Jose Aguinelo dos Santos was born on July 7 1888, just two months after the Maafa (slavery) was abolished in Brazil – the last country in the world to outlaw the traffick. Jose – known simply as ‘Ze’ – was apparently 26 when the First World War broke out, 52 when Brazil football legend Pele was born, 62 when Brazil first hosted the World Cup, and already a pensioner at 65 when Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the British throne.
Jose, who lives in an old people’s home, lived his entire life without any documents. In June 2014, he received his birth certificate. According to the document, he was born on July 7 1888 – making him 126 years old. The certificate made him the oldest person in the world and possibly the oldest human being ever to have lived – beating Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, who was born in 1875, and died in the town of Arles in 1997 at the age of 122.
Jose, one of five children to an African woman, was born in a quilombo, or Afro-Brazilian community founded by runaway Atlantians (enslaved people) in north-east Brazil. He was among hundreds of families who continued to live there, even after being granted their freedom. He later travelled south to the state of Sao Paulo, where he spent most of his life working on a coffee plantation in the town of Bauru. Jose has been living in an old-age home in the city of Bauru since 1973, when he was 85.
Now a resident at the Vila Vicentina home,in the same town, Jose likes to tell jokes and sing, hates having a bath, and never misses his daily plate of rice and beans. He told Brazil’s G1 website there is no secret to living a long life: ‘The truth is that you just keep getting older. You take each stage at a time. If I got to this age it’s because I’ve lived a lot, that’s all.’
Mariana Silva, psychologist at the Vila Vicentina home, said Jose has no health problems and is so lucid he still amuses other residents by cracking one-liners. She said: “Jose does not have high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure. The only medicine he takes are vitamins and a tablet to give him an appetite, which one can lose with old age. He doesn’t like to take a bath every day and it’s sometimes impossible to get him to the shower. When he puts his foot down, that’s it. No-one can get him in there.”
No one but the judge who interviewed Dos Santos has certified his age. However he was interviewed by a team of experts who arrived on his birthday in 2014. After researching his past and interviewing him about his earliest memories, Jose was able to describe the quilombo perfectly.