The Valongo Wharf of Rio de Janeiro has sparked a tense debate between local developers, and one American architect that has made it her mission to get support for excavating the area. The wharf is the site of one of the world’s largest, most widely-traversed slave ports in history, as over 500,000 Africans set foot on the site after surviving the trek across the Atlantic.
Despite its history, today the area simply looks like a simple lot with masses of stones and a few scattered signs referencing the significance of the site.
The wharf sits in one of Rio’s abandoned neighborhoods.
Valongo was, in part, excavated in a project costing millions entitled “Porto Maravilha” worth millions of dollars. The project was started to bring more business to the neighborhood.
However, Black activists and historians are pushing for more work to be done in excavating the wharf, given the importance and rarity of the site. Historians were previously aware of the site’s location, but they weren’t aware of how well preserved the slave port was until developers began their $2 billion renovation of the area to give it some attractions and generate a profit on the land.
“‘The fact is that in Brazil sites dealing with African heritage are just less important,” said Elisa Larkin Nascimento, who heads Rio’s Ipeafro Afro-Brazilian Studies and Research Institute. “It’s a very neat statement of Brazilian racism. They are not interested in the history of Africans in Brazil…’
Built in 1811 on what was then the outskirts of town to replace a more central slave port, Valongo was literally buried – first beneath the paving stones of the stately wharf reconstructed to receive the bride of Brazil’s Portuguese emperor in 1843 and then over the following century and a half beneath layer after layer of pavement.
‘The decision to bury it was deliberate,” Fajardo said. “I believe it was a strategy to erase the memory of the practice of slavery.’
Sara Zewde, the architect who has been lobbying for more excavation and preservation of the site, has garnered support from Rio’s cultural heritage office for her proposal to build a walkway that would give locals space to perform and engage in traditional music, dance and martial arts—namely samba and capoeira. Zewde is also interested in planting African plants like the baobab tree to make vivid depictions of the Africans’ background and transition into the slave port.
However, the Porto Maravilha’s developers have so far expressed their disinterest in doing more work on the slave site, saying it would set their plans back for months at a time. They also argue that the work it would take to do more excavation wouldn’t yield a big enough return on the investment.
Zewde is hardly satisfied with the agency’s excuses and insists that a more extensive excavation has a much larger significance than what the agency is publicly acknowledging.
“It’s not just about the Black movement, it’s not just about Rio or Brazil,” Zewde said. “It’s about world history.”
[SOURCE: Huffington Post]