazilian religion) when she was 15, taken by her parents. The white skinned and blond haired girl had a memory loss condition and also a sudden illness, apparently she used to walk aimlessly. The doctors could not heal her. She was advised to seek a "terreiro" (an outdoor area where African origin religious practices take place), and there she received the news of her mediumship.

Then, she initiated herself as a "filha-de-santo" (a person who has a commitment to the Candomblé or other African religion) and began to worship the orishas, or deities of nature. She became ialorisha or "Mãe" Zezé, in 1975, in the "Nação Jeje Savalu", in Rio de Janeiro. She is the daughter of Oshun, "the goddess of love, the queen of gold", as she defines. "Mãe" Zezé opened her own "terreiro" ? known as Kwe Axé Olô Jomin, in 1982. Once, she went to Santo Antônio de Pádua to meet a client she liked the city so much that she decided to stay there.

The beginning was difficult. "People were suspicious, they thought Candomblé was a scam or something of Satan because you shave your head and kill critter. I lost track of how many tears I cried every time a wall of my 'terreiro' was knocked down. But I would rise them again," Zezé remembers.

Mãe Zezé. Photo: Tasso Marcelo/Diadorim Ideias

Slowly, and without confrontation, she consolidated her "terreiro" by opening the house to the feasts of the saints. Zezé is the only  "mãe-de-santo" (a priestess of Umbanda, Candomblé and Quimbanda, the African-Brazilian religions) in the region. "If you need to attend my 'terreiro' you can come. No matter if you are christian, evangelical, a businessman or a politician. But we all know that when one comes, nobody knows about it. It is a secret. God loves everyone and there is room for all here," she says.

The shed is located on the outskirts of the city and it has around 20 rooms for the saints and for the "filhos-de-santo". It opens in January for the Oshun feast (the sensual goddess), in October, fo the Ibeji (children orisha) feast, and November for the Kolondina feast. Monthly, the celebration is for the deities of the "terreiro" and for those who have already initiated in the religion. 

On her residence, "Mãe" Zezé throws cowrie-shells (forms of divination using cowrie shells that are part of religious beliefs of several religions. Before casting the shells, the priest/priestess invokes and salutes the Orishas, and puts questions to them. It is believed that the Orishas answer the questions by influencing the way the shells fall on the table). "When the subject of the complaint is spiritual, it is our responsibility to deal with it, but sometimes one does not need a 'mãe-de-santo', but a doctor. For exemple, the person has fallen down and thinks someone had cast a spell or it was an evil eye that made it happen. Then I ask if the person had watched the floor. Where is their faith in God? There is nothing to be afraid of. Evil forces exist, but the good one is superior," she teaches.

General Information

Address: Beira Rio Street, Cehab – "Terreiro" Kwe Axé Olô Jomin
Phone: (+55 22) 98128-5552 / 98815-7447
Website: https://www.facebook.com/mariajose.santos.165470?fref=ts

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