Byron Baxter, Small But Mighty

I don’t know if this is typical for women of a “certain age.” But lately I get all gooey and mushy whenever I see a cute baby or toddler. A toddler like Byron Baxter, the three-year-old superstar of social media who lives with his family in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

Byron personifies cuteness overload. Like most toddlers, he’s a ham in front of a camera. Any camera. A camera in a phone will do. He giggles, wiggles and “dances” lying on his back in his bed, or when he’s propped up in his stroller or high chair. He tells his million or more “cyber uncles and aunts” “I love you!” and “Happy (whatever day of the week)” and smacks his lips to make kissing sounds to his supporters. He’s become so social media savvy that in one YouTube video he told his mom, “I want Snap Chat on my face!”

Besides the YouTube channel, Byron’s parents, Ebonie and Byron, set up a Facebook page and an Instagram account, where his fans can view his activities, those of his parents, and his little brother Blake.

One would never know to look at Byron’s cheery little face that sometimes he’s in pain due to bone fractures.

Byron has osteogenesis imperfecta, or “brittle bone disease.” It’s a genetic condition that cuts across ethnicity and gender. It’s so rare that it effects an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 people in the U.S. It’s characterized by defective genes which can’t produce enough collagen, the protein that comprises the connective tissue around bones.

It can also affect teeth, making them brittle and easily broken.

What it means for kids like Byron is multiple fractures from making the slightest movement. He has been so fragile that he could easily fracture the bones in his hand by waving it.

Until recently, Byron didn’t wear socks, because his parents were afraid they would accidentally break his legs as they put his socks on. But recently they gave it a try, and Byron was recorded showing off his new black and white striped socks.

There is no cure for osteogenesis imperfecta.  There are ways to lessen its effects, or to prevent so many bone fractures. There is bone infusion, in which a bisphosphonate drug is administered intravenously to prevent bone loss. Byron underwent the procedure in a hospital this August.  A month later, Byron can roll over on his stomach, and sit in high chair for ten minutes. He hasn’t experienced any bone fractures. At some point he can go to the hospital to have stainless steel rods implanted in his legs which will help strengthen them so he can walk.

Physical therapy would be helpful, but it’s expensive. Instead, Byron’s mother developed her own therapy: Placing toys and other articles slightly out of reach so that Byron has to stretch his arms to pick them up.

Like many Black parents who have children with disabilities, Ebonie and Byron can’t afford all of the costly medical expenses, and their health insurance doesn’t cover them. A friend of the family started a Go Fund Me page earlier this year which raised $91,395 from 3,391 people in four months. The fundraising goal was $70,000. The page is no longer taking donations.

Neither Byron nor his family treat his life as an unending tragedy, because it isn’t. He has a good time doing things that children do: Eating potato chips, playing games with his parents and Blake, swinging on a specially made swing in the family’s backyard, “sailing” on a plastic floatie in a pool, and having his mom spray him with water as he sits in his stroller on hot days.

While the Go Fund Me page is inactive, Byron’s parents say he still needs “care packages” of clothes, toys and books. He wears size 4T clothing in bright colors. He likes any toy he can hold. “Care packages” can be sent to The Baxter Boys, c/o of Ebonie Baxter, P.O. Box 464849, Lawrenceville, Georgia 30042. The family’s business email account is TheBaxterBoys@hotmail.com. The Instagram account is @TheBaxterBoys.

Love this little boy. It takes a mighty kid to giggle and smile through a challenging  disability. He’s doing it! Go Byron!

“Nothing About Us Without Us” — Judge Kavanaugh May End, Weaken Disability Rights

On September 7, 2018, the last day of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings to determine whether Judge Brett Kavanaugh should be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, a representative of the nation’s disabilities community testified that Kavanaugh might take from disabled individuals the right to make their own decisions.

Elizabeth Weintraub, Senior Advocacy Specialist of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, said this right was hard-won.

