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Monday, September 3, 2018

devastating fire in National Museum in Rio, Brazil destroys history !!


John VI, nicknamed "the Clement", was King of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves from 1816 to 1825.  After the recognition of Brazilian independence under the Treaty of Rio de Janeiro of 1825, he continued as King of Portugal and the Algarves until his death in 1826. He was instrumental in bringing about the National Museum   in 1818 with the name of Royal Museum, in an initiative to stimulate scientific research in the territory of Brazil. Initially the Museum sheltered botanical and animal specimens, especially birds, what caused the old building where it was located in center of Rio de Janeiro, to be known by the population as the "House of the Birds".

The façade is appealing .. ..   in later years, with the marriage of D. João VI's son and Brazil's first Emperor, Dom Pedro I with Princess Leopoldina of Austria, the Museum started to attract the greatest European naturalists of the 19th century.  The National Museum) is the oldest scientific institution of Brazil and one of the largest museums of natural history and anthropology in the Americas. The museum is located inside the Quinta da Boa Vista park, in the city of Rio de Janeiro.  The museum foundation was intended to address the interests of promoting the socioeconomic development of the country by the diffusion of education, culture, and science.  The National Museum held a vast collection with more than 20 million objects, encompassing some of the most important material records regarding natural science and anthropology in Brazil, as well a large number of items originated from distinct regions of the planet and produced by several cultures and ancient civilizations. Formed along more than two centuries through expeditions, excavations, acquisitions, donations and exchanges, the collection is subdivided into seven main nuclei: geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, biological anthropology, archaeology, and ethnology. The collection is the principal basis for the research conducted by the academic departments of the museum.

The Museum is in news for wrong reasons .. .. Brazil’s oldest and most important historical and scientific museum has been consumed by fire, and much of its archive of 20m items is believed to have been destroyed. The fire at Rio de Janeiro’s 200-year-old National Museum began after it closed to the public on Sunday (2.9.2018)  and raged into the night. There were no reports of injuries, but the loss to Brazilian science, history and culture was incalculable, two of its vice-directors said. “It was the biggest natural history museum in Latin America. We have invaluable collections. Collections that are over 100 years old,” Cristiana Serejo, one of the museum’s vice directors, told the G1 news site. Marina Silva, a former environment minister and candidate in October’s presidential elections said the fire was like “a lobotomy of the Brazilian memory”.

TV Globo also reported that some firefighters did not have enough water to battle the blaze.  The fire began after the museum closed.  It wasn’t immediately clear how the fire began. The museum was part of Rio’s Federal University but had fallen into disrepair in recent years. Its impressive collections included items brought to Brazil by Dom Pedro I – the Portuguese prince regent who declared the then-colony’s independence from Portugal – Egyptian and Greco-Roman artefacts, “Luzia”, a 12,000 year-old skeleton and the oldest in the Americas, fossils, dinosaurs, and a meteorite found in 1784. Some of the archive was stored in another building but much of the collection is believed to have been destroyed. Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, who has presided over cuts to science and education as part of a wider austerity drive, called the losses “incalculable”. “Today is a tragic day for the museology of our country,” he tweeted. “Two hundred years of work research and knowledge were lost.”  Duarte said that governments were to blame for failing to support the museum and letting it fall into disrepair. At its 200th birthday in June, not one state minister appeared. “For many years we fought with different governments to get adequate resources to preserve what is now completely destroyed,” he said. “My feeling is of total dismay and immense anger.”

It is ironical that something like this could happen to a building of this importance is a staggering institutional and governance failure. At the scene, several indigenous people gathered and criticised the fact that the museum containing their most precious artefacts has burned down seemingly because there was no money for maintenance of hydrants, yet the city had recently managed to find a huge budget to build a brand new museum of tomorrow. A crowd of several dozen people outside the gates, several of whom were clearly distraught. Others blamed the government’s austerity policies and corruption.

Rio’s fire chief Colonel Roberto Robaday said the firefighters did not have enough water at first because two hydrants were dry. “The two nearest hydrants had no supplies,” he said. Water trucks were brought in and water used from a nearby lake. “This is an old building,” he said, “with a lot of flammable material, lots of wood and the documents and the archive itself.” Some Brazilians saw the fire as a metaphor for their country’s traumas as it battles terrifying levels of violent crime and the effects of a recession that has left more than 12 million people unemployed.

By today  morning, the flames had been extinguished, leaving museum directors to survey the smouldering ruins of Brazil’s heritage. Although they were initially wary of calculating the losses, the gutted building suggests that the toll will be immense.  Funding cuts and inadequate maintenance have been blamed for the devastating fire that tore through Brazil’s oldest and most important historical and scientific museum and is feared to have destroyed much of its archive of 20 million items.  While the cause of the blaze is still under investigation, government cuts and inadequate fire protection systems have been cited as key factors. Rio’s fire chief, Roberto Robaday, told the Guardian the two hydrants nearest the museum were dry, delaying efforts to douse the flames. In recent years, the government has spent billions on the Olympics and major construction projects that generated kickbacks for politicians, but it has slashed spending on culture and education in the name of austerity.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
3rd Sept. 2018.

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