Museum & Community: Participatory inventory and creation of the Ilha do Mel community museum (Brazil)

IFPH Community Museums Worldwide Series

Authors: Michel Kobelinski, PhD in History, Unespar, Brazil and Marcelo Henrique de Abreu Guerra, M.A. in Public History, Unespar, Brazil.

1. A museum under construction?

Along the Brazilian coast, in the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Paraná, the presence of Caiçara Culture is remarkable. Its roots include descendants of Europeans, Indigenous peoples, and Africans, who have inhabited this coastal region since the 16th century. Essentially, fishing and a solidarity economy link this mixed culture. This lifestyle is defined by simplicity and a deep relationship with nature, where customs and habits matter in the face of the challenges brought about by subsistence, the advance of tourism, and environmental degradation.

Fig. 1. Exhibition Community Museum Day. Map of the coast of Paraná, Brazil. ©Marcelo Guerra.

Caiçara Communities have maintained resilience, but their contributions have often been overshadowed. As public historians in contact and interaction with the community of Brasília (the Ilha do Mel, Paraná), recognizing the problems and spontaneous demands of the community, we implemented this project, shared ideas and proposals intending to build a legitimate space for their narrative, and public memory through the creation of a community museum

The instrument of mediation and social mobilization is a participatory inventory, which aims to understand the historical and cultural significance of the Caiçara Culture and its exhibition potential based on dissemination strategies from the school.  

The main challenges to overcome involve appropriating and managing the heritage, history, and memory. We need to inventory and create museum tools for mobilization and participation to improve the quality of life and contribute to the community’s sustainable development. In this process, the community, in constant articulation with its territory, is attentive to the valuation, preservation, and transformation of its culture and material and immaterial goods.

2. Inventory and social mobilization

The community of Brasília took a significant step in preserving its history, memory, and culture with the participation and organization of a Community Museum Day at the Campo Lucy Requião de Mello e Silva [Lucy Requião de Mello e Silva Countryside School] in 2022. As part of the events, organized in partnership with the Paraná State University, the Environmental Company, and the Administration of the Ports of Paranaguá and Antonina (APPA), residents, students, and researchers formally started a participatory inventory. This tool, organized by the Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN, 2014), establishes procedures to identify and document places, objects, celebrations, forms of expression, and knowledge representing a given community’s diversity and cultural plurality. We conducted field research, interviews, document surveys, data systematization, and interpretation. Teacher Letícia dos Santos Marques, Colégio Estadual do Campo Felipe Valentim [Felipe Valentim Countryside State College], highlights the students’ effort in researching their history: “These are things that are indoors, often forgotten, and this is a way of sharing this knowledge with the whole community.” In this process, we recognize in the community of Brasília the ability to inventory, describe, classify, and define their cultural assets, considering them as sources of learning, citizenship, and heritage education. In mediating this process, we think of public history, public curatorship, and active practices as a response to the perceptions of the local community’s needs, contributing to creating a museum desired by the community. In this sense, social mobilization and empowerment aligned with education, quality of life, and sustainable development are essential.

3. Archaeology and museum

The preparation for Community Museum Day was preceded by a field trip with the residents to collect materials in sambaquis  [shell mound] and raise awareness about the historical and environmental richness of archaeological sites. In conceptual and practical terms, through concepts of public archaeology, the mapping of the archaeological sites of Belo and Miguel made it possible to spread the word to the community about the importance of the territory and the need to preserve the culture of the Sambaquis people, who inhabited the Brazilian coast around 5000 B.C.

Fig. 2. Field trip – vestiges in the Belo Sambaqui.  Júlio (resident), Marcelo Guerra (historian), Ezequiel (resident). Guerra. ©Marcelo Guerra. 

Sambaquis  are artificial accumulations of shells, crustaceans, mollusks, bones, lithic materials, and sediments in the form of mounds produced by populations of fishermen, gatherers, and hunters along inlets, lagoons, bays, etc. (Prous, 1991). The mapping of these archeological sites on the Ilha do Mel has two purposes. To enable the school and the community to co-participate in the inventory and research project, with the sharing of discoveries and the recognition that the community is the holder of traditional and historical knowledge and that it is up to everyone to safeguard it. These efforts promote a stronger connection between the past and the present, encouraging awareness and appreciation of local heritage. The actions are medium and long-term so that the experiences of the Caiçara culture in its environment are inventoried, interpreted, and disseminated. On the other hand, if the material evidence of the Sambaqui Culture is known, it is possible to present these human remains in a museum as an effective strategy for social, historical, and archeological preservation and awareness, in addition to its well-scaled tourist potential. 

4. Pop-up museum 

Researchers, teachers, students, and members of the Residents’ Association of the community of Brasília and Encantadas organized pop-up museum exhibits, on  Community Museum Day, at the Lucy Requião de Mello e Silva Countryside School. The pop-up museum events were part of  National Museum Week (May 2022), The Power of Museums;  the 16th Spring of Museums, Independence;  and Museums, Other 200, Other Stories, promoted by the Brazilian Institute of Museums (IBRAM: 2022, p. 356). 

Fig. 3 Artists from the Ilha do Mel. ©Marcelo Guerra.  

The exhibits were curated by the students and community themselves, including photographs, old cameras, drawings and artwork, teaching materials (composting), crafts, pieces of ships, models, lithic and ceramic artifacts, fossils of marine animals, stuffed animals, surfboards, coins, books, storytelling and legends around a campfire at night, conversation circles, a show by local singer José Luiz Rodrigues (Negro Blue), among others. In addition, we used the Artsteps Platform to publicize part of the exhibitions on the Ilha do Mel. 

Fig. 4. Virtual exhibition Community museums and shared heritage. Public stories and performances. Artsteps. ©Michel Kobelinski

For Marcelo Guerra, “the students from the community of Brasília, on the Ilha do Mel, Paraná coast, were responsible for collecting memories, photos and objects that tell the story of their families and the community; […] It is a [temporary] museum built with the community through the students, promoting great interaction in the school environment. It is them telling their history through their memory,”  emphasizing the protagonism of students and the community through public and performative actions. Maria Eduarda da Silva Bueno (13 years old) loved the idea: “I thought the museum was very cool because it shows and explains about products and artifacts from the past; these are important stories that we need to know. I liked the presentations that showed the history of the port [of Paranaguá], how the work used to be, and the need for dredging.” 

The collaborative exhibitions reinforce the need to build a permanent museum space focused on heritage preservation, safeguarding traditional knowledge and customs, and the sustainability of the natural resources of the caiçara communities on the Ilha do Mel, on the Paraná coast (Brazil).

Fig. 5. Pop Up museum: Day of the Ilha do Mel. ©Marcelo Guerra & Michel Kobelinski  

Michel Kobelinski, PhD in History, Unespar, Brazil. Research lines public history: museums, monuments, communities,

Marcelo Henrique de Abreu Guerra, M.A. in Public History, Unespar, Brazil. Research lines public history: museums and communities, 

Cite this blog post
Bridging Editor (2023, September 15). Museum & Community: Participatory inventory and creation of the Ilha do Mel community museum (Brazil). IFPH-FIHP. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from

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