“Fifty-one years ago, I was born with cerebral palsy and an intellectual disability,” said Weintraub. “I entered a world that had low expectations for me and people like me. Judge Kavanaugh mentioned that he has the same low expectations, and I am here to tell you he’s wrong.

“In my 20s, some professionals and my parents decided to put me into a private institution. My parents loved me, but instead of treating me like an adult with opinions and preferences and asking what I wanted, they made the decision for me like I was a child. This was wrong.”

Despite her disabilities, Weintraub noted that she works full-time for the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. Her advocacy work includes hosting a program on YouTube, “Tuesdays with Liz,” in which she interviews people regarding disability policies, and explains the policies in ways that viewers with intellectual disabilities would understand them.

“Today I live with my husband who also happens to have a disability,” she said. “Together we make our own decisions. It has not always been this way.”

Although Kavanaugh has not discussed how he would rule on disability cases as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, disability rights groups believe his rulings on disability cases that were before him when he was a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit are indicative of his positions on disability rights.

In  the 2007 Doe Tarlow v. District of Columbia case, three individuals with intellectual disabilities living in a Washington, D.C. institutional setting, said that doctors were not considering their choices concerning elective surgeries. Kavanaugh ruled that people who have intellectual disabilities lack the capacity to decide anything for themselves, and therefore had no right to make their own medical decisions.

In cases where disabled plaintiffs said their employers were discriminating against them because of their disabilities, Kavanaugh generally ruled in favor of the employers. Kavanaugh supports voucher programs, in which public school students use a voucher to pay part of their tuition to private schools. But disabled students would have to waive their rights to a free and appropriate education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Without special education, students with intellectual disabilities would simply be allowed to fall behind academically.

Kavanaugh has also indicated his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, under which health insurance companies cannot refuse to insure people with pre-existing conditions. Individuals with disabilities who were finally able to access affordable health care under the act could lose it again if Kavanaugh and other conservative justices rule favorably on cases designed to eliminate the act.

As Kavanaugh opposes government regulations, the disabilities community is alarmed that he may rule against the Americans with Disabilities Act should cases involving the law come before him. The ADA applies to businesses and other entities which serve the public, insisting that their facilities must accommodate people with disabilities, such as elevators with instructions in Braille, and ramps that provide access to and within buildings for wheelchairs. But Arlene Mayerson, the directing attorney for the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, wrote in a July 16 Fund publication that Kavanaugh  “really is a poster boy  for not honoring agency regulations. We want more enforcement of our laws by the federal government, not less.”

Black people with disabilities would find life especially hard under a U.S. Supreme Court with Kavanaugh joining the conservative wing of the bench.  Knowing Kavanaugh’s penchant for finding in favor of employers in job discrimination cases, disabled Black people’s efforts to find employment would be even more difficult.

According to a National Disability Institute report, “Financial Inequality: Disability Race and Poverty in America,” Black people are more likely to have a disability — 14 percent — than any other demographic group. Nearly 40 percent of Black people with disabilities live in poverty, compared to 24 percent of non-Hispanic whites. Only one in four Black people with disabilities are employed, compared to Black people without a disability (25 percent compared to 70 percent). Two-thirds of Black families with a disability are unbanked or underbanked, meaning that they have very little savings, and may not even have checking or savings accounts in a bank.

The report also says that Black people with disabilities are more than two times more likely to not have graduated high school than Black people without disabilities (25 percent compared to eleven percent). That statistic could increase if Kavanaugh’s rulings help to create more private school voucher programs — schools which are not obligated by law to provide special education to students with disabilities.

Senator Tammy Duckworth lost both of her legs when a grenade exploded and blew up the helicopter she piloted during the Iraq war. She wrote about Kavanaugh in a recent Time magazine article. “Judge Kavanaugh’s rulings make clear that he’s just not concerned whether we’re able to go to school, get decent health care, eat at a restaurant like anyone else or even earn a liveable wage.

