#lutopelomuseunacional: The Museo Nacional de Brasil and how it preserved African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil

The loss of the Museo Nacional de Brasil (National Museum of Brazil) is simply devastating. As The New York Times noted “some items in the collection are irreplaceable to science, as well as the country’s national memory.”

Long before the tragic fire, Mariza de Carvalho Soares, a Brazilian historian and researcher at the CNPq/MCT (Brazilian national endowment agency), who has also been the curator of the African collection at the Museu Nacional de Brasil since 2012, underscored the importance of the museum to Brazil’s national memory because its artifacts lent “urgent voices to the need to deconstruct the memory of Africa in Brazil, a memory still trapped in the rusted chains of slavery and colonial domination.”

The following are excerpts from her chapter “Collectionism and Colonialism: The Africana Collection at Brazil’s National Museum (Rio de Janeiro)” in the book African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World edited by Ana Lucia Araujo, which help preserve the memory of this beloved institution.

#lutopelomuseunacional

“In Brazil, few museums are known to possess substantial African holdings and give them prominence. … Among the recognized institutions, the collection held at the National Museum is indisputably the oldest and one of the most significant. Its entire ethnographic collection, containing some 40,000 objects, is presently managed by the Ethnology and Ethnography Sector of the Anthropology Department (MN/DA/SEE). Most of its holdings are related to the indigenous populations of Brazil. Yet, it also includes around 700 artifacts from sub-Saharan Africa, gathered under the name National Museum Africana.” (p.19)

“The most significant acquisitions of African artifacts were made during the administrations of Ladislau Netto and Roquette Pinto. Later on, Heloísa Torres gave more emphasis and resources to artifacts representing the legacy of the African presence in Brazil. But these three vibrant researchers shared a common interest not just in anthropology but also in the dynamism of cultural manifestations that transcended the sharply defined models of Western postslave society. They gave importance and prestige to the most diverse forms African-derived objects.

Africana contains important individual pieces, but what stands out in the collection are sets of related objects that, for their antiquity or rarity, deserve special attention. The great majority of the pieces were obtained through private donation, or exchange with other museums, whereas some other items were purchased. In the Sector of Ethnology and Ethnography (hereafter SEE) registry, African artifacts are listed in sequence numbers with their date of acquisition, along with all the other artifacts in the ethnographic archive. The oldest artifacts that have been identified and historically contextualized are the group of presents sent by King Adandozan of Dahomey to Prince Dom João in 1810, including the aforementioned throne. Other objects described by Graham would be equally important, but these were apparently lost.

A notable set of artifacts obtained by purchase is the group of weapons acquired in 1902, during the administration of João Baptista de Lacerda (museum director 1895–1915). It was likely Lacerda’s initiative to purchase the weapons from private collector Alfred Mocquery, who had been sent by the Paris Museum to South America as well as Africa, especially Madagascar.” (p.24)

“Among the various donated artifacts are the set of more than twenty presents from the king of Dahomey, as well as a drum with a zebra-skin head given by a certain Jorge Villares. Little is known about Villares, but it was recorded upon the drum’s entry in 1923 that he claimed the “King of Uganda” had offered him the item to be delivered to the National Museum.” (p.25)

“There are also many objects labeled as African but acquired in Brazil, which are difficult to identify properly. Such is the case of cloths purchased by Heloísa Torres in Bahia, registered as African. One of them, acquired in 1953, belonged to the wife of a Mr. Tibúrcio, member of the Brotherhood of Rosário, a Catholic lay organization for African descendants in the coastal city of Salvador. Another group of objects had been apprehended by the court police from a so-called ‘fortune-telling house,’ as the headquarters of Afro-Brazilian religious groups were known in imperial, nineteenth-century Rio de Janeiro. The police would regularly invade these ‘cult houses’ in search of what they considered suspicious and confiscate objects at hand as proof of the practice of witchcraft. In one such case, a list of apprehended items was sent to the National Museum bearing the title ‘List of diverse objects encountered in fortune-telling houses, rendered by the police, whose chief was the distinguished Mr. Serafim Muniz Barreto, to the court.’ Among the listed objects were some items that would have come from Africa alongside others made in Brazil by Africans and African descendants in their religious and quotidian pursuits.

