The Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site, located in the port area of Rio de Janeiro, won UNESCO‘s World Heritage status on Sunday (July 9). The location was the main port of entry for African slaves in Brazil and represents the exploitation and suffering of the people who were forcibly brought to the country until the mid-nineteenth century. The status sheds light on a past of slavery that left behind deep social inequality between whites and blacks and structural racism that’s not always recognized.
“Valongo Wharf is a place of remembrance, which refers to one of the most serious crimes perpetrated against humanity: slavery. Being the landing point for Africans on American soil, the Valongo Wharf symbolically represents slavery and evokes painful memories which many Afro-Brazilians can relate to”, said Itamaraty (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) in a statement, which expressed the Brazilian government’s “satisfaction” with the news. Rio’s current Secretary of Culture, Nilcemar Nogueira, wrote on his Facebook that the title is “an essential step for the recognition of a memory that needs to be revealed and, mainly, repaired.” For Nogueira, who was part of the Brazilian delegation that traveled to Poland to defend the nomination, “this moment marks the beginning of a new phase in relation to the recognition of a history that, for many decades, has been kept apart from that which we officially know about our country”. Former Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes also celebrated the news on his Instagram: “May the history of the Black Diaspora always be remembered. May the origins of our country, our formation and our culture be highlighted. May the violence of men always be remembered lest it be repeated.”
Cais do Valongo was discovered in 2011 during excavations made for the port area’s reform. According to anthropologist Milton Duran, its ruins are the only material vestiges of the arrival of Africans in the country. The academic was one of the coordinators for the candidacy, which involved Rio’s City Hall and the Brazil’s National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN), presented at the end of 2015 – Brazil holds the title for another 20 sites, including Brasília and Ouro Preto. “This Archaeological Site is unique because it represents the millions of Africans who were enslaved and who worked to build Brazil as a nation, generating the largest black population in the world, outside of Africa,” said Kátia Bogéa, president of IPHAN. The city government promised an on-site celebration on Monday, starting at 4PM.
Upon being named a World Heritage Site, Valongo Wharf was put on the same level as other UNESCO-recognized locations as being places of memory and suffering, such as a memorial in Hiroshima, Japan, and the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland. The appointment requires that Brazilian authorities assume certain responsibilities. “UNESCO recommends that Brazil adopt specific actions for the management of archaeological remains, for the execution of landscaping projects and for visitors to have a holistic view on the Valongo Wharf and what it represents,” said Itamaraty. “These measures, which will contribute to the preservation of this important Brazilian cultural heritage, should be implemented by the federal, state and municipal governments, in coordination with civil society and the communities involved.”
Built at the end of the 18th century, the Valongo Wharf is located in the region known as Pequena África (Little Africa), which is located in Rio’s port area, downtown. Besides being the gateway of millions of Africans in Brazil, the port region was also the meeting point for the black community in the then-capital. With laws signed in the mid-nineteenth century that prohibited human trafficking and the abolition of slavery, signed in 1889, thousands of blacks, many from other parts of the country, settled in the region, in neighborhoods like Gamboa and Saúde, and they spread throughout the region. It was in this same central area of the city that samba was being refined until it became the musical genre known today, according to historians.
The wharf was buried by the early 20th century’s urban reform, as was much of the history of the black community in downtown Rio over time. It was finally rediscovered during the port reform carried out in recent years. With the construction of the Museum of Tomorrow on the Mauá Pier, many demanded that City Hall take advantage of the region’s reform to also safeguard and consider the importance of the history of blacks who’ve been there. In June of this year, Agência Pública launched the Museum of Yesterday app with the purpose of revisiting this past. Under the administration of Marcelo Crivella, City Hall began to debate the construction of a slavery museum in a place near Valongo this year. – Source (PT)