Manaus, Brazil: Museu da Cidade – Paço da Liberdade [City Museum – Palace of Liberty]

Hoho, what do we have here?  A third country?!  YES!  It is time to visit some museums in an ENTIRELY. DIFFERENT. BIOME.

The city of Manaus, in northern Brazil, is called “The Gateway to the Amazon” because it is smack in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.  Its boom age was the late 19th/early 20th century, when it was at the center of the rubber industry.  The rubber barons brought a lot of European sensibilities to the city as well as opulent displays of insane wealth.  It feels a little weird, looking around Manaus, as it does sort of give the impression that several shiny European buildings were plopped in the middle of the jungle.  Which, fair, I guess.

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Neoclassical!

The City Museum is housed in the old city hall building, constructed in 1879.  And it’s frickin’ neat.  The museum is tech-heavy, at least tech-heavier than I’m used to in a history museum, and it’s done really well.  You don’t even have to take my word for it:  The museum has an app.  You can go download it now (it’s called Museu da Cidade de Manaus).  It’s got an English setting.

If you’re actually at the museum, you’re definitely going to want the app.  If you don’t have it in advance, the museum has free WiFi, in addition to museum-grade air conditioning (yaaasssssssssss).

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One thing you really notice in the rubber boom era architecture and decor is that it is all aggressively Euro-jungle.

This is the ceiling of the Mayors Room, which displays the portraits of Manaus’s civic leaders through the years.  The app will have the biographical data on these guys, but it is sadly thin for this one:

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And entirely devoid of mention of his personal style.

Next up, the room of Growth Rings!

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SYMBOLISM

This is an interactive display about the growth of the city of Manaus.  You can trigger the projection of the history images by moving your hand over the tree rings where the maps are projected.  You can see the relationship between the city’s growth and deforestation.  If this all sounds very informative and you are wishing you could read more about it and see the projections yourself, you totally can because the museum has them on Youtube and the app links right to it.

Next up is the room of Flying Rivers.  Yes, all the rooms sound like they’re in Hogwarts.

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SCIENCE

See how the Amazon rainforest fits into the water and carbon cycles (including the impact of Manaus’s pollution).  The forest’s role in water circulation is known as the “flying rivers,” according to the museum.  I do love it when some good poetic turn of phrase is applied to science stuff.  Again, the room’s video is linked in the app.

Time for archaeology!

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This is the floor of the room, exposing the dig site from 2003 that uncovered funeral urns from the 7th to 12th centuries.  And, uh, that’s my toe.

The area around Manaus has been occupied for at least 11,000 years.  There’s been a lot of research in the region, and this room lets you take a peek, not only through the glass floor but also through VR headsets.

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VR stands for VERY RAD

The video is introduced and narrated by a Brazilian university professor with a pretty good speaking voice, which is great for Spanish speakers as it makes him easier for them to understand.  For non-Portuguese or Spanish speakers, you’re a bit out of luck, as the VR has no translation.  But it is still a very rad (heh) look at the sites and artifacts.  You can see the introduction portion, with English subtitles, through the app.

There’s a room with an art exhibit in it related to Brazilian poet Thiago de Mello–art inspired by him–and I’m tossing it in here because I really like this one.

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WEEEEEEE

And now, my second favorite room: the market!

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Can’t really do better than the app’s description: “The marketplace is where the cultural identity of a community manifests itself best–full of life, flavors, aromas, words, and sounds.”
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The herbarium, which is what I’m calling my spice rack from now on.

You can scan, with your phone, many of the plant labels for recipes and folk stories (also guess what ALL THERE IN THE APP YOU CAN DOWNLOAD RIGHT NOW), although the folk story animations also play in the bottom of this barrel:

Which sounds kind of weird but actually really works.

Wandering back over to the other side of museum there is my favorite room, Affluent Rivers.

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A representation of the rivers around Manaus, principally the Rio Negro and the Solimões (they join at the Meeting of the Waters to make the Amazon River).

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As you move along the water, the history of Manaus is projected onto the surface.  Once again, I can’t do better than the app:  “A timeline is like a river: flowing uninterruptedly, carrying different layers of time, which sometimes overlap, sometimes become separated and then reconnect.”

Again, the images are interactive, and can be triggered by the visitor’s hand movements.  It is such a clever and gorgeous concept, which makes it my favorite room.

Finally, I’m going to mention briefly the Bath of Origins room, which was too difficult to photograph, but you stand in the middle of several screens with projections of locals, who give their stories in turn.  They are all standing at the river’s edge, and after they talk, they dive in, and then you see them swimming on the floor you’re standing on.  The affect is cool, but there are no English subtitles.  HOWEVER, you can see the videos with English subtitles through the power of your imagination.  Just kidding, you can totally see them through the app, too.

The City Museum is amazingly well done.  The interactive elements are creative and well designed.  I can’t speak highly enough of the museum’s app–it’s the best museum app I have ever seen.  The museum has clearly been heavily invested in, and I hope it continues to be.  If the shop had been open, I would have bought a lot of swag because the museum frickin’ earned it.

