Museums, legacy and what Fortaleza is not doing to boost its tourism
It was the first thing I wanted to visit and it ended up being the very last one. Hours before leaving, I finally managed to get to Museu do Ceara, Ceara’s Museum, in 51 Rua São Paulo in Fortaleza city center, near Praça de Alencar.
I usually visit many museums and palaces, but maybe because I’d been to Fortaleza already and am planning to go more often, this time around my shadow has darkened very few museum entrances. But the Museum of Ceara is not just a museum, it’s the museum, expression of the state’s history, art, spirit.
So, at the very end of my two-month trip to Brazil, I made my way to the gallery and wandered about its rooms very slowly, devoting thoughts and notes to what I was staring at.
A proper stroll back in history marked the beginning of the tour, a subject that I haven’t studied properly, maybe because it belongs to a faraway country, or does it? I read “Portuguese” and “European” quite a few times on the captions of photos and documents hanged on its walls, and those terms look pretty familiar to me.
I read about the colonization, indios’ struggles, the Carnival and its African/tribal origins, thankfully preserved, I gaped at how the old Fortaleza was when, around 1500, it was founded by the Dutch around the Schoonenborch fort, better known as Nossa Senhora da Assunção, the enlightening journey throughout the laws, codes, charters and controversies that have animated the city’s life up to today, considerations on how the city itself was brought to existence by the very rivalry of two European powers and how its population has lived in fear for a long time, first under the rule of foreign powers in constant fight with each other and with natives, then with the rising of so-called “private fortresses”, probably in an era when Fortaleza was in the hands of rich landlords and violence was widespread. Tellingly, one of the questions stemming from the documents at the museum sounds very topical: “Should we be prisoner of the need for security?”
Tales of tragedies, uprisings, riots, communities that have done something worth mentioning in history books, renowned figures, priests and presidents that populate the state’s past, instruments to torture prisoners and those used to tied slaves, up until the declaration of slaves’ liberation in 1884 (Ceara has been one of the first states to grant it), in this museum you find it all. I could even define it a celebration of the whole Ceara, of which Fortaleza is the capital, a proud glorification of their culture and legacy. The facts, the traditions, the people that have made this city, feted in detail and with pride. Up to the end of the journey, where I read that it’s a duty of the municipality to bring forward all traditions that come out from the indigenous populations still living their own lifestyle further inland in the state.
Here my heart skipped a beat. I beg your pardon? Where is all this happening? Where is this effort to bring attention to “ethnic affirmation”? How do they mean to boost indigenous pride, culture and traditions exactly, if all I’ve done in the two months I was in Fortaleza was desperately (and unsuccessfully) trying to get under the skin of the place and reach its most intimate soul?
In this ongoing struggle, natives demand their sacrosanct right to access lands, health system, education. Personally, I am dying to unearth their ancestral secrets.
Probably these projects involve mainly upcountry desert regions, where I believe natives are more concentrated, but what about the capital?
Every time I went to a market where they sell handicraft, I’ve asked where I could see artisans at work and answers would range from “I don’t know” to “the other market.” Last time I was in Fortaleza, about seven years ago, I saw craftsmen making the famed colored sands bottles at the Emcetur, or Centro do Turismo, ancient public prison now turned into handicraft market. This time I went back to the Emcetur to film them while working and they weren’t there anymore. I asked a lady selling clothes and she told me they are at the Beira Mar fair every evening, which is not true because I went to Beira Mar almost every evening as I live just opposite to it and I can even see when they start setting up their stalls.
At the feirinha in Beira Mar they do sell all that stuff, and also beautiful wooden artwork, but there is nobody actually showing how they work. And I think this is such a pity, such a treasure that should be promoted with pride. Fortunately enough, I was in Fortaleza during the 3-day fair at the Ceart, center of handicraft, where otherwise there is only a shop selling traditional products, and I could see a few artists at work.
Next time, I will visit the place where they make hammocks, another pride of the state of Ceara, in the hope it will still be there. This time I’ve only visited the Centro das Tapioqueiras, and while I loved it, I did expect to see also how they take the “goma” from the root to make tapioca, instead of only how they cook it. Also, it’s not exactly “in town”, it’s actually close to another municipality called Eusebio, and tourists need a taxi to go there, possibly asking the driver to wait till they finish, because it’s not even easy to find another taxi to go back to the city center.
I think these are all great resources for the city and the state, and I don’t understand how can the municipality neglect these aspects that could bring local and foreign tourism in. I truly hope they realize soon how precious this indigenous struggle to emerge is, and that they give them all the visibility they are entitled to, they deserve and they earned in all these years, along with promoting artists and their handicraft from all over Ceara.