Anthropologist Mourns Loss Of His Work And History From Museum Fire In Brazil Investigators are sifting through the remains of Brazil's National Museum, after a massive fire Sunday. NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with anthropologist Antonio Carlos de Souza Lima, who fears his research on Brazil's indigenous cultures is gone.
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Anthropologist Mourns Loss Of His Work And History From Museum Fire In Brazil

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Anthropologist Mourns Loss Of His Work And History From Museum Fire In Brazil

Anthropologist Mourns Loss Of His Work And History From Museum Fire In Brazil

Anthropologist Mourns Loss Of His Work And History From Museum Fire In Brazil

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Investigators are sifting through the remains of Brazil's National Museum, after a massive fire Sunday. NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with anthropologist Antonio Carlos de Souza Lima, who fears his research on Brazil's indigenous cultures is gone.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're going to hear from someone next who is mourning the loss of thousands of years of Brazilian history and his own life's work. Anthropologist Antonio Carlos de Souza Lima had conducted research out of an office at Brazil's National Museum since 1980. It held his archives and 38 years of his research on Brazil's indigenous cultures. A massive fire on Sunday destroyed much of what was inside the 200-year-old building. It's not clear what remains of the 20 million artifacts housed in the museum.

Dr. Lima, thank you for joining us. And I'm sorry for your loss.

ANTONIO CARLOS DE SOUZA LIMA: Thank you so much for supporting us in this very hard moment for the institution, for Brazil, for Rio de Janeiro and I think that for mankind also.

SHAPIRO: Before we get into the meaning of this loss, will you just describe - if I had walked into your research center last week before the fire, what would I have seen?

SOUZA LIMA: You would have seen a flourishing institution in a very old and precarious building but full of students, full of researchers with new exhibitions, new exhibitions for the anthropological part on social diversity in Brazil and elsewhere in the world. And you would also have seen new exhibitions about the biodiversity in Brazil in special but in the world in general, too. That's the reality that you would have seen.

SHAPIRO: And on Sunday night as you watched the fire consume this building and its collections, can you describe what that experience was like for you?

SOUZA LIMA: I almost was consumed by hate and anger.

SHAPIRO: I'm surprised to hear you say hate. Do you mean that you are angry that people had not put in place better fire prevention measures?

SOUZA LIMA: I was angry, and I hated so many people that is responsible for a lot of things. That was something that could have been prevented. If decades ago we have changed from the building - that was an ancient building full of wood that for - be secure for exhibitions or people to be there, should have been completely rebuilt internally and prepared against fire and against a lot of other things.

SHAPIRO: And so had you been afraid that something like this would happen working in the building every day, seeing its disrepair?

SOUZA LIMA: All my life.

SHAPIRO: Was any of it digitized? Does any of it exist online?

SOUZA LIMA: No, no. You see, Ari; we never had enough money. That's why I say I was so angry. I'm angry against our economic and technical elites, angry against politicians, decision-makers that never cared for heritage, culture and education in Brazil.

SHAPIRO: This building held your entire career, your entire archive. Do you think you will be able to continue?

SOUZA LIMA: Well, I'm continuing. I continue. I'm talking to you. We are going to rebuild. Or better, we'll fight to build another museum together with indigenous peoples, together with black peoples in Brazil, together with fellow scientists from all the world. We are going to build another museum. My archives are very, very small loss towards what we've lost as a country, as an intellectual community, as an institution. So what can we do, depress? No, we had to fight.

SHAPIRO: Thank you for talking with us. And once again, I'm so sorry for everything you've lost.

SOUZA LIMA: Thank you so much.

SHAPIRO: That's ethnology professor Antonio Carlos de Souza Lima. His office and archive were in Brazil's National Museum, which suffered a devastating fire on Sunday.

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