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  • People watch as a fire burns at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.

    People watch as a fire burns at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. | Photo: Reuters

Published 6 September 2018

Indigenous leader, Jose Urutau, equated the "irreparable loss" of indigenous artifacts, documents and knowledge "to the European invasion in 1500."

Jose Urutau, an Indigenous leader of the Guajajara ethnic group, linguist and researcher, said Brazil's National Museum fire caused an "irreparable loss" to Indigenous cultures comparable "to the European invasion in 1500."

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Having watched the museum burn to ashes from the nearby Maracana village, Urutau reminded that Indigenous populations have "been attacked since 1500 and this is an attack on the memory of the native peoples and their language (...) It was a linguicide, an epistemicide, when all knowledge is exterminated, all the culture of a people."

He said his people gathered "in ritual...when we saw the building on fire. The warriors took buckets and went to the scene believing that it could still be extinguished." The fire was so overwhelming that they could only watch from a distance as the building was consumed.

The National Museum of Brazil housed some 40,000 objects from 300 Indigenous groups, according to AFP. It also served as the headquarters of the Documentation Center for Indigenous Languages (CELIN), which held "the largest national and international collection of records of indigenous languages," Urutau reminded.

"It is an irreparable loss, as if it were the European invasion in 1500" all over again, Urutau lamented as he referenced the fateful year in which the first Portuguese navigators set foot on the land that would be colonized and dubbed Brazil.

The museum held "a collection of more than 500 years of memory. You can't calculate the magnitude of the loss. It's as if we're murdered again. Murder is the death of one's own language, one's culture, one's own memory."

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