Brazil National Museum Fire, A Farewell To Heritages


Culture artifacts, ancient fossils, and other irreplaceable collections were carried in the hand of firefighters. With the dark scorch marks that left by the flame, they look like coffins instead of the precious exhibits. The atmosphere is like a funeral, the funeral of the museum that records the 10-thousand-year history and civilizations in Brazil and South America. 

On Sunday, September 2, a fire started at Brazil National Museum. Due to the failure of nearby fire hydrants, the disaster went out of control despite the effort of Rio de Janeiro fire department. 90% of the former royal palace was damaged, which slowed down the rescuing process of over 200 million historical and scientific antique. The condition of the collections remains unknown, but the authority describes the loss as “insurmountable.”

On the following Monday, hundreds of furious Brazilian gathered outside the museum. They came to mourn the loss of the largest natural history museum in Latin America, but also protested against the authority’s neglect and corruption. Over the decades, the maintaining of the museum was not sufficient due to the declining federal funding, which put the dilapidated building on risk of catching fire. People accuse the presidents of unwise government spending on 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympic Games. They believe that the high-cost events took away the fundings which could have prevented the fire. With the protest accelerating and starting to become more violent, the police used riot gear and tear gas to dispel the crowds. Whether the protests will have an impact on the presidential election this coming October remains to be seen.

Facing the anger of protesters, the president office promises that they will look into ways to rebuild the museum as soon as possible. However, while the damaged building can be reconstructed, the collections are unlikely to be repaired. As the experts explained, the heat of the flame is high enough to destroy the structure of the stones or fossils, not even mention the artifacts made by wood or the paper documents. 

With the physical loss of scientific and historical object and data comes the loss of the spiritual heritage. History demonstrates the evolution of the civilizations, shape the identity of its people. The words can record and describe historical events, but the artifacts bring the visualized impression that is essential to the understanding of a culture and its history. Some of the protesters express their fear of losing the ancestors’ track and the recognition of their own culture.

The protesters’ anger and sadness is valid, but it seems too late for the irreplaceable loss. The fire seems like an accident, but the Brazil National Museum began to realize the risks back in the 1990s. Their plan of moving the collection to another site was pended due to financial reasons. The staff of the museum have worked hard to get funding from the government and the public for nearly 30 years. However, their voices were never heard until the fire ruin everything. People tend to ignore potential problems until we break out and do harm to ourselves. The regret cannot compensate for the loss, but it should be a reminder to us of the value of historical institutions and their protection.

Helen Jingshu Yao

An international student in Canada, interested in the topics concerning humanity, feminism, and equal access to education for all.