Brazil Museum Fire


Fire at the National Museum of Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, on 2 September 2018
Photo by Felipe Milanez via Wikimedia Commons

Liz Waid and Bruce Gulland tell about the National Museum of Brazil. In 2018, 90% of the museum was destroyed. It provides a lesson and a warning for people around the world.

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Transcript


Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2  

And I’m Bruce Gulland. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

On September second, 2018 the sky in Rio De Janiero was lit up by fire. Crowds of people stood and watched. Many of them were crying. The National Museum of Brazil was burning. Students and museum workers hurried in and out of the burning building. They tried to save anything they could. No people were harmed in the fire. But by the time the fire ended, 90 percent of the museum was destroyed. Today’s Spotlight is on the fire in the National Museum of Brazil. Why did this happen? And what does it mean for Brazil and the world?

Voice 2  

The old Imperial Palace is a large beautiful building. Just over 200 years ago, the National Museum of Brazil was established in this building. Museums store and show artistic and cultural objects. They teach people about the past. The National Museum in Brazil was the largest museum in the country. It was a museum of culture and science. When it burned down, about 90 percent of the museum was destroyed.

Voice 1  

The National Museum contained over 20 million different specimens, or objects. Many of the objects were from Brazil. But many were from other places around the world. Some objects were fossils, or parts of animals that no longer exist. Some were preserved insects. Other objects included clothing, weapons, cooking tools and other cultural items from Brazilian people.

Voice 2  

But the fire also destroyed historical recordings. The fire destroyed examples of indigenous, or native, Brazilian languages. Some of these languages are now extinct - no one speaks them anymore. And some of these recordings were the only copies. Those languages were lost to the world forever in the fire. Brazilian anthropologist Mariana Françozo is an expert on South American indigenous objects at Leiden University. She told National Geographic:

Voice 3  

“I have no words to say how horrible this is. The indigenous collections are a huge loss. We can no longer study them. We can no longer understand what our ancestors did. It is heartbreaking.”

Voice 1  

The National Museum was very important for science in Brazil. It was an important place for research and study. Many students, professors and scientists studied at the National Museum. The fire means that they do not have access to their laboratories. And they will never be able to study the objects that were lost.

Voice 2  

Many of these objects were the only objects of their kind. Luiz Rocha is a Brazilian scientist at the California Academy of Sciences. He has visited the National Museum many times to study its insect collections. He told National Geographic:

Voice 4  

“The collections that were lost are more important than I can say. They were simply unique. Many of them are not able to be replaced. There is no way to put a monetary value on it.”

Voice 1  

The fire made many people in Brazil angry. They were angry because of what was lost. They were also angry because they believe the government failed to take care of the museum. The building was very old and it had many problems. It had never been completely repaired and made modern. It had problems with insects and water leaks. It did not have fire-fighting water sprinklers in the ceiling. The government of Brazil had promised money to the museum. But it did not give the museum the money.

Voice 2  

It was difficult to put the fire out. Fire-fighters tried to stop the fire. Normally, fire-fighters would attach a long hose to a fire hydrant. The hydrants give access to water. But the two nearest fire hydrants did not provide water to put out the fire.

Voice 1  

There is no way to understand the value of this lost knowledge. Historical objects like what was lost at the museum are important for humans in a special way. Michael Kimmelman writes in the New York Times:

Voice 5  

“That is what museums like the National Museum ultimately do. They put together the story of who we are and where we come from. They help us understand where we belong in the universe, on this planet, as nations, communities, and individuals.”

Voice 2  

But there is some hope. Not everything in the museum was lost. A month after the fire, Al Jazeera reported that researchers had found over 1,500 museum objects in the ashes. They even recovered one of their most important objects. It is a set of bones from an ancient person. But recovering the damaged objects is slow and careful work.

Voice 1  

And the museum is trying to recover some lost information in a modern way. Many people have been to the National Museum. They have taken pictures and made recordings. The National Museum is trying to collect this information from people who have visited. These pictures may be the only copy that remains of particular objects from the museum.

Voice 2  

The fire in Brazil is a lesson for people around the world. It reminds museums that preserving their collections can be done in different ways. More and more museums are digitizing their collections. They are making digital recordings. Physical objects can be destroyed. But a digital copy can be preserved from fire, flood or earthquake. It is not a replacement for the original objects. But it is one way to remember and preserve important objects.

Voice 1  

Many scientists see the National Museum fire as a warning. Kelly R. Zamudio is a professor at Cornell University. She has studied some of the museum’s specimens. She and other scientists wrote an opinion piece for Science Magazine. They wrote that the museum did not receive enough money. In fact, countries all around the world are reducing money spent on science. They believe this is a loss for humanity. Zamudio writes,

Voice 6  

“This loss is important even outside of Brazil. Museum collections are national treasures. They represent our histories, cultures, and scientific achievements. Every organization and government should think about this sad moment. We must invest in our museums. We must protect our museums and collections for science and people around the world.”

Voice 2  

Have you been to a museum? Do you think museums are important? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 1  

The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Brazil Museum Fire”.

Voice 2  

Visit our website to download our free official app for Android and Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Do you have a favorite museum? Is there a museum in your city?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
Honneur
said on February 19, 2019

I have visited some museums in my life. My favorite, of course, is the Louvre Museum in Paris, not only for the Mona Lisa, but also for the incredible collection of Caravagio’s works. I really enjoyed the London Natural History Museum and the Madamme Tussaud Museum. I was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, where there is the Gold Museum, which preserves the history and objects of colonial times in Minas Gerais. You can see that I really like museums ...

Avatar Spotlight
Honneur
said on February 19, 2019

This new format, more speed, is very good and I understood the pronunciation and meants easily. Thank you.