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Alaketu Yard/ Ilê Maroiá Láji

The founding myth of Terreiro do Alaketu (Alaketu Yard), or Ilê Maroiá Láji, passed down through oral tradition, tells that it was founded more than three hundred years ago by an African.

Alaketu Yard/ Ilê Maroiá Láji

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 04/05/2015

By: Júlia Morim - Consultant Fundaj / Unesco

The founding myth of Terreiro do Alaketu (Alaketu Yard), or Ilê Maroiá Láji, passed down through oral tradition, tells that it was founded more than three hundred years ago by an African, Otampê Ojaró, a member of the Ketu royal family, who as a child was kidnapped and sold into slavery along with her twin sister. In Brazil, she assumed the name of Maria do Rosário Francisca Régis. After the liberation, having returned to Africa, she married Babá Láji, with whom she returned to Salvador and founded the Terreiro (Yard). Thus, Terreiro do Alaketu would be the oldest in Brazil.

However, recent studies (CASTILLO, 2011; SILVEIRA, 2003) point out that while much of the oral memory is supported in documents and in historiography, its founding date is later.

According to Castillo (2011), based on documents collected in his research and in historiographical data, it can be concluded that the origin of the founding is quite plausible. This yard’s name could mean ‘people of Ketu’, a corruption of ‘ará Ketu’, or it could be a mention of the name given to the king of that kingdom, ‘Aláketu’. The consecration of the yard to Oxóssi, perhaps the most important Yoruba deity, also reveals links with Ketu. Also, “the founder of the yard’s surname, Ojaró, is one of the five lineages of the kingdom, better known as Aro” (CASTILLO, 2011, p.218).

Regarding the date of the temple’s founding, the most likely period is the first half of the nineteenth century – in 1810 (SILVEIRA, 2003, p.377), or between 1833 and 1850 (CASTILLO, 2011, p.216) – not in 1616, as recorded in the account of the Ialorixá Olga do Alaketu, or in 1636, as the sign in Alaketu’s hall suggests. According to Silveira (2003), there were no Nagôs from Ketu in Brazil in the seventeenth century, since the trafficking of slaves from the region where the Kingdom of Ketu was, today Nigeria and Benin, had not started yet. This region became a target for trafficking in the late eighteenth century. However, in Jeje-Nagô symbolism, the numbers six and sixteen have great significance (SILVEIRA, 2003, p.349) and so maybe that is why this foundation date has been perpetuated. So Terreiro do Alaketu shares the rank of one of the oldest active yards in the country with Terreiro da Casa Branca.

Terreiro do Alaketu follows the Nagô tradition of the Yoruba people. Located at 67 Luis Anselmo St, 13 Beco do Alaketu, it occupies approximately 1,500 m2 in the centre of what was the “farm” that belonged to the Régis family from the beginning of the nineteenth century. With a small green area – the “forest” where the sacred trees are – it has “several individual settlements and shrines, the ritual kitchen, three homes of family members and the main temple” (IPHAN, 2004, p.11), in which are

the public ceremonial hall (or “shed”) and also the main shrines of Oxalá and Xangô; the rooms for gathering and obligation – also called ‘camarinha’ or ‘runcó’ – and others to be in and store objects.

There are also the settlements of Okê, Ogun and Oxóssi, where the sacred objects brought by Otampê Ojaró’s family are buried.

The house is commanded by matrilineal succession, so that it is run by a woman who maintains kinship ties with the founder. Among the Ialorixás, there is Olga Francisca Régis, Olga do Alaketu, grandniece and successor of Dionísia (Mãe [Mother] Dionísia), who died in 1953. Olga headed the Alaketu for fifty years. After her death, she was succeeded by Jocelina Barbosa Bispo (Mãe Jojó).

One of the central houses the Afro-Brazilian cult, Terreiro do Alaketu has produced dozens of “boats” (groups of saint-children) over its existence. In addition to its religious aspect, the community also plays the role of a space for the preservation of memory, transmission of knowledge and community support.

For its importance to culture and the perpetuation of African memory in the country, Terreiro do Alaketu was recognized as a Brazilian Cultural Territory by the Palmares Foundation, and in 2005 was listed by the National Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN), or in other words, was recognized as a Cultural Heritage of Brazil and, as such, must be safeguarded for future generations.

Recife, 2 May 2014.
Translated by Peter Leamy, April 2015.

sources consulted

CASTILLO, Lisa Earl.  O Terreiro do Alaketu e seus fundadores: história e genealogia familiar, 1807 – 1867. Revista Afro-Ásia, Salvador, n. 43, p. 213-259, 2011. Available at: <http://www.afroasia.ufba.br/pdf/AA_43_LCastillo.pdf>. Accessed: 2 maio 2014.

IPHAN. Parecer n.163/04 – 7ª SR, de 23 de março de 2004. Ref.: Processo n. 1.481 – T – 01 – Terreiro do Alaketu, em Salvador/BA. Salvador, 2004. V. I.

_____. Processo de tombamento n. 1.481 – T – 01. Salvador, 2001. V. I.

SILVEIRA, Renato. Sobre a fundação do Terreiro do Alaketo. Revista Afro-Ásia, Salvador,  n. 29/30, p. 345-379, 2003. Available at: <http://www.afroasia.ufba.br/pdf/afroasia_n29_30_p345.pdf>. Accessed: 2 maio 2014. 

how to quote this text

Source: MORIM, Júlia. Alaketu Yard/ Ilê Maroiá Láji. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <https://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/en/>. Accessed: day month year. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.