The Morbid Discovery That Led to Rio’s Only Slavery MuseumBreaking News
tags: slavery, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro
Mercedes Guimarães was renovating her Rio de Janeiro port-area house in 1996 when the construction workers began to uncover bones. ...
Guimarães’ house was once the site of the Cemetério dos Pretos Novos (Cemetery of the New Blacks), where recently arrived enslaved Africans were interred during the Atlantic slave trade. Her house became an archaeological site, with graduate students unearthing the remains in her yard—all without the assistance of the city or the federal government. The remains of 26 Africans dating back to 1824, aged 3 to 25, were discovered. Brazilian social scientist Júlio César Medeiros da S. Pereira produced a master’s thesis about the social history of the cemetery. At the time Guimarães helped out with her husband’s pesticide business, but she soon found a second calling—to respectfully honor the Africans who arrived in Brazil and educate people about their journey.
Over the next 20 years, Guimarães turned her house into a private free museum and research institute—the Instituto Memória e Pesquisa Pretos Novos, or, Institute for the Memorial and Research of the New Blacks(IPN). This 3,500-square feet institute is the only place in Brazil that preserves the memory of the human cost of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Since the unearthing of the Cemetery of the New Blacks in 1996, Rio de Janeiro has come full-circle in confronting its past with the Atlantic Slave Trade.
“There was nobody who wanted to take care of this,” said Guimarães when asked why she decided to develop the institute. “We saw that nobody wanted to research, nobody wanted to do anything.”
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