Brazil slave gate­way a World Her­itage site

Mil­lions brought to the Amer­i­cas ar­rived at Rio port

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - NATION | WORLD - By Ernesto Lon­doño

RIO DE JANEIRO — The his­tory of Rio de Janeiro be­ing the main gate­way for African slaves brought to the Amer­i­cas has come into sharper fo­cus since the city’s con­struc­tion boom un­earthed mass graves and other traces of that era’s slave trade.

The United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion on Sun­day took an im­por­tant step to­ward pre­serv­ing that grim le­gacy by adding the Va­longo Wharf, where hun­dreds of thou­sands of slaves dis­em­barked, to its World Her­itage List.

“From a his­toric point of view, this is a tes­ti­mony to one of the most bru­tal episodes in the his­tory of hu­mankind,” UN­ESCO said in its jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the des­ig­na­tion.

His­to­ri­ans be­lieve that as many as 50 per­cent of the es­ti­mated 10.7 mil­lion slaves brought to the Amer­i­cas ar­rived in Brazil. Va­longo was the en­try point for an es­ti­mated 900,000.

Brazil im­ported more slaves than any other na­tion and in 1888 be­came the last in the Amer­i­cas to of­fi­cially abol­ish slav­ery.

Ana de la Merced Guimarães, the head of the New Blacks In­sti­tute for Re­search and Mem­ory, which is near the wharf, said the UN­ESCO des­ig­na­tion was a fit­ting, if over­due, step.

The cen­ter, which was built in her home, dis­plays an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site with the re­mains of slaves and por­traits of prom­i­nent Brazil­ians of African de­scent.

Work­ers do­ing ren­o­va­tion work at Guimarães’ home in 1996 found bone frag­ments, which set in mo­tion a years­long ef­fort by ar­chae­ol­o­gists to piece to­gether a record of the area’s role in the slave trade. The wharf, which was un­earthed in 2011, has been pre­served by the city.

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