Fire at Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro


In early September 2018, a devastating fire engulfed the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro. The 200-year-old structure, Brazil’s oldest scientific and historical building, held an archive of around 20 million artefacts. Among these artefacts were invaluable materials documenting the history and culture of Brazil’s indigenous communities.

Journalist Camila Zarur reported that little to nothing was salvaged from the Centro de Documentação de Línguas Indígenas (CELIN), which has documented indigenous languages for the past two centuries. Indigenous rights advocate José Urutau Guajajara believes the fire was the “death of the memory of the originary peoples, negligence to [their] patrimony. The memory of all Latin American languages was [there]. Sonic and written records of peoples who no longer exist,” concluding that we are watching indigenous culture being erased. Brazilian philosopher Djamila Ribeiro says that the fire mirrored the country’s “institutional neglect” and disregard for its history, further stating that the loss of artefacts and research “reflected Brazil’s ignorance of its African and indigenous heritage, and its indifference to an ignoble history of slavery and oppression.” Writer and political theorist Mirna Wabi-Sabi believes the tragedy of the fire began long before the flames. She reports that the country feels ashamed not to have been able to maintain a European notion of history, and that the loss of rare artefacts must be considered with an understanding of the value that is attributed to said artefacts, without forgetting the ethno- and Euro-centric processes inherently tied into Brazilian history.


Written by Louise Hisayasu

Read it at Los Angeles Archivists Collective

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