article from March 9, 2011
By Jamie Douglas
Rio de Janeiro, besides having just finished the madness of Carnival, is also in the midst of preparations for two major events that will bring masses of visitors to this city that is located in what surely must be one of the most amazingly scenic locations on the planet.
Unfortunately, there is also a major inequality in income distribution, with millions of its citizen living in favelas, or slums, many on the hillsides overlooking the magnificent scenery, but infested with criminal gangs that terrorize the poor in many ways. The major sources of income here are the drug trade and human trafficking in the form of prostitution as well as the forced joining of gangs.
But there is a bright spark that is starting to work its way into Rio: the 2014 FIFA World Soccer Championship is coming, and two years later, in 2016, the Olympic Games are slated to be hosted there. So Brazil is proud to be home to the world’s two premier sporting events.
Already, authorities have begun to address the drug gangs and have declared war on all crime, from the most petty to the most atrocious, and they are making sizeable headway in an impressive manner.
There are also many urban renewal project underway that aim to reclaim some of the dilapidated areas, particularly along the waterfront, which involves removal of old buildings. And as this work moves forward, incredible archeological discoveries are being made almost daily.
The history of Rio started with its discovery January 1, 1502, less than 10 years after Christopher Columbus first set foot in the new world. Recently, a team of 10 archeologists led by Tania Andrade Lima has come upon what they believe to be the ruins of the notorious Valongo Wharf, surely one of the most shameful parts of Rio’s over-500-year history. It was here that, between 1818 and 1830, untold numbers of Africans that were bought in West Africa were landed and warehoused, with half their heads shaven. They were then taken to fattening houses, where they were made more attractive to the mainly Portuguese sugar and coffee barons, who had an insatiable appetite for more and more slaves to work their plantations. It is estimated that more than three million West Africans were bought by Brazilians between 1550 and 1888, when the barbaric system of human slavery was finally abolished.
Presently, the city is constructing Porto Maravilha, or The Marvelous Port, one of the many showpieces the city wants to present to the world, and it was during the excavations for this project that Tania Andrade Lima’s team came upon what they are now quite certain are the ruins of the former Empress Wharf, which was built on top of the Valongo Wharf. It was named the Empress Wharf to honor the expected arrival of Brazil’s new Empress Teresa Christina. Tania’s team is confident that these ancient ruins represent Valongo Wharf and is expecting to find other archeological treasures as more construction sites are readied.
The mayor of Rio has committed to building a memorial plaza on the site where so much human suffering occurred. “These are our Roman Ruins,” he stated proudly.
Washington Fajardo, Rio’s secretary for cultural heritage, was overcome with emotion upon visiting the sites: “It is a moving experience, seeing an existing city, and then two meters underneath, there is another ancient city. I feel a little bit like Indiana Jones.”
One of the great benefits of the importation of the Africans has been the free mingling of races, similar to what has occurred in Hawaii, where the rainbow of races is reflected in the children – some of the most beautiful on the planet – with a variety of skin tones and eye colors that foretells the future looks of the human race, in many respects.
Rio de Janeiro is no doubt one of the world’s most vibrant metropolises, one of those places that must be experienced, whether during Carnival or at any other time of the year.
[Artwork from a visit to Brazil from 1834-1839, by Jean Babtiste Debret, showing a market for slaves who stood along Valongo Street, currently Camerino]
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