By Ciara Long, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Coming into existence when the bones of more than 15,000 slaves were discovered underneath a house in Rio’s port zone, the Instituto Pretos Novos (IPN) is Rio’s free slavery museum.
Although its cultural importance is recognized by UNESCO, the IPN has historically struggled with funding difficulties and this week may be forced to close its doors.
This week the IPN said that the most recent funding cuts from Rio’s municipal government, which occurred halfway through 2016, mean the Institute is in imminent danger of closing its doors. The IPN, which offers free entry to visitors, functions as a museum memorial and research center for the history of Rio’s Port Area.
Founders Merced and Petrucio Guimarães say the Institute is essential to understanding the Port Area’s links to Rio’s slave trade; four times as many African slaves were transported to Latin America than North America, largely through Rio’s port.
To avoid closure, the Institute is launching a campaign this week to help them cover basic costs including utility bills and cleaning supplies. However, it may close this week if it does not receive further government funding. “It would be an absurd loss to the memory of those subjects compulsorily brought from Africa to Brazil,” Merced said in an open letter announcing the #IPNResiste campaign.
The letter continues: “We cannot close this Instituto Pretos Novos that for 12 years has been trying to implement actions to preserve, research and dynamize the African and Afro-Brazilian cultural heritage in a diasporic perspective, aiming at the validation of human dignity, universality of knowledge, racial and religious equality and the building in the present of memories buried in the past.”
Kelly Tavares, owner of tour company Rio Encantos Tours, includes the IPN on her bike tour of Pequena África, which traces Rio’s African heritage. Tavares says that although the tour includes stops in Praça Mauá, Pedra do Sal and the Centro Cultural José Bonifácio, the IPN’s cultural importance is unmatched.
“The archeologic site entails the traces of African ancestors. In the past, the Valongo Port and Cemetery were covered to hide the history of this genocide,” Tavares told The Rio Times.
Adding, “Historically, institutions which carry the mission of bringing awareness of these issues and raising black consciousness are historically boycotted or ignored by public authorities. The IPN is a place of resistance and dialogue for black awareness and Brazilian culture.”
Rio’s municipal government told local media that it had suspended funding last year to carry out an “analysis of available funding for 2017 and 2018”. Talks are underway for Rio’s government to create its own slavery museum, but as of yet it has only one artifact and has not announced a location.
Those wishing to support the IPN can pay a suggested donation price when visiting, and can also do so via bank transfer (information available on the IPN’s website).