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Friday, 16 June, 2000, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Survivor of slavery dies in Brazil
Maria do Carmo Jeronimo, a former slave whose lack of a birth certificate prevented her recognition as the world's oldest woman, has died at the age of 129.

Jeronimo died of a stroke late on Wednesday at the University Hospital in Itajuba, 300 km (200 miles) north-west of Rio.

Maria do Carmo Jeronimo, former Brazilian slave
Maria do Carmo Jeronimo lived in three centuries

According to church records, Jeronimo was born on 5 March 1871 in the southeastern town of Carmo de Minas, in Minas Gerais state.

Brazil then was a monarchy under Emperor Pedro II, and Jeronimo, who was black, was born into slavery.

She was 17 when Brazil finally abolished slavery, but never left Minas Gerais.

For six decades she worked as a housemaid for the Guimaraes family, which in recent years tried unsuccessfully to have her recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the world's oldest woman.

"They said the baptismal registry of the church in Carmo de Minas wasn't enough and demanded a birth certificate," said Agostinho Guimaraes in a recent interview.

"The problem is there were no certificates back then, especially for slaves."

Proof needed

The publication requires a birth certificate or other undisputed proof of age, because some past claims of longevity have turned out to be false.


The Guinness World Records book says the world's oldest person is Eva Morris, of Staffordshire in England, who is 114 years old.

It lists the oldest man as 110-year-old Benjamin Harrison Holcomb of the United States.

The oldest person ever with authenticated records was Jeanne Calment of France, who died on 4 August 1997 aged 122.

Still, local record books listed Jeronimo as the world's oldest woman, and she was honoured at a Carnival parade in Rio commemorating the abolition of slavery.

She also received a personal blessing from Pope John Paul II during a visit to Rio. At the age of 127, she finally saw the ocean.

Resistance

In her final years, Jeronimo had a series of strokes that effectively left her in a vegetative state.

But her resistance surprised Guimaraes family members, who took care of her when she no longer was able to work.

"We saw her go through many crises, many delicate situations and survive, " Thereza Guimaraes told the newspaper Hoje em Dia.

"We ended up thinking that it would go on forever."

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23 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
World's oldest twin dies at 107
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