“Every issue is a disability issue,” wrote Duckworth, “because our community — at 60 million strong — is beautifully diverse. That’s a gift, but also a responsibility. Because it means we have to fight for every American with disabilities, whether they’re undocumented or disenfranchised or sick and in need of care. No matter what.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote for or against Kavanaugh’s confirmation on September 20. Before doing so, its members should think about how Kavanaugh’s uncaring attitude towards people with disabilities could worsen their lives, and vote accordingly.

9-11 and “The Ugly American”

This September 11 marked 17 years since al-Qaida terrorists took passenger planes and crashed them almost simultaneously into New York City’s World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon in Virginia. Their attempt to crash a commercial plane in Washington, D.C. was thwarted when passengers fought for control, causing it to plummet into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Nine-eleven was only the second time terrorists from outside of the U.S. had carried out an attack within the nation. In 1993 a bomb planted in a truck exploded outside the World Trade Center North Tower.

Such attacks might have never happened if the U.S. had used a vastly different approach to counter terrorism, one that focused less on military solutions and more on encouraging and supporting governments that are honest and democratic. That’s according to a recent report, sponsored by the U.S.Institute for Peace. The writing and compilation of the report was led by former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean (R) and former U.S. Representative Lee Hamilton of Indiana (D). Both men were also in charge of the 9-11 Commission Report.

The new report says that the U.S. should  strengthen what it calls “fragile states ”  against violent extremism, not only in the Middle East, but in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.

“As rich as we are, we’re limited in our resources,” Kean told NPR in an “All Things Considered” interview. “What we’re proposing here, which is strengthening fragile states, is an awful lot cheaper than using our troops.”

“Fragile states are the incubator of extremism,” added Hamilton during the same interview. “It’s a very tough challenge, because what you’re fundamentally trying to do is to remake societies.”

Hamilton explained that the report wasn’t calling for “nation building” in fragile countries. “The key, in a word, is to improve governance, to reduce corruption, to reduce repression, because where you have corruption, governments that don’t meet the needs of the people, you have the breeding ground for extremism.”

Variations of this strategy have been tried before, and it failed, most notably in Vietnam. The problem with implementing it is that one has to know a lot about the countries, their people, their cultures, their religions, and their politics, not just impose one’s own ideas on those countries regarding what they must do to become “democracies.”

A novel published in 1958, “The Ugly American,” spoke to how U.S. diplomats and foreign policy has generally not made much effort to understand the nations and their people they’re ostensibly “helping.” The novel, written by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, follows a U.S. engineer living in the fictional Southeast Asian country of “Sarkhan,” a stand-in for Vietnam, Thailand or Burma. The engineer immerses himself in the country’s people, learns the languages and the customs, and eventually figures out that instead of giving them what he thinks they should want, he should collaborate with the people to give them what they need. It also builds national self-determination when the  “helper” nation stands back after teaching the people how to use what they’ve been given, then gets out of the way.

But  a succession of U.S. governments has taken on the attitude of “We know what’s best for you, so shut up and do as you’re told.” Rather than modeling democratic values, too many U.S. diplomats have exemplified white privilege on a roll. In their arrogance, they insist that their hosts learn English. They insist on being served American food like that which they eat at home. They insist on being racists toward the residents of their host countries, and otherwise disrespecting their hosts.

And during the Cold War, the U.S. would simply send troops into a given country and overthrow governments it didn’t like, replacing the leaders the people had selected with right-wing despots that the U.S. could control. As long as the replacements promised to prevent Communism from taking over their countries, the U.S. would turn a blind eye to human rights and civil rights abuses conducted by their dictator puppets against the given countries’ people.

