The end of a dream

March 26, 2013

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

The historic building known as the Brazilian Indian Museum, located next to Rio’s even more famous Maracana soccer stadium, was donated to the Brazilian government by the Duke of Saxe in 1865. The Duke’s intention was to create a center for research into the Indian cultures, but by 1910 it had become a center for the protection of Indians, the predecessor of what is today known as the National Indian Foundation, or FUNAI.

In 1953 it became the Indian Museum, and remained that way until 1978, when the museum was moved to another location and the building became abandoned and derelict. In 2006 a group of Indians squatted in the building and ambitiously named it Aldeia Maracana, or Maracana Village.

Those Indians, who survived by making and selling crafts, dreamed of making it a cultural center for their tribes. They lived in the building for nearly 7 years, until last Friday when they were forcibly evicted.

As Brazil prepares to host the 2014 World Cup, the Rio state government decided to demolish the Indian Museum to make a parking lot for soccer fans. The proposal was recently modified, thanks to the Indians’ protests, but only to transform the building into another type of museum – a sports museum.

I began photographing the Indians’ protests at the Aldeia Maracana when they began. Apart from the permanent residents, other Indians would stay there when they were in town for any reason. I met fascinating people at the Aldeia, such as Zahy Guajajara, an Indian who dreams of becoming an actress and singer, and who spends long periods of time on Facebook.

There was also Afonso Chamacari, an Indian full of plans and projects for the Aldeia, such as a restaurant of native dishes inside of an Indian cultural center.

And the most interesting and Brazilian of all is young Thiago Kayapo. Thiago, who plays soccer in teams of Indians, dreams of being a player on the national team.

Then there are the Indian children, who always brought joy to the Aldeia, even during the tense moments when they were under threat of eviction.

This past week, when the courts ordered the Indians to leave by Thursday, the air was thick with expectation. We three photographers in Rio, Ricardo Moraes, Pilar Olivares and I, divided up the final days before and during the eviction, to make sure someone was always there in case the police arrived.

The Indians and a group of college students, professors and activists who came to give them support, were determined not to leave the building. But I could sense that there were divisions within the squatters, due to suspicions that some had received money from the government to leave peacefully, and that weakened their movement.

The deadline came and went, but Friday around dawn Pilar arrived for her turn and found numerous riot police around the building. Both Ricardo and I rushed to reinforce the coverage, and when it seemed everything would end peacefully, suddenly the police decided to a carry out a forced eviction even though the building was nearly empty. There were only about 15 left, between Indians and activists.

With pepper spray and tear gas grenades, the police provoked a reaction from demonstrators who were outside the building, who immediately blocked the street in front of the museum and it turned into a battle that could have been easily avoided.

It was clear to me that the authorities had ignored the Indian cultures, and they had denied any chance of success to an idea that could have spread the knowledge of those cultures and brought tourism and education. And they acted without even asking the population of Rio. It was also very strange not to see any representative of FUNAI present during the conflict, even though it is their charter to protect the interests of Brazil’s native tribes.

In that way the dream of establishing the Aldeia Maracana as a viable project in favor of native Brazilians, was banished in favor of one that will promote Brazil as a sporting country that will soon host a World Cup and Olympics.


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Indians with computers, thats a bit curious.

Posted by FelipeCales | Report as abusive

Sergio, thank you for the powerful photos and alerting us up North of what is going on down South. I am sorry to hear about the disappointments of those Indians and their hopes. The world seems to be in a very vulnerable place right now.

Posted by StevenMitchell1 | Report as abusive

It is so sad.
Human rights, whenever is connected to the native people of Brazil are ignored.
Here we demolish a place that they have used for a long time.
But in the Amazonian forest, they are also destroying their home, rivers, therefore food sources : to build dams.
More than 50 dams.
How embarrassing.
They could have built solar panels or other renewable structures somewhere else.
What the leaders of this country do to the native people in Brazil is illegal and immoral.
I wish the guilty parties had a conscience.
It’s never too late to do the right thing.
Please !

Posted by Hopeisallwehave | Report as abusive