The City Museum is free (FREE!), open from 9am to 430pm Monday through Friday, 9am to 1230pm on Saturday, and the second Sunday of every month from 5pm to 9pm.

 

Museo Etnográfico Juan B. Ambrosetti [Juan B. Amorsetti Ethnographic Museum]

Back to the UBA Museum Network! Finally!

The Ethnographic Museum is under the auspices of the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras of the University of Buenos Aires.  It was founded in 1904, and it while it houses collections from other places in the world, it’s focused chiefly on this part of South America.  There is a lot of information available on the English-language website.

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I dig museums in old, stately houses.

There are several exhibitions, and I’m not going to talk about all of them, because that would be a lot.  The first one, The Uttermost Part of the Earth, addresses the native populations of Tierra del Fuego, and what happened to them.  It’s not a happy story.

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“These people, who fascinated the Western world, are here no more. They were massacred in a few decades and not by the 16th century conquistadors, but by our grandparents less than 100 years ago.”

There were two groups that had lived in the area for thousands of years: sea hunters (Kaweshkar and Yamana) and land hunters (Selk’nam).  That went fine for awhile.

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*sigh*

The hall is set up with the items of the Native peoples on the left, and items that would be used by explorers and colonizers on the right.  A model of a Yamada-style canoe is in the center.  There is a guide at the beginning of the hall that translates all the text into English.

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Each side is labeled “utopia,” “occupation,” and “science.”

Let’s take a look at the Native artifacts first.

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Meet Robert Fitzroy, captain of HMS Beagle, the ship that Charles Darwin sailed around South America on:

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Now meet O’run-del’lico, a Native boy kidnapped by Fitzroy in retaliation for a stolen boat, who was renamed “Jemmy Button” because his family was given a button for him while he was taken back to England for a long time.

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No part of this story is okay.

He and three other kidnapping victims, renamed York Minster, Fuegia Basket and Boat Memory, because no indignity was too small to inflict on them apparently, were supposed to be “civilized,” Christianized, and returned to Tierra del Fuego to serve as missionaries and intermediaries.  Boat Memory died in England.  The other three dropped Europeanism like a hot brick and reintegrated into their tribe immediately on their return.

“Hey,” I can hear you asking, “what other insanely racist things resulted in contact with Natives?”  Hahaha.

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Incidentally, the quote on the right side of the wall says, “A curious paradox of the West, that it cannot know without possessing, and it cannot possess without destroying.”
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So human zoos were a thing that happened.
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And there was stuff to help color-code people.
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YEEAAAAAAGH WHY DO THEY ALL HAVE EYELIDS

The Selk’nam didn’t long survive sustained contact with non-Natives, which would come to include actual contract murder. The very last died in the 1970s. I’ll end this part with a song, included in the museum’s English guide and I believe from Anne Chapman’s book The End of a World, of the last shaman, Lola Kiepja (recordings available at that link):

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“Here I am singing, the wind carries me; I am following the steps of those who are gone. I have been allowed to come to the mountain of power, reaching the great mountain range of heaven, the way to the house in heaven. The power of those who are gone comes back to me. I step into the house in the great mountain range of heaven. Those from infinity have spoken to me.”

The next exhibition is “Challenging the Silence: Indigenous People and the Dictatorship,” so the reading isn’t going to get any lighter here.

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Main hall/exhibit space.

The last military dictatorship (supported by the US, I might add), as I’m sure you’re aware, is still very much in living memory here.  Visitors are encouraged to leave a Post-It on the wall, which says, “How to challenge the silence?”

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It will come as no surprise that Native rights and labor organizers ran afoul of the dictatorship.

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On the left, Mapuche politician and activist Abelardo Coifin, died in internal exile. On the right, Mapuche activist Celestino Aigo, disappeared by the military in 1976.
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Marina Vilte, teacher and labor leader, disappeared by the military in 1976.

The exhibition includes information on how the sugar mills (having been the beneficiaries of military muscle keeping workers in check and working for decades) would act as agents of the dictatorship, informing on workers and allow their land to be used for clandestine detention centers.  One company’s own vehicles detained over 400 activists, 30 of which were never seen again.

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The company was Ledesma, which is still a major producer today.

The exhibit also examines the museum’s own contribution to the erasure of Native cultures during the dictatorship, which celebrated the “Centenary of the Conquest of the Desert” in 1979, which could more accurately be characterized as the centenary of the genocide of the Native peoples.  So, sure, parade time.

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The busts of Native chiefs were displayed, meant to “remind us of the great facts of this epic that concluded with the happy integration of a numerous mass of indigenous peoples into the national life” are actual words that fell out of the museum director’s mouth in 1979.

 

Let’s take a gander at the artifacts that live upstairs, and channel our inner (or outer) textile nerds.

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This exhibit covers a lot of ground and A LOT of time, there was an entire class of children occupying a large part of the room (and I never, ever begrudge children their space in learning institutions–I just didn’t get to the more recent artifacts because their activity was taking up a lot of floor space, but they were really engaged and two thumbs way up to the museum for having a hands-on activity for them), and my dinky little minor in anthropology did not equip me for being a great source on pre-Colombian history, so let’s hit this in broad strokes.