Some objects in the museum’s new forthcoming permanent exhibition deserve particular attention. Each of them provides a pathway into the central issue of the role of museums as spaces of engagement with the importance of Africa in the universe of education and research in Brazil. They lend urgent voices to the need to deconstruct the memory of Africa in Brazil, a memory still trapped in the rusted chains of slavery and colonial domination.” (p.26)

This is followed by a section titled “Confronting Memory and History: Three Examples of Africana Artifacts,” which details the following:

  1. The Keaka Mask (1928)
  2. Weapons from the Zambezi River: Herero, Namaqua, and Zulu (1880–1902)
  3. The Gifts from King Adandozan to Dom João (1811)

Mariza de Carvalho Soares concludes her chapter noting the following:

“The violent methods (or in the best of cases, compulsory circumstances) that provided nearly all the objects that today constitute the Africana collection, as well as the African holdings of so many other Brazilian museums, should be brought to the fore and reconsidered. Each of these institutions has the obligation to administer with care and justice the preservation of this heritage, the material legacy of processes that came about at the cost of the blood and suffering of so many Africans. At the same time, the potential of these collections must be channeled into new meanings, marshaling the unjust past into public policies that today foster better understanding of both the history of African peoples and of the diverse connections between Brazil and Africa in the past, present, and future. The most important move at this juncture is to examine these artifacts from a new analytical perspective, to open the study of so-called ethnographic collections to the scrutiny of history. The new parameters that will help define a richer history of Africa can first be applied locally, in the sense of a newly critical gaze on the colonial practices that have too long reigned in the interior of museums themselves.” (p.37)

Araujo Heritage Book Cover

African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World was published in 2015. A 25% discount is available for the hardcover version (enter coupon code SAVE25 at checkout). There are also e-book versions starting from $8.99.

Book Details

Title African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World
Editor Ana Lucia Araujo
Book ISBN 9781604978926
Pages 428 (includes illustrations)

Mariza de Carvalho Soares is a Brazilian historian working on slavery, the African diaspora, and African history. She is a researcher at the CNPq/MCT (Brazilian national endowment agency). Since 2012, she has been the curator of the African collection at Museu Nacional (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and director of the research project Africana do Museu Nacional (2013–2015) funded by FAPERJ (Rio de Janeiro state endowment agency). In recent years, she has been a research fellow at Vanderbilt University, Yale University, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. She is the author of numerous chapters and articles and the author and editor of several books, including People of Faith: Slavery and African Catholics in Eighteenth-Century Rio de Janeiro (2011), which received the Roberto Reis Book Award from the Brazilian Studies Association.

Ana Lucia Araujo is a Professor of History at Howard University. In addition to having published several single-authored monographs and edited volumes, Professor Araujo has edited special issues of the journals Luso-Brazilian Review and Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage and published articles in several journals, including Slavery and Abolition, the Luso-Brazilian Review, Ethnologie Française, Ethnologies, Varia História, Lusotopie, Tempo, and the Canadian Journal of Latin America and Caribbean Studies. Professor Araujo is the general editor of the Cambria Press book series Slavery: Past and Present.

Ana Lucia Araujo

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Interview with Ana Lucia Araujo about Cambria Slavery Studies Series

The following is a recent interview with Professor Ana Lucia Araujo (Howard University) about slavery studies. Professor Araujo is the general editor of the Cambria Slavery Studies Series.

Ana Lucia Araujo

Question: Congratulations on being nominated as a member of the International Scientific Committee of the UNESCO Slave Route Project! Could you please take us back a little and tell us how your interest in studies in slavery began?

Ana Lucia Araujo: My interest in slavery is related to the fact that my home country Brazil imported the largest number of enslaved Africans in the Americas. Today more than 50 % of the Brazilian population is of African descent. Brazil is marked by this huge African presence in all social and cultural spheres. When I left Brazil about twenty years ago I started working on European travelogues of the nineteenth century, and slave life emerged as the most important topic addressed in these travel accounts. I decided then to study memory of slavery in order to understand how slavery shaped Brazilian society and left so many scars, especially visible through its racial inequalities. Today my work is much more transnational, but Brazil is at the origin of my interest in slavery studies.

Question: You have said previously that “slavery is not dead; it’s not even past.” Could you please elaborate on this in the context of why studies in slavery is all the more important today and for future generations?

Ana Lucia Araujo: On a daily basis there is news in various languages about Atlantic slavery—news about the creation of monuments, the discovery of a slave cemetery, the unveiling of an exhibition on slavery. We have never seen before such a growing interest in all aspects associated with Atlantic slavery in the Americas. There are also a growing number of studies on slavery in Africa and the Muslim slave trade. This interest is certainly associated with current racial inequalities, racism, and white supremacy that in all former slave societies affect people of African descent. This is why is slavery is not dead,—its legacies are very much alive, and this is also why studying slavery is so important in helping us understand the present.

