Born in 1894 and baptized as a Catholic as Maria Escolástica da Conceição Nazaré and in candomblé as Mãe Menininha do Gantois, she was the most respected mãe-de-santo (spiritual leader) of Bahia. Aside from having followers in the candomblé religion, by way of her spiritual powers and personal charisma, she managed to bring together people from many religions on her terreiro (gathering place for Afro-Brazilian religious festivities), including personalities such as Dorival Caymmi, Caetano Veloso, Tom Jobim, Antônio Carlos Magalhães and Vinícius de Moraes, all of which were known to only make important decisions after consulting her.
As the grandchild of African slaves from the Kekeré tribe of Nigeria and while still a child, she was chosen as a mãe-de-santo (or ialorixá in candomblé) by the candomblé saints from the terreiro of her great-grandmother, known as Axé La Masse. By 28 years old, she had reached the top of the religious hierarchy. Abiding by the rules and comanding the terreiro, known as Gantois, she earned much respect and acceptance within the candomblé religion and in others through her political power. Her merits also helped in the modernization of candomblé: even opening doors to members of and people from other cults and religions and at the same time, not allowing space for folkloric nor touristic exploitation. A model of vitality and good will, she streamlined the activities of the terreiro with the family and all the while, doing acts of charity.
Below, one can see a song about her which Dorival wrote in the 1970s, being sung by Caetano and Maria Bethânia, accompanied by their mother, Dona Canô, and Mariene de Castro.
Lyrics (in PT)