Remains of the dead



It was his last day in Rio.  He went to visit a cultural center operated by a German family.  The cultural center had an interesting story.  The German family had bought an abandoned house in the port area of Rio.  When they were renovating the place, they found human bones underneath the floor. They conducted an archaeological study and found that this place was used as a dumping ground by Portuguese traders to dispose of dead bodies of their African slaves.  Upon learning, they decided to convert it into a cultural center that can serve as a constant reminder to protect human dignity. They faced a lot of issues in terms of government approvals as this was a very sensitive issue, but they overcame all barriers to build this institution.

What he found most intriguing about he cultural center was the glass floor, which allowed the visitors to look at the remains of the dead.  The management couldn’t ascertain whether to continue with the glass floor or to cover it, as suggested by religious leaders of the community to pay respect to their ancestors.  He struggled with the question too.  He felt that covering the glass floor brings in degrees of separation – one loses the range of feelings that this atrocious act should evoke.  It impedes one’s learning about a historical event.  He didn’t muster the courage to voice his opinion though.

He was also intrigued by the German couple deciding to build their house next to the cultural center.  Was this a place of pride or shame?  He asked.  It triggered all kinds of emotional reactions from the people working at the place.  There was an old African lady who strongly submitted that “it is a place of pride for us, Africans, as it is now a cemetery for our ancestors, while it is a place of shame for the Portuguese or the white community here.”  While others were more measured in their response.  They contended that ‘it is neither a place of shame or pride; it is an important place that highlights a historical event and reminds us to treat each other with respect and dignity.’  It was enriching to engage a discussion on this topic with people at the cultural center.

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© 2020 by Rishabh Jhol