Matriarchal leaders: the power of the Yabás and the life generating force

Unzó Maiala Charitable and Cultural Association for the Preservation of Tradition / Mameto Laura Borges


In the community where Mameto Laura Borges lives, in the Garcia neighborhood, in Salvador, the terreiros [worship places of some African-Brazilian religions] have always been the places where women run to when they need help and guidance. The place is always a welcoming space to talk about relationships, difficulties and the most diverse types of violence suffered. At the age of 52, a religious leader at the head of one of these Angola-denominated terreiros famous for listening and welcoming people, Mameto stressed her long-standing need to help others. A long time ago, she decided that she would open the doors whenever a woman needed to be heard.

The result is that the Unzó Maiala terreiro has a long history of social projects and community support. The history of the terreiro merges, in a way, with the story of Mameto, who has occupied the leadership for 19 years. “This is a job that has always inhabited me,” she explains, speaking softly and patiently. Unzó Maiala, recognized and respected in the region, welcomes people from the most diverse religions in its projects.

“Usually, when I open the terreiro for a project, I ask for spiritual protection, no matter what religion. But there is a separation and we develop in a very different way, we do not mix things up. Wisdom is the true legacy of our lives. It is knowing how to listen and how to speak. Knowledge comes from experience. That way, we can respect people, which is very important, and we are respected in return”, whispers Mameto.

I am a mother of more than 70 daughters and this is wonderful."

With the support obtained under the Ela Decide Call for Projects, a UN Population Fund project in partnership with the Elas Fund, Mameto brought together women, both young and older, cis- and transgender, to talk about women's health and the experience with their bodies. With the help of a collective, a booklet was prepared to explain issues such as the menstrual cycle. “Women need to have autonomy, be empowered and perceive their capacity. For me, this is the greatest happiness”, says the religious leader.

As the name of the project goes, Mameto brought inspiration from the female strength of the Yabás, female Orishas, and rescued the wisdom of the matriarchs. Like the Yabás, she believes that all women - queens, princesses and mothers - have within themselves the strength to prosper. Mameto sees this truth in herself, which is why she extends her hand to those she recognizes beside her, including young transsexuals. "It is a pleasure for me to receive them all," she says. "I am a mother of more than 70 daughters and this is wonderful."

Project: Matriarchal Leaders: the power of the Yabás and the life generating force

Location: Salvador

People directly benefited by the project: 250 women and 6 men.

The Unzó Maiala Charitable and Cultural Association for the Preservation of Tradition has developed the project based on several activities, aimed primarily at women in the community, on self-care, reproductive health and the cycles of a woman's body, thus contributing to the exchange of knowledge and experiences among black women (cis and trans) from the outskirts of Salvador. The materials produced include T-shirts and printed materials such as the “Natural Gynecology & Autonomy Manual”.

Photography: Daniele Rodrigues / Writer: Fabiane Guimarães e Rachel Quintiliano / Editor-in-chief: Rachel Quintiliano / Content review and approach: Anna Cunha, Juliana Soares and Michele Dantas / Artwork and Composition: Diego Soares

This story is part of the publication “Driving Force: stories and actions undertaken by women and for women in Bahia”, that shows the result of a partnership between the United Nations Population Fund and the Elas Fund to support projects led by women residing in the Brazilian State of Bahia, who work to promote actions involving training and information on sexual, reproductive health and rights. To learn more about the project and other stories, visit brazil.unfpa.org/forcamotriz