That house, the National Museum, which celebrated its 200-year anniversary this year, had 20 million items catalogued, among them the “Dahomey Throne” – a gift from King Adandozan to King Dom João VI. It was his grandfather’s, his ancestor, King Kpengla’s, throne. It was a gift, not a result of pillaging, as the colonizers were accustomed to doing.
Zingpo gandene (the king’s chair) was, and it is important to underline, WAS the living presence of an African kingdom. This throne alone gave back the authority that was plundered by history, a fundamental affirmation of the possibility to acknowledge our multiple cultures equally. Even if few people knew this fact, the throne was there, ready to blast the people’s convictions of people’s superioritwhen someone got close.
The National Museum, at the same time, housed thousands of pieces manufactured by the pre-Colombian nations on (what is today) Brazilian territory, recordings of languages, sounds, thoughts. They were measures of recognition, pride and intimate exchange. The earth taught us how the native’s eye, hands and thoughts are mine, are yours. And the oldest person to step on those lands which today we call America: Luzia. A woman, who carried an entire population within herself culminating with me and my peers. A woman.
And now lies here Brazil’s most important space of scientific, historic and academic fruition. Gone, too, are my everyday childhood memories, friendship with the huge idleness, running through the never-ending hallways and the animals that exist no longer. Touching meteorites, smiling at dinosaurs, wanting to use the colorful beetle jewelry, being afraid of a giant crustacean’s claws, singing in the halls, being fatigued from reading so much, wanting to go back again.
I will not be able to go back again. But it’s not only me. WE cannot go back there. It is all burnt down. Not even the feathers of rare birds will be left for me to lament. No mark of a pen had endorsed the better safeguarding of this space, this collection. For my memories. It’s a selfish feeling, I would like to continue to be there. And that’s why I am crying. I am crying for the Museum like someone who loses something precious to them, that memory is not going to suffice. Now, I no longer have the right to forget, I need to remember each and every detail of my intimacy with this space so it does not die deeper. Let there be struggle. Let there be mourning. We don’t have sufficient air to breathe; we are filled with smoke. Who isn’t crying for the museum?
This edifice of roughly 13 thousand square meters, now, had four night watchmen, who caught sight of the glare and ran to save their own lives, afterall, the place is full of flammable material. The floor is made of wood, it has tapestries, organic material. It’s like letting the Louvre in Paris, the Smithsonian in Washington or the Pergamon in Berlin collapse. No. Inconceivable. But it happened.
And the scarab? Never again.
And the butterfly curtain? Never again.
And the king’s throne? Never again.
And Luzia? Never again.
And the house? Never again.
Now and never again.
Keyna Eleison is a curator, with a degree in Philosophy and a Masters in Art History. A narrator, singer, and ancestral chronicler, she is a specialist in art education, storytelling, knowledge harvesting – orally, Griot heritage and shamanic ritual. She also contributes regularly to the column “For eyes that can see” in Contemporary And (C&) América Latina.
Translated from Portuguese by Sara Hanaburgh.