Question: Could you please tell us about the different directions you believe that studies in slavery needs to take and the kinds of works you seek for the Cambria Slavery Studies series?

Ana Lucia Araujo: Today slavery studies are more international than they used to be. I am looking for works that conceive of slavery as an institution shaped by transnational forces. The various scholars on our diverse editorial board cover many geographical regions and themes, thus comparative works are very welcome. Monographs focusing on memory of slavery either in the Americas, Africa, or Europe will also be great contributions to the series. Works on visual representations of slavery either in painting, engraving, and film are also very welcome. We are also looking forward to receiving proposals of monographs focusing on slavery and religion and women and slavery. Cambria produces very beautiful books and its team does a tremendous job in featuring visual materials such as photographs, engravings, and paintings.

Question: What about today’s human trafficking problem? Would a study of this contemporary problem be something that you would welcome for the series? If so, what are some examples of the kind of book projects you would like to see?

Ana Lucia Araujo: It is important to specify that human trafficking today emerges in a very different context than that of the Atlantic slave trade; and unlike the Atlantic slave trade, human trafficking is illegal and its victims come from different parts of the globe. Therefore, despite the use of the term slavery to refer to a variety of regimes that include forced work and despite the temptation of equate present-day slavery and Atlantic slavery, these are two different phenomena. That distinction made, human trafficking is a huge human rights issue that requires specialized scholarship. We are looking forward to receiving works focusing on human trafficking; two members of our editorial board, Joel Quirk (Professor, University of Witswatersand, South Africa) and Benjamin Lawrance (University of Arizona, United States), are specialists in this field.

Question: For those who do not specialize in slavery studies, could you please elaborate on why and how they could incorporate slavery studies into their curriculum? For example, how would a professor in film studies do this?

Ana Lucia Araujo: Scholars who are not specialists in slavery can incorporate slavery studies to their courses by exploring primary documents such as slave narratives, through the exploration of museums and monuments. A recent book published in the series, Transatlantic Memories of Slavery: Reimagining the Past, Changing the Future, for example, explores these dimensions by examining the representations of slavery in the famous film Django Unchained.

Learn more about the Cambria Slavery Studies Series and see also books by Professor Araujo:

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Cambria Press Publication Review: African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World

Congratulations to Professor Ana Lucia Araujo (Howard University) on the outstanding review of her book African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World by H-Net Reviews. The book review states:

Cambria Press publication review

Examining systems of oppression, representation, and acculturation, this book offers alternative ways of understanding and privileging African legacies in Brazil. Essentially, this interdisciplinary text challenges systems of racism and calls for the preservation,
presentation, and proliferation of African legacies in Brazil. … this book examines the systematic suppression of black and African-centered arts, bodies, religious practices, cultural norms, and sociopolitical traditions in Brazil. Chartering new perspectives, scholars uncover archival mysteries, museum practices, hidden histories, and places of historic trauma. This collection also reveals communal legacies of resistance and empowerment in the lives and practices of all Brazilian people. Read the rest of the review.

Title: African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World
Authors: Ana Lucia Araujo
Publisher: Cambria Press
ISBN: 9781604978926
428 pp.  |   2015   |   Hardback & E-book
Book Webpage: http://www.cambriapress.com/books/9781604978926.cfm

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Cambria Author & Series Editor to Watch: Toyin Falola (University of Texas at Austin) is President of the African Studies Association

Cambria Press author book review publication publisher editor Toyin Falola African Studies

At this year’s African Studies Association (ASA) annual conference, Cambria Press author and general editor of the Cambria African Studies Series, Toyin Falola (the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin) will deliver his lecture “Emerging Themes in Contemporary African Diaspora Humanities” as president of the African Studies Association.

Dr. Falola’s most recent book Slavery, Migrations, and Transformations: Connecting Old and New Diasporas to the Homeland, which he coedited with Danielle Porter Sanchez and is in the Cambria Studies in Slavery Series headed by Dr. Ana Lucia Araujo (Howard University), speaks to this very theme. The book will be on display in the ASA book exhibit hall at the Scholar’s Choice booth.

