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The Tragedy of Brazil’s National Museum Started Much Before the Fire

If we’re gonna talk about the carelessness with which we deal with valuable artifacts, we must also talk about how we attach value to those artifacts, and the undeniable Ethno/euro-centrism involved in that process.

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

Texto em Português (BR) aqui.

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“It’s a National duty to rebuild it from the ashes, even if it is not the original it will forever be a memory of the royal family that gave us our independence.” (Marcelo Crivella, Rio de Janeiro’s Governor)

It’s safe to say the whole country of Brazil was dumbfounded watching the National Museum literally go up in flames, as if it was our turn to be destroyed by the aliens from Independence Day. When it was over, we were all left oscillating in the range of emotions between rage and sorrow, mourning the loss of irreplaceable objects, and 200 years worth of people’s work.

We’ve been careless with our material History and irresponsible in preserving memory for as long as this Museum existed, why are we so upset now? Our indignation seems to come from shame for not living up to an European standard of possessing History.

Ten years ago there was a criminal fire that destroyed an indigenous community not far from where the Museum is, and virtually no one took to the streets. We talk about all the records of Indigenous languages that were lost inside this Colonial building, but what are we doing to the Indigenous people alive here now? We don’t see them as having history, we see them as obstacles for development. This is what truly makes me oscillate in the range of emotions between rage and sorrow, year after year.

Part of the fascination we had with that Museum wasn’t necessarily all the valuable objects that were inside, it’s about who attaches value to these things. The royal atmosphere of the space comes from it being one of the few places with authentic European style architecture in our country. One of the people in their fundraising video from last year said that when you walk up the stairs of the museum you can easily imagine walking into a Gala from the Royal Family, which is why she fell in love with the place.

The National Museum is the oldest scientific institution of Brazil. Let that sink in. Academia, alongside the Monarchy, and the Catholic Church, were Medieval institutions introduced to us hundreds of years ago, that today we still feel the desperate need to preserve without properly accessing the genocidal role they’ve played in our lives. While I see the tragedy of the event and feel the horror of the loss, I think it’s important to address our internalized Eurocentric views that lead us to believe Europe and European institutions are the havers and holders of History.

The concept of what it means to be a Human being, as developed in Western Europe in the 16th century, was very much tied to the idea of Having history, and therefore of being civilized. The loss of this “History”, these artifacts, brings up from our colonized idiosyncrasies the feeling of being less human. Tragic is how we still treat our Indigenous and Quilombist communities as less human, as not really having History, or not worthy of having their land and their homes preserved.

Haven’t we seen what happens when we leave History in the hands of European Institutions? They steal, then whitewash, distort or destroy. Egypt, for instance, has wanted its treasures back for years. They were colonized and Europe has profited from what they stole ever since. We as a society are still struggling to unlearn the teachings of an ethnocentric campaign that created the idea that Africa has no History. We learned that the evolution of humanity has been Northwards and Westwards, and we conveniently forgot that Egypt is black and African, not white and Northern Mediterranean like Greece.

Brazil also had its memory distorted, and we go along with it. Indigenous peoples were massacred and portrayed in Europe as savage animals. To this day European museums proudly display the works of white men who painted naked Indigenous women alongside made-up animals and plants. Here we internalize that rhetoric, we whiten ourselves, and reject all other ancestry.

If we’re gonna talk about the carelessness with which we deal with valuable artifacts, we must also talk about how we attach value to those artifacts, and the undeniable Ethno/euro-centrism involved in that process. As, if not more, important than rebuilding this institution is combating epistemic-genocide which has been annihilating our people and our History for hundreds of years.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

23844610_10155972276622372_5754996345436383112_n

is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.


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TRADUÇÃO PORTUGUÊS

A tragédia do Museu Nacional começou muito antes do incêndio

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O país inteiro ficou perplexo ao ver o Museu Nacional literalmente em chamas, como se fosse nossa vez de ser destruídos pelos alienígenas do Independence Day. Quando acabou, oscilamos entre emoções de raiva e tristeza, lamentando a perda de objetos insubstituíveis e 200 anos de trabalho de muitas pessoas.

Fomos descuidados com nossa história material e irresponsáveis com a preservação de nossa memória desde sempre que este museu existe, por que estamos chateados agora? Nossa indignação parece vir da vergonha de ter falhado em alcançar um padrão europeu de possuir História.

