(IPS) – One victim of the remodelling of Brazil’s Maracaná football stadium in preparation for the World Cup is the old Museum of the Indian, where people from different indigenous groups have attempted to keep their culture alive in the heart of Rio de Janeiro.
“It is as if they were killing part of us, as if we were losing a piece of ourselves, because in this place, our ancestors left behind their memory, their struggle,” Garapira Pataxó, a member of the Pataxó indigenous group, told IPS in an interview after the Rio de Janeiro state government confirmed the decision to demolish the ruins of the building, which sits across from the stadium.
The authorities say the decrepit former Museu do Indiao must go in order to make it easier to access the Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho, known as the Maracaná Stadium, which for the second time in history will host a World Cup final.
The building to be demolished was built 147 years ago. In 1953, it became the first headquarters of the Museu do Indiao, created by the late anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro. But in 1978 the museum was moved to an old manor house in the Botafogo neighbourhood on the south side of the city.
The old building also housed the Indian Protection Service when it was first created – an agency that was later replaced by FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation.
Abandoned since the museum moved, the rundown building and the grounds around it were occupied in 2006 by some two dozen people from different indigenous groups, as “a symbol of cultural resistance,” says native leader Doitiró Tukano of the Tukano people of the Amazon jungle.
“We are here to show what is different about our culture, which is not a copy, but our very own. Today, according to the Brazilian institute of statistics, there are 305 indigenous groups speaking 186 different languages in Brazil, and that’s what we want to show people. That is our resistance,” he told IPS.
There are an estimated 600,000 members of native communities in this country of 192 million people.
According to unconfirmed reports, the old building is to be replaced by a private sports centre and a parking lot across from the stadium that hosted the 1950 World Cup final, which Uruguay surprisingly won against the home team.
Football is the excuse
Rio de Janeiro state Governor Sergio Cabral said the demolition of the old Museu do Indiao was demanded by FIFA. However, the world football association denied this claim.
Renato Cosentino, spokesman for the People’s Committee of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, said it was just a pretext.
“The excuse of sports is often used to evict people from areas of high real estate value,” he told IPS, referring to the forced displacement of people from poor areas in Rio de Janeiro and 11 other Brazilian cities where the World Cup matches will be held.
About 170,000 people have been evicted around the country, including 30,000 in Rio de Janeiro, which will also organise the 2016 Olympic Games.
Two of the favelas or shantytowns where people have been evicted are next to the Maracaná Stadium, which has become “a symbol of the process of human rights violations that we are experiencing in Brazil,” said the representative of the People’s Committee, which brings together local residents affected by the mega-sports events.
“It’s really sad to see our dream coming to an end,” Tukano said.
“This was a reference point that we wanted to leave to the coming generations,” he added, clarifying that he was not “against the Brazilian people’s love of football…But the World Cup brings us nothing. Of course it will bring benefits to the big companies acting as sponsors.”
The native people living in the ruins and grounds of the old museum are getting ready to resist the demolition, while the ombudsman’s office is preparing to fight the decision in court, on the argument that the building has historical value.
Is nothing sacred?
The squatters have built houses using simple materials like adobe, in an attempt to recreate a typical indigenous village, which they call Maracaná Village. Here they hold native rituals and try to keep their traditions alive in the middle of this bustling city that hems them in.
Among the rusty stairways and tree roots entangled with the crumbling walls, the people who live here organise cultural activities like traditional dances and ceremonies, photo exhibits and even cultural fashion shows displaying native dress.
Before the news of the demolition was confirmed, the people in Maracaná Village were preparing for a traditional coming-of-age ceremony for girls, to be attended by adolescents from several villages in the country’s interior.
“You can see how indigenous people like to eat manioc,” jokes Afonso
Chamakiri of the Apuriná community, another Amazon people, as he and his new family eat lunch: grilled fish served with toasted manioc flour.
Chamakiri has an interesting story. He came to Rio de Janeiro with a dream to become an actor. “My mother came to the city once and went home impressed by ‘a box with people inside who talked’,” he tells IPS. It was the first time she had left her Amazon village, and she had never seen a television.
His dream came true, and he appeared in several films, the latest of which was “Vermelho Brasil”, a co-production of Brazil, France and Canada.
Over the wall built by the company that is remodelling the Maracaná Stadium, some workers are spying on the ceremony held to welcome IPS, in which the native residents living on the grounds of the old museum pray to their ancestors to help the government “see the light” and respect their “sacred space.”
“We have nothing against them,” Chamakiri said about the workers at the stadium. “Many are Indians like us. Others are black, they’re people like us.”
Chamakiri likes to tell a story that few people remember about the origin of the word that was first used to name a local river, then the neighbourhood, and later the stadium.
The Maracaná is a local species of bird that still “comes to eat the fruit of that tree,” he says, pointing to one of the many species of trees still miraculously growing in the middle of this city of around 13 million people.
The bird survived civilisation, but “the old Maracaná indigenous people, who ruled over this territory, are now extinct,” Chamakiri explains. That is why, he says, it is so important to save this cultural centre, “which represents a record of all of the ancestral cultures that emerged here – and were destroyed here.”
“We want this to become a sacred indigenous space,” he adds.