Cambria Press Publication academic publisher

Cambria Press New Publication: Slavery, Migrations, and Transformations:
Connecting Old and New Diasporas to the Homeland
edited by Danielle Porter Sanchez and Toyin Falola

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#ASALH100: Cambria Author & Slavery Series Editor Ana Lucia Araujo (Howard University) at 2 Sessions

Ana Lucia Araujo Historian History Slave Memory Book #ASALH100 Cambria Press

#ASALH100: Cambria Press Author & Slavery Series Editor Ana Lucia Araujo will be at the session “Slavery, Public Memory, and Reparations” on Friday at 7 p.m. (Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, 1, Georgia 10) and at the session “From Slavery to Freedom: Black Women in the Americas” on Saturday at 2 p.m. (Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, 2, Savannah 2, Level 2 Lobby).

Cambria Press Author & Slavery Series Editor Ana Lucia Araujo (Howard University) will be at two sessions at the centennial meeting and conference of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

Cambria Publications by Dr. Araujo (more reviews at http://www.cambriapress.com):

Public Memory of Slavery: Victims and Perpetrators in the South Atlantic

“An important and provocative work. No other study so thoroughly chronicles the fraught and ambiguous history of memorializing slavery in the South Atlantic. Araujo’s ability to ‘read’ multiple sources – both discursive and non-discursive – makes the book truly interdisciplinary in scope. It will be a crucial starting point for all future studies of slavery and memory in Benin and Brazil.” – James H. Sweet, Journal of African History

Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images

“The scholarly quality of the dozen essays included here is uniformly high … The quality and variety of the contributions make this book a desirable purchase for research libraries, and scholars of the history and culture of slavery and the black Atlantic are well advised to direct their attention to the essays which best match their interests and to consult the extensive and up-to-date bibliography of primary and secondary sources with which Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade closes. Araujo and her contributors deserve praise for putting together this exciting collection, as does Cambria Press for producing it as an attractively designed and well-laid-out volume.” – Journal of Latin American Studies

African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World

“The memory of slavery and the slave trade has strongly influenced how history is understood. What is remembered and why are clearly identified as major historical themes of analysis in this valuable collection.” – Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Books in the Cambria Studies in Slavery Series:

Order by October 30 for a 30% discount on all hardcover titles
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Cambria Press New Publication: #Slavery, Migrations, and Transformations

Cambria Press announces a new publication in the Cambria Studies in Slavery: Past and Present Series by Ana Lucia Araujo (Howard University).

Cambria Press Publication academic publisher

Cambria Press New Publication: Slavery, Migrations, and Transformations:
Connecting Old and New Diasporas to the Homeland
edited by Toyin Falola and Danielle Porter Sanchez

“One cannot extricate the diasporic experiences of Haitians in Miami or Nigerians in Houston from the larger political and social climate of today’s world, which transcends national, regional, and international borders and connects Africans and African diasporic experiences over space and time.”  – Toyin Falola and Danielle Porter Sanchez (from the book’s introduction)

From Chapter 6: Rewind and Reframe: Thoughts on Race in Contemporary Europe

“Accumulating the privileges and prestige that accompany upward mobility does not always protect people of color, as pointed out in Steve McQueen’s film Twelve Years a Slave … In Europe, that vulnerability was reflected in racist insults directed at French justice minister Christiane Taubira during a 2013 visit to Angers.”

From Chapter 9: From Juan to Juan: The Triumph of Poet and Subject in Juan Latino’s Austrias carmen

The masterpiece of the extraordinary former-slave-turned-Latin professor Juan Latino … has a few features that distinguish it from other epic poems of its kind. For instance, certain passages in the poem present the point of view of marginalized figures.  … as a marginalized figure himself, a black man in a European society, Latino chose Juan de Austria [also marginalized because he was the illegitimate son of Charles V] as his epic hero because he could identify with him.”

Watch the video for more on this new publication from Cambria Press

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Ida B. Wells Birthday Tribute: Black Women as Custodians of History

Ida B. Wells

Black Women as Custodians of History: Birthday Tribute to Ida B. Wells

Cambria Press Book Highlight in honor of Ida B. Wells’s Birthday

“Like W. E. B. Du Bois, black activist and journalist Ida B. Wells also chose to become an interpreter of facts in her writings about lynching at the turn of the twentieth century [… and] called African Americans to write and distribute accurate histories that would counteract the false depictions created by white-owned presses, dispersing this message through her work in the antilynching movement.”   – Paula Sanmartín, Black Women as Custodians of History: Unsung Rebel (M)Others in African American and Afro-Cuban Women’s Writing

*This book is part of the Cambria Studies in Slavery Series headed by Ana Lucia Araujo (Howard University).

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