Here’s the region we’re looking at:

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The English guidebook has got my back.

The exhibit covers about 4000 years of cultural development in the region (following roughly 6000 years of hunter-gatherer societies), beginning with the earliest domestication of crops and animals.

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You can still see the colorwork!
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How gorgeous are those stitch patterns?!

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It would have been very nice to have more information about each object, such as their ages and sources. 

As things settled into the first millennium CE, society got less egalitarian and chiefdoms formed.  Power became hereditary and ancestor worship was socially important.

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Along with the integration of groups into a large political entity came more defined social stratification and a centralization of power and activity.

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Also human sacrifice happened.

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But nevermind the increasing sophistication of craftsmanship, particularly metalworking, and restricted luxury goods that signified social status, let’s get back to the textiles.

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Aw, yeah.

The loom comes into use, and surviving textiles show that weavers developed into specialized master craftspeople, just as the metalworkers and ceramics makers did.

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Of course, everything goes to hell when the Europeans arrive, as it does.  That was the area that the school children were working in, so I didn’t get photos over there.

The exhibition room is large, and there are a lot of stairs, but they’ve used the space well.  Old houses present a lot of challenges when they’re used as public institutions, and they’ve done a nice job with this one.  If steps are an issue for you, be aware that there are lots.

There’s more to see at the Ethnographic Museum, which is open Tuesday through Friday from 1pm to 7pm and 3pm to 7pm on weekends (closed Monday).  There’s a small shop if you’d like to support the museum by upping your swag game.  Admission is 40 pesos (about a US dollar currently), and it’s super easy to get to on subway lines D, A, and E and tons of buses.

 

Museo Nacional del Hombre [National Museum of Man]

Sooner or later, I’m going to get to some of the Big Museums of the city, but I must say, I really enjoy poking around the little gems. It doesn’t take long to go through them, but you can just feel the love, ya know? So today, here’s another wee treasure of culture and anthropology.

The Museo Nacional del Hombre blends right into the neighborhood:

Helpful little sign on the pole though

 

And therein you will find some rooms devoted to the native peoples of Argentina. The first room covers historical objects of and information on ancient cultures.

 

TL;DR: First hunter-gatherers; widely varying geography in northwest Argentina.

 

 

Textile Nerd Photography

 

 

Feline motifs were a big deal and I approve.

 

 

Drop spindle, remarkably similar to my own.

 

 

LLAMA

 

The exhibits then move into the contemporary culture and works of different peoples, which I am not going to try to get into too much because this has been a five-day weekend and my brain has melted. This includes the festival of Aréte Abáti, a harvest festival in the Chiriguano Chané community of Jujuy and Salta.

The masks are part of that festival, and, ever the fan of interactive museum exhibits, I was pleased to see a selection of masks available for handling.

Being a textile nerd, I also enjoyed the display and information on the weaving of the Wichí people (Jujuy and Formosa). A plant called chaguar is gathered (not cultivated) and its fibers are woven into a number of goods:

Representative crafts are also displayed from the Mbyá (Misiones region):

 

I have always been a little nonplussed at the use of “basketweaving 101” as a joke for an easy class, because you cannot do this.

 

And the incredible silverwork and textiles of the Mapuche (southwestern Argentina):

 

Look at the textiles, y’all. Dang.

 

There is also an exhibit on a culture that did not survive its contact with European settlement, the Selk’nam, who lived in the southernmost part of the country.

 

During the hain ceremony, male children were initiated into adulthood and shown that the spirits they’ve been taught to fear as children as just adults in masks. The women, in theory, were never taught this, and so I imagine a lot of subtle eye-rolling also happened.

 

The upstairs portion of the museum currently houses a temporary exhibit (although it’s been in place since last year and has no closing date) called Objetos Poderosos:

 

Enjoy all the reflections of my Birkenstocks.

 

This exhibit includes contemporary objects created for traditional celebrations and observances in Latin America:

 

Carnaval de Oruro, Bolivia

 

 

Afro-American religious figure from Brazil (I think it’s Oya, but I’m not 100% sure).

 

 

San La Muerte figures, Corrientes.

 

 

Dia de Los Muertos, Mexico.

 

And a small display of very neat works by Graciela Henríquez, including this kinetic piece of awesome:

And once again, a mask-themed interactive photo opportunity:

 

And now, the deets:

LOCATION: 3 de Febrero 1378, Belgrano neighborhood

COST: It’s FREE, BABY

HOURS: Monday-Friday, 10-7

CLOSED DAY: Weekends and holidays

TIME: About an hour

LANGUAGES: All Spanish. The Microsoft translator app is best here.

TOURS: Yes, by arrangement, mostly in workshop form–it’s an education-focused institution. Not a casual tour kind of thing.

SWAG: Hey yeah there is! The entry hall has a couple of museum-branded bags as well as pieces of indigenous craft. There’s also a selection of (Spanish-language) books available.

HOW TO GET THERE: Close to the Olleros station of the D line of the subway.

KIDS: Sure! School visits are their jam, so they have tried to make the place kid-friendly.

FOOD IN THE AREA: Lots of cafes within a few blocks.