Dez anos atrás, houve um incêndio criminoso que destruiu uma comunidade indígena não muito distante do Museu (em Camboinhas), e praticamente ninguém foi às ruas. Nós falamos sobre todos os registros de línguas indígenas que foram perdidos dentro deste edifício colonial, mas o que estamos fazendo para proteger os povos indígenas vivos aqui agora? Nós não os vemos como tendo história, nós os vemos como obstáculos para o desenvolvimento. Isso é o que realmente me faz oscilar entre emoções de raiva e tristeza, ano após ano.

Parte do fascínio que temos com o Museu não é necessariamente todos os objetos valiosos que estavam ali dentro, é sobre quem atribui valor à essas coisas. A atmosfera Real do espaço vem do fato de que é um dos poucos lugares com arquitetura de estilo europeu autêntico em nosso país. Uma das pessoas no vídeo de “Campanha para a requalificação do Museu Nacional” do ano passado disse que quando você sobe as escadas do museu pode-se facilmente imaginar um baile da família real, e é por isso que ela se apaixonou pelo local.

O Museu Nacional é a instituição científica mais antiga do Brasil. A Academia, juntamente com a Monarquia, e a Igreja Católica, foram instituições medievais introduzidas aqui centenas de anos atrás, e que hoje ainda sentimos a necessidade de preservar sem analisar adequadamente o papel genocida que elas tiveram em nossas vidas. Embora eu veja a tragédia do evento e sinta o horror da perda, acho importante abordar nossas visões subconscientemente eurocêntricas que nos levam a acreditar que a Europa e as instituições européias são detentoras da História.

O conceito de o que significa ser humano, desenvolvido na Europa Ocidental no século XVI, estava muito ligado à idéia de ter história e, portanto, de ser civilizado. A perda desta “História”, esses artefatos, traz de nossas idiossincrasias colonizadas a sensação de sermos menos humanos. Trágico é como ainda tratamos nossas comunidades indígenas e quilombolas como menos humanas, como não tendo realmente história, ou não dignas de ter suas terras e seus lares preservados.

Não vemos o que acontece quando deixamos a História nas mãos de instituições europeias? Roubam, depois embranquecem, distorcem ou destroem. O Egito, por exemplo, quer seus tesouros de volta há anos. Eles foram colonizados e a Europa lucrou com o que eles roubaram desde então. Nós, como sociedade, ainda estamos lutando para desaprender os ensinamentos de uma campanha etnocêntrica que criou a idéia de que a África não tem História. Aprendemos que a evolução da humanidade foi em direção ao norte e ao oeste, e convenientemente esquecemos de que o Egito é negro e africano, não branco e do norte do Mediterrâneo como a Grécia.

O Brasil também teve sua memória distorcida, e aceitamos. Os povos indígenas foram massacrados e retratados na Europa como animais selvagens. Até hoje, os museus europeus exibem com orgulho as obras de homens brancos que pintaram mulheres nativas nuas ao lado de animais e plantas inventados. Internalizamos essa retórica, nos embranquecemos, e rejeitamos nossas outras ancestralidades.

Se vamos falar sobre o descuido com qual lidamos com artefatos valiosos, devemos também falar sobre como atribuímos valor a esses artefatos, e o inegável Etno / eurocentrismo envolvido nesse processo. Tão importante quanto, se não mais do que, reconstruir esta instituição é combater o epistemicidio que tem aniquilado nosso povo e nossa história por centenas de anos.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

23844610_10155972276622372_5754996345436383112_n

é militante anti-fascista/decolonial, e feminista interseccional. Edita o site de Gods and Radicals, é filósofa e professora.

4 Comments »

  1. Beautiful analysis of White washing .

    It was a White washed Building , who cares if it was burnt,
    Forget the artifacts, whats visible is their control over us, a lesson to be learnt.

    Like

  2. I’ve often asked myself, how does one write history without the Archist concepts and epistemology? As it stands now it is just as you say, a constellation of ideas that make theft and exploitation easier. Even back to the ancient Greeks, writing history in the West was always a hobby of the rich.

    Like

    • This is a great question for Indigenous and Quilombist peoples. Today they struggle to preserve their epistemology from annihilation or from having it portrayed as primitive folklore. We look at it as if it was in a jar at a freak museum.

      What I’ve learned from them so far is that they rely on strong Matriarchies to pass down knowledge from generation to generation, where one Mother can be the mother of a whole community, and children are raised and taught collectively.

      Their monuments are often trees and rivers-
      Right now I’m working with people from a Quilombo where the Matriarch cried seeing a river dried out after the construction of a highway on their land.

      Like

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