Bound and Determined

Reflecting on resistance

Joshua hammer was in Brazil for Smithsonian in the fall of 2006 when he heard about some legal problems a noted Dutch-born primatologist was having there. He made a mental note and moved on to other assignments. Many months later, Hammer read in the New York Times that the scientist, Marc van Roosmalen, had been found guilty on charges stemming from Brazil's strict biopiracy laws and sentenced to prison. Hammer e-mailed him, suggesting a story. "I didn't really think he would want to cooperate because it was so legally sensitive. But he's not the type of guy, as I learned later, who likes to keep his mouth shut."

While reporting "Trials of a Primatologist", Hammer, accompanied by photographer Claudio Edinger, spent three days with the scientist, awaiting appeal, on a boat plying the Rio Negro, a tributary of the Amazon. "Van Roosmalen was really engaged in the forests, very talkative," Hammer recalls. "I could definitely see what made him such a great naturalist. But it also became clear that the [legal] experience had traumatized him."

As for van Roosmalen's guilt or innocence, "it's complicated," Hammer says. "Some people believe that he has been completely railroaded by the Brazilian government and treated unfairly. But those who know him best say that he really sabotaged himself and that nobody goes to jail for 14 years in Brazil— certainly nobody of his stature—for no reason." Judge for yourself.

The exhibition of African-American portraits at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. is titled "Let Your Motto Be Resistance." At first that puzzled Associate Editor Lucinda Moore, who wrote our story, "Portraits of Resistance,". "You look at some of the photographs and it's not immediately clear how everybody resisted," says Moore. "The opening image of Sarah Vaughan is almost ethereal. It looks as if she is about to lift off into the heavens. But one of the things that Lonnie Bunch"—director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, whose inaugural exhibition this is—"said to me is that sometimes survival can be the highest form of resistance. When you consider the subjects' biographies and what they went through to accomplish the things they did despite the oppression and the odds against them—and what they were able to contribute to America—it becomes inspiring. I was exhilarated