In the first of a series of stories from Brazil about slum tourism, Elisa Spampinato shares her positive experience with Museu de Favela, which she came across whilst doing field research in Rio de Janeiro.
Located on Cantagalo Hill in the centre of Rio de Janeiro, privileged by the beautiful views of Copacabana beach on one side, Ipanema on another, and the fascinating Lagoa on a third, Cantagalo, Pavão e Pavãozinho slum complex is the home of the Museu de Favela (MUF).
Museu de Favela, means Favela (or Slum) Museum in Portuguese, but this is much more than just a museum about the slum. MUF is a local charity created and managed by a group of residents which offers tourist services and other cultural activities and entertainment events in the community thereby empowering and helping local people.
I had the chance to participate in the first experimental tour the MUF organised in 2009 and, although a lot has changed since then, the enthusiasm that the organisers and local people involved are putting into the project has not.
The charity represents a local manifestation of the favela tours which were already a well-known phenomenon in Rocinha and other slums in Rio de Janeiro at that time, but which were mainly owned by outsiders and often very disliked by the local communities.
An organised group of residents from Cantagalo decided to become the protagonists of their own development through a self-designed community project, taking control of the many tourism possibilities that the slum both wanted and could organise.
Nowadays, the MUF offers a range of guided tours, but also accommodation, educational workshops and various cultural events in the slum. They also have their own local tour guides and several bilingual translators.
Recently they created a local network of Bed & Breakfasts, where tourists can be hosted in local family houses. This creates another opportunity for tourists to encounter the slum from a different angle, giving space to more direct interaction with the local population and to sharing experiences.
The MUF is a local entrepreneurial project which has the ambition to show that tourism can benefit the community not only culturally – by contributing to the dissolution of some of the dangerous stereotypes about the slums – but also economically – by potentially becoming a driver and a propeller of alternative development projects which are designed and articulated based on local reality, needs and potentialities. This is as opposed to tourism which can feel imposed on them, driven by outside business interests which are often at odds with those of the community.
In their words: ‘the MUF wants to become a big national and international tourist route of the city of Rio de Janeiro, with the mission of telling the story of the formation of the slums, the cultural origins of the Samba, the culture of the Northeast migrant, the Brazilian black culture, their visual arts and traditional dance’.
It is an ambitious project, but it is their own project. They are also able to count on the support of a strong network of private and public organizations, including Universities, local charities, local businesses and famous artists. The MUF is constantly building relationships with this network to help to turn their dream into reality, well aware of the risks as well as the opportunities, and very proud of their independence and freedom of action and creation.