The Museum Dr Andres Barbero is a real hidden gem.
It contains the largest collection of ethnographic and archaeological material relating to the ancient and indigenous peoples of Paraguay. A must for anyone interested in the history of cultures.
The museum was founded by Dr Andres Barbero who had previously studied medicine before beginning this first study of Paraguayan pre-history.
investigations of the pre-history of Paraguay began in the early years of the 20th century. Initially few full scale expeditions were mounted with just two being made into the Chaco in the 1930s.
In his work Dr Barbero was assisted by the work of Dr Max Schmidt from Berlin and Dr Branislava Susnik from Ljubljana.
Together they founded the museum to house their collections, plus other donated items in 1929.
Following Dr Barbero’s death in February 1951 the museum became for a while dormant although the ethnographic studies continued.
In 1956 the museum was however reopened in it’s present location and in the name of it’s founder Dr Andres Berbero
It is now located near the top of Avenida Espana close to the historic centre of Asuncion. The building in which it is housed was previously the head quarters of the Red Cross in Paraguay. Considering the work that Dr Barbero also did for medicine in Paraguay that seems appropriate.
It was not until the 1950s after his death that a full and systematic study of the indigenous cultures of Paraguay could be made. This continued right up until the 1990s capturing cultures shortly before they were engulfed by outside influences.
I took a visit to the museum myself and was very impressed with what I saw. Everything was clearly displayed and labelled and the material on display covered almost every aspect of the pre-historic and indigenous cultures of Paraguay.
As I climbed the stairway to the front door of the museum I could see right away that the collection was indeed hidden away in plain sight.
Rather than being able to walk straight in I found a locked gate and a door bell to press for assistance.
After ringing the door bell a woman soon appeared to check that I did wish to see the collection before going off to find the key to unlock the gate.
Once inside I had to wait while one of her colleagues was found to act as my guide. The first thing he did was explain the rules of the museum, no photographs and don’t touch anything. I suspect he was with me to make sure the rules were being followed as much as to explain things.
However by the time we got to the top of a fine staircase and I had had a chance to look at the first few items he was happy to take a chair outside the entrance to the exhibits and let me explore alone.
He would have acted as my guide around the museum and I did ask him to clarify a few things afterwards but I much prefer to discover things alone and that was respected.
Everything in the museum was laid out in a clear and logical fashion where each display lead on to the next. There were plenty of written signs and descriptions explaining what everything was and where it had come from.
The signs were as would be expected only in Spanish. Therefore some knowledge of the language would be beneficial.
As for the exhibits themselves the display began with a sizeable collection of funeral urns. These were substantial vessels far larger than ones I had seen previously in British museums.
Next came a collection of artefacts relating to stone age cultures. Stone arrowheads and axes as well as related cutting tools.
From there on the material was on the whole items that had been collected from indigenous peoples still living by their traditional ways during the 20th century.
In the form of fabrics there are to be found traditional items of clothing as well as hammocks and belts and bags.
Then on the ceremonial side bright items made from feathers and animal hides. These include things such as head dresses and cloaks. All perfectly preserved and carefully displayed.
For household objects items such as wooden bowls and cups as well as tool for digging the land can be seen.
Living as mostly as hunter gathers the people were skilled in producing the weapons required for the hunting of their pray. There is a large collection of spears which display and interesting mixture of tips.
Additionally to be seen are a number of bows and arrows. The signage explains that bows came in three different sizes depending on their tasks. The largest was two metres in length standing taller than the bowman who carried it.
Next to these weapons is a traditional canoe cut out of a single tree trunk. It is made of one of the lightest and most buoyant of the forest trees.
The collection carries on over two rooms with every display case holding something worthy of inspection, be that children’s toys or an old person’s stick.
It is a museum to be viewed slowly and viewed well.
In some of the later display cases I spotted several items that demonstrated how the cultures were vanishing just as they were being discovered. There were bottle tops being used to make a rattle and hats that would not have looked out of place in any Paraguayan town at the time.
To give the ethnographic and archaeological expeditions some context there were then two further rooms displaying a chronological time line of the expeditions and subsequent publications.
These large panels running along the wall are accompanied by blown up photographs of the people of the communities that were visited. They show the faces of the people who’s culture the museum preserves.
The Museum Dr Andres Barbero is a worthy addition to any visit to Asuncion for those wishing to learn something more of the history of the country.
It is open all week and I strongly recommended taking the time to ring it’s doorbell.