Maria do Carmo Gerônimo
|Maria do Carmo Gerônimo|
|Died||June 15, 2000
|Height||4 ft 0 in (122 cm)|
Maria do Carmo Gerônimo (March 5, 1871? – June 15, 2000) was a Brazilian woman who claimed to have been the world's oldest person and the last Brazilian slave. Born on the claimed date of March 5, 1871, she died on June 14, 2000 at the claimed but unverified age of 129 years and 102 days.
According to church records, Geronimo was born in Carmo de Minas, Minas Gerais on 5 March 1871, and baptized on 15 March. Her birth was registered in the local Roman Catholic church, the only documented evidence of her claim. Geronimo was born into slavery, and spent the first 17 years of her life on the Serinha plantation, owned by a former Brazilian Army officer named Jose Garcia, until Brazil abolished slavery in 1888. According to historians, her father, who she barely knew, was a "producer", a slave selected to sire children. When she was a child, one of her brothers was killed when he was kicked in the head by a horse, while her older brother and sister were sold off to another plantation, and she would never see them again. When she was about 8 years old - she couldn't remember exactly when - her mother, who worked as a laborer in sugarcane fields, died of an illness. Due to her small size, she was limited to housework, washing clothes and cleaning the house during the day and returning to the women's slave quarters in the evenings, and claimed to remember the drunken overseer often coming in at night to beat and rape the female slaves. She also claimed to remember the meager meals, constant sickness and many deaths, including the murder of a man by the slave owner, as well as the joy on the day of emancipation.
Although her birth was recorded in the baptismal registry of the local church, the Guinness Book of World Records refused to recognize her claim without a birth certificate, although this demand was contested on grounds that birth certificates were not issued in that part of Brazil at the time, especially for slaves. Furthermore, interviews were conducted with people who had known her when they were young to verify her claim of longevity, including 96-year-old Francesca De Andrade Pereira, who claimed that when she moved to the town as a child in the early 20th century, Geronimo was already a grown woman who was fond of playing with the local children. Though her age was never officially recognized, Maria do Carmo was popular in the press in the 1990s. She was often shown with the recognized oldest person ever, Jeanne Calment of France ("Women in the 120s") or at Carnival. In August 1997, she was featured in Time Magazine following the death of Calment (listing potential claimants to the 'world's oldest person' title).
Historians note that even though Brazil didn't abolish slavery until 1888, a law passed in June 1871 required that children born to slaves henceforward would be free. Thus, it was possible her age was exaggerated to make her 'legal' as a slave. On the other hand, Maria claimed to still have whip marks on her back, and slavery was banned in Brazil on May 13, 1888—if her claimed birthrate was accurate, she would have been 17 at the time. Proponents of her claim point out that if she had been much younger, she wouldn't have been whipped.