Brazil shocked at loss of National Museum
BRASILIA, Sept. 3, 2018 – A fire burned for six hours last night in Rio de Janeiro, destroying the 200-year-old National Museum, that housed the largest natural history and anthropological collection of Latin America.
Firefighters struggled to find water for their hoses, as all the fire hydrants at the museum were dry. Water had to be trucked in from a nearby lake, but that took at least 40 minutes, precious minutes during which the flames swept through the structure that once housed the royal family that used to rule Brazil.
The National Museum housed the largest collection of Egyptian mummies in Latin America, as well as a meteor found in Bahia in the late 1700s, and the 12,000-year-old skull of the oldest known Brazilian woman that had been named “Luzia”.
Brazil’s declaration of Independence from Portugal was signed in this neo-classical palace by the Empress Leopoldina on Sept. 2, 1822.
The National Museum was established in 1818 by the ruler of Brazil Dom João VI. In 1946, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro took charge of the museum. The museum’s annual operating budget was supposed to be around R$500,000, or the equivalent of US$120,900. It had not received its full funding since 2013.
Angry Brazilians complained online about the tragedy unleashed by the fire, saying that the Brazilian government’s cutbacks in funding for science, education and culture had badly hit the National Museum. Mathieu Le Roux (@matleroux) pointed out on Twitter that the annual budget of the museum was equivalent to 30 seconds of electoral advertising; the cost of a federal judge for a year; and 0.0004% of the cost of the renovation of the Maracanã stadium in Rio.
“I was horrified when I saw the National Museum burning,” said Celinda Soares, a retired teacher who grew up in Rio de Janeiro. “I spent my childhood and adolescence going to the Quinta da Boa Vista, visiting the museum and the zoo, once a month. It was an outing that my father loved to take us on. Which was cheap for all of us seven siblings!”