(September 3) – Very sad news. The 200-year-old National Museum of Brazil has been virtually destroyed by fire.
The museum in Rio de Janeiro had 20 million items, including Egyptian and Greco-Roman artifacts and a 12,000-year-old human fossil, the oldest found in the Western Hemisphere, known as “Luzia”. Connected to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the museum has expositions that include anthropology, archeology and paleontology, among others.
CBC seems surprised at the immediate and indignant response of the Brazilians, as museum workers, firefighters and ordinary people strove to rescue items from the museum as the fire advanced. A library of 500,00 books, which was maintained in a separate area and the famous Bendego meteorite were among the only items spared the wrath of the flames.
A CBC live report from a journalist in Brazil describes the indifference at maintaining the museum. A constitutional amendment of the neo-liberal, US-backed Michel Temer government had frozen public spending for 20 years. This regime had been installed in 2016 by a parliamentary coup to remove the elected President, Dilma Rousseff, before her term expired. Two fire hydrants had run out of water as firefighters attempted to put out the fire. Neither the building nor its contents, roughly 20 million items were insured. Ipiranga Museum in São Paulo, built where Brazilian independence was decreed in 1822, has been closed for five years.
The museum had suffered from years of neglect under numerous governments, the institution’s vice-director told the Globo TV network on Sunday night.
“Everybody wants to be supportive now. We never had adequate support,” said Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte. “We recently finalized an agreement with [state-run development bank] BNDES for a massive investment, so that we could finally restore the palace and, ironically, we had planned on a new fire prevention system.”
It was once the home of the Portuguese colonialist royal family.
The Mayor of Rio, Marcelo Crivella, seemed more concern about the preservation of the Portuguese empire.
“It’s a national obligation to reconstruct it from the ashes, recompose every eternal detail of the paintings and photos. Even if they are not original, they continue to be a reminder of the royal family that gave us independence, the [Portuguese] empire and the first constitution and national unity,” he said.
Such a centre is part of the rich treasury of knowledge of humanity and the collective memory of a people.
Whether it was the Zionist looting of the Palestinian archives and libraries in 1948 and the destruction of the Beirut Research Center in 1982; the premeditated destruction by fire of the National Library in Jaffna, Sri Lanka (which held over 90,000 ancient volumes in the Tamil language) in 1983; the looting by Anglo-American occupation forces in 2003 of the national library and museum in Baghdad; the recent destruction by ISIS of Palymra in Syria; and the arson attacks on the museums the Black Culture centres in Nova Scotia and African-American centres in the USA, the loss of these cultural institutions degrades the level of humanity. It is reminiscent of Rome destroying the Royal Library of Alexandria in Egypt. At the time, Alexandria boasted the world’s largest collection in the ancient world.
In the fore-mentioned cases these were not isolated or individual acts of negligence let alone accidents or simple calculated destruction. They were acts of cultural genocide.
Brazil is the world’s fifth-most populous country.
From a post on Facebook, with files from Reuters, teleSUr, CBC