With that kind of history, people in the Middle East and Africa may not have much of a reason to trust the U.S. They may not trust al-Qaida and Islamic State-types either, so they find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place, especially if they have to depend on assistance from the unpresident and his administration. This unpresident has tried to impose a ban on Muslims from entering the U.S. He refuses to read and learn anything about the countries he’s supposed to be “helping.” He knows nothing about the history or politics of African or Middle East nations,  except to pronounce them “shit holes.” He wouldn’t know a Sikh man from a Muslim man since sometimes they both wear turbans.

Additionally, the unpresident is notorious for ignoring expert advice. He would probably want to send troops, and lots of them, to attack the extremists and “crush” them. One would hope he reads the new report, or has someone read it to him, to explain that there are other options for defeating terrorism and “winning the hearts and minds” of people in Africa and the Middle East. But I doubt it. He is the 21st Century version of “The Ugly American.”

Reproductive Choice Challenged in Tanzania

The President of the East African nation of Tanzania, John Magufuli, told a rally on Sunday, September 9, that Tanzanian couples should stop using contraceptives and have more babies for their country.

The surprising recommendation seemingly came out of nowhere. “Those going for family planning are lazy,” asserted Magufuli. “.  .  . they are afraid they will not be able to feed their children. They do not want to work hard to feed a large family and that is why they opt for birth controls and end up with one or two children only.”

Magufuli indicated that his opinion was formed during travel to other countries, including some in Europe. He claimed that contraception led to declining populations in those countries.

“You have cattle. You are big farmers. You can feed your children. Why then resort to birth control?” he asked the rally attendees. “This is my opinion. I see no reason to control birth in Tanzania.”

Actually, there are several reasons. Tanzania’s population, according to Worldometers, a website that compiles nations’ demographic information, is 59,449,107. Based on United Nations estimates, Worldometers says Tanzania’s population will increase to 138,081,621 by 2050. About 32.6% of the population is urban. The median age in Tanzania is 17.4 years. And Tanzania’s population density is 173 people per mile. More babies could make for some pretty crowded areas per mile. Assuming that Tanzania’s youthful median age means high fertility rates, couples having more babies shouldn’t be a problem.

However, producing more babies becomes a problem if couples can’t afford them. Babies cost money. They have to be fed, clothed, educated, and kept healthy through annual visits to doctors for examinations and immunization shots. MP Cedric Mwambe   who was recently quoted in Al Jazeera news, said the country’s health insurance is set up to only cover four children per family.

It’s a problem when governments start inserting themselves in family planning decisions, something that’s intensely personal and should only involve the couples. Having more babies often means fewer local and national resources available to ensure education for all who want it. It means women in particular are made to postpone or give up on ever having an education themselves, which would enable them to obtain jobs  and pursue careers in professions that pay well, and to contribute more money to their families’ expenses.

Thankfully, according to Tanzania’s Speaker of Parliament Job Ndugai, Magufuli’s remarks don’t represent the government’s position, or a new national policy. But it’s disturbing that Magufuli, who only has four children, would see fit to tell Tanzania’s couples, particularly the female half of those couples, to have more babies and stop using contraception. It’s another example of a male government official telling women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies.

If Magufuli ever decided to enshrine his opinions in government policy, he would be in violation of the Maputo Protocol. The protocol is part of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which was adopted by the African Union in 2003 at its summit in Maputo, Mozambique. The African Union ratified the protocol in 2005.

The protocol says that women have the right to decide whether to have children, how many they will have, and how much time they will give themselves between pregnancies if they decide to have more children. It says women have the right to choose any contraception method they want, and to be provided family planning education.

Family planning isn’t the only right under attack. On Monday, September 10, Tanzania’s parliament said female legislators can’t wear false eyelashes and/or fake fingernails. How fashion and appearance have anything to do with female legislators’ ability to draft and vote on new laws is beyond understanding.

There are African cultural traditions that just don’t work all that well in modern times, not in African countries or in nations of the African Diaspora. Men limiting women’s freedoms and choices just because they’re men, is one such tradition that should disappear, never to return.

“Don’t You Know We Hate You People?”

The title is a quote from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer to a woman seeking asylum.

“Like it or not, these aren’t our kids.” — Brian Kilmeade, co-host of “Fox and Friends” on June 22, expressing support for dividing immigrant families at the border and placing the children in cages.

“These aren’t people. These are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.” The unpresident, May 16, 2018.

If you ever doubted that the unpresident and his administration held racist feelings toward immigrants and refugees, the immigration policies they     introduced this year regarding these populations should forever put those doubts to rest.

While many of us were paying attention to the funerals for Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and U.S.Senator John McCain two weeks ago, the unpresident was busy preparing his next policy onslaught on immigrants.

White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, who also assisted the unpresident with creating the “zero tolerance” undocumented immigrants policy, allowing ICE officers to separate parents and their children at the Texas-Mexico border and place the children in cages, came up with the new policy.  It would deny citizenship to legal immigrants who ever used any public assistance programs, like food stamps, health insurance for low-income children (CHIP), or the Affordable Care Act. The new policy would be signed as an Executive Order, going into effect without approval from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Immigrants who have “green cards” are considered legal permanent residents of the U.S., and are permitted to work. They can use public assistance programs, but the immigration system frowns upon such use. That’s because it supposedly places an undue burden on U.S.-born (read “white”) taxpayers, whose taxed earnings fund the programs.  Immigrants have to prove they can be model citizens without having to ever ask for help — even though they also pay taxes, and should be able to avail themselves of public assistance if and when they have to. Many work jobs where they earn less than the minimum wage, supporting families on next to nothing.

One example is Louis Charles, a Haitian permanent resident who has been cited in news accounts about the impact of this new policy. He works 80 hours a week in a psychiatric hospital near Boston as a nursing assistant, but doesn’t make enough to support his disabled adult daughter, who can’t do anything for herself. He relies on public assistance for his daughter’s care. A year ago, he was denied U.S. citizenship. He is appealing the decision.  In addition, Charles’ wife was one of hundreds of Haitians who came to the U.S. following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Haitians, including Charles’ wife, were granted temporary protected status, which the unpresident says he will discontinue. If Charles can’t obtain U.S. citizenship, his wife will also be deported.

Immigrant and refugee advocates say the new policy could affect 20 million immigrants.  Among them are immigrants of color. A large number of immigrants and refugees are seeking asylum from domestic violence or gang violence in their Central and South American countries of origin. They could be beaten or murdered upon returning “home.”

Along with Central and South American immigrants, the number of Black immigrants, both naturalized citizens and undocumented, is growing.  One in 10 Black people in the U.S. are foreign-born, according to a Pew Research Center study. Most came from Jamaica, Haiti and Nigeria. The population of African immigrants in the U.S. increased to 1.6 million between 2000 and 2016. In 2015, there were 619,000 undocumented Black immigrants living in the U.S.  How long will it take for the unpresident to target Black immigrants  and refugees for deportation?

Not long, apparently. There’s already one such case pending in Detroit, Michigan, that of a deaf and intellectually disabled Nigerian man, Francis Anwana, who came to the U.S. at 14. He is now 48. He entered the country on a student visa. His mother realized that his severe disabilities would keep him from getting the care he would need in Nigeria, and  as he had about ten siblings, she was unable to afford his care.

For a few years, Anwana lived in Flint, where he attended the Michigan School for the Deaf. He can’t speak, but he communicates through sign language, which he learned at the school. From there, he moved to Detroit. where he lives in an adults’ foster care facility, cleaning and maintaining the property.

Anwana had applied for asylum, with an attorney’s help, based on the inability to access the medications and care he needs in Nigeria, if he was deported. His mother is too old to care for him. To the shock of his supporters, ICE ordered his deportation to Nigeria anyway, a country he hadn’t lived in since he was a teenager. ICE had scheduled his deportation for September 11, but has postponed it. Anwana is set to meet with ICE on September 21, even though he does not understand what deportation means.

And there’s still the matter of  reuniting the Central and South American refugee children with their parents. There are 416 children left in the U.S., down from more than 2,000 who were finally reunited with parents. The administration and the ACLU can’t locate all of the parents. Many were deported. There were parents that ICE tricked into signing a document agreeing to be deported with their children, but the parents were deported without them.  In the future, as more undocumented parents and children are arrested at the border, the unpresident wants to ignore immigration rules, which limit the amount of time undocumented parents and children can be detained to 20 days, and be able to hold them indefinitely.

Immigrants and refugees in these desperate situations need legal help, and the lawyers need financial contributions in order to provide it. Among them:

ACLU

The Texas Civil Rights Project

RAICES Bond Fund (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services

Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights

The Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project

 

 

Block Kavanaugh! PLEASE!

Some of you have probably seen this photo before. This was Gerri Santoro. The image has been featured in pro-reproductive choice materials over time to illustrate what could happen if legalized abortion was repealed.

Santoro sought an abortion in 1964,  nine years before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in the Roe v. Wade case. Separated from her abusive husband, she had become pregnant by a coworker with whom she fell in love. They decided to try a self-induced abortion, using some surgical instruments they had acquired, and a textbook. The couple registered in a Norwich, Connecticut motel under aliases.

The procedure did not work as planned. Santoro began bleeding profusely, and her boyfriend abandoned her. This is how the police found her; on the floor by a bed, on top of bloody towels, alone, dead. She was 28.

Brett Kavanaugh, the unpresident’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court seat which became vacant due to Justice Kennedy’s retirement, has claimed that he considers Roe v.Wade “settled law.” But no one is sure of that, especially members of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, who asked him about his beliefs on various issues during his confirmation hearing last week. Kavanaugh said very little about anything.

The Repugnantthug members of the committee are delighted with the possibility of  Kavanaugh’s appointment. He would be one of five or so conservative Justices whose rulings would overturn years of legal precedence upholding civil rights, women’s rights, labor union rights, and environmental protections. They are working to make Kavanaugh’s confirmation as quick and easy as possible.

Of the Democrats on the committee only Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California asked tough and pointed questions designed to force Kavanaugh to admit to his conservative beliefs.  The closest anyone came to uncovering Kavanaugh’s thoughts on reproductive choice was Repugnantthug Senator Ted Cruz of New Mexico, who asked him about the dissent he wrote as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in the 2015 Priests for Life v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services case.

The anti-abortion Catholic organization sued the Obama administration because it didn’t want to provide its employees with health insurance that would cover contraceptives, as mandated under the Affordable Care Act. The act allowed religious groups to opt out of providing such coverage if it notified insurers and the federal government, but they had to contract with third parties which would provide such coverage. Priests for Choice insisted that even contracting with third parties would make it complicit in providing employees with birth control which the group opposes because birth control prevents pregnancy.

Kavanaugh told the Senate committee that if Priests for Choice filled out the form for health insurance that provided birth control pills, IUDs and other forms of contraception, it would “make them complicit in the provision of abortion-inducing drugs that they were, as a religious matter, objecting to.” He didn’t seem to know that birth control devices do not “induce” abortions. And if he didn’t know that, what might he rule in cases argued before the U.S. Supreme Court which could result in overturning Roe v. Wade?

If abortion becomes illegal again, women would not stop trying to have them anyway. Just as they did before Roe v. Wade, women would resort to self-induced abortions of the type that killed Gerri Santoro, or go to “back alley” abortionists who have no medical training, whose surgical instruments and facilities are not clean and sterile, and risk the possibility of internal infections, butchered reproductive organs, hemorrhaging, and death.

Women of color, as before Roe v. Wade, would comprise disproportionate numbers of deaths by illegal abortions. When abortions were illegal, white women with money could go to Canada, which had legalized abortion, or to other countries to undergo the procedure. Women of color and low-income women generally were more dependent on the “back alley” option, and even those services weren’t cheap. Which led far too many women to the third option, do-it-yourself abortions, using knitting needles, coat hangers, or anything else to insert and “scrape out” the fetus. That option was unsafe and deadly.

Nobody “likes” abortion, but there are times when it is necessary, such as when a woman becomes pregnant through rape, or carrying a baby to term could endanger the mother’s life. Deciding to have one is not something women take lightly. But whether or not to have one should be a decision made by women, not the “state.” And apparently Kavanaugh, along with the conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the unpresident who nominated Kavanaugh, don’t think women have the brains to decide whether, when, or if they should have children.

There may still be time to block Kavanaugh’s appointment.  The following Senators are said to be “undecided.” Please contact them and ask them to vote against Kavanaugh’s U.S. Supreme Court appointment:

Susan Collins, (202) 224-2523.

Lisa Murkowski, (202) 224-6665.

Joe Manchin, (202) 224-3954.

Heidi Heitkamp, (202) 224-2043.

Doug Jones, (202) 224-4124.

Joe Donnelly, (202) 224-4814.

 

African, Afro-Brazilian Artifacts Destroyed in Flames

The fire that burned down most of the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro  on  Sunday, September 2,  wiped out entire collections that had been painstakingly maintained since the museum’s 1818 opening. The African and Afro-Brazilian artifacts were among the items forever lost.

As Brazil has the second largest population of Africans — descendants of enslaved Africans in Brazil — outside of Africa, the collection played a crucial role in Brazilians’ understanding of race, and how the cultures, languages and spiritual practices of enslaved Africans shaped Brazilian culture.

The museum’s permanent African collection, named Kumbukumbu, a Swahili word meaning memory, memorial or recollection, had 700 items. One hundred eighty-five items from the collection were exhibited, according to the website Okayafrica.  The items included royal sandals from the ancient African kingdom of Dahomey (now the nation of Benin), a royal Dahomey throne,  and an ivory tusk carved in the 19th Century from the Congo River basin.  The Dahomey items were the only representation of the ancient kingdom, which ceased to exist in the early 1900s.

The museum also preserved African and Afro-Brazilian Candomble items. Candomble is a religion that originated in 19th Century Bahia, a predominantly Black state in Brazil. It preserves some of the rituals and practices of the Yoruba, Fon and other West and Central African people. The slave “masters” who colonized Brazil were Portuguese, who were Catholic. They forbade the enslaved Africans from practicing their own religions, so the Africans pretended to worship Catholic saints and the Christian God, while secretly continuing their own rituals and beliefs. The mirror pictured here was used in celebrations of the Oxum Orisha. The museum also had dolls which represented the various orishas, or gods.

Ancient Egyptian artifacts were also part of the collection, including a mummy and coffin, as well as fragments of other Egyptian mummies.

While no determination has been made yet regarding what caused the fire, there are those who say the damage could have been lessened if Brazil’s government had provided money for repairs to the 200-year-old building. And since the building contained a lot of wood, it could have been destroyed by fire before this month. It had no sprinkler system, but the museum had finally obtained to enough money to install one before this incident.

“(The fire) could have been prevented,” said anthropologist Antonio Carlos de Souza Lima in a recent NPR interview. de Souza Lima had an office in the museum, where he kept his archives, and researched Brazil’s indigenous cultures for 38 years.

“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.”

de Souza Lima said the museum didn’t have the funds to digitize the collections.”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.”

Despite the institution’s destruction, de Souza Lima said he and others are determined to replace it. “We’ll fight to build another museum together with indigenous peoples, together with black peoples (sic) in Brazil, together with scientists from all the world .  .  .

“My archives are very, very small loss towards what we’ve lost as a country, as an intellectual community, as an institution,” de Souza Lima insisted. “So what can we do, (be) depressed? No, we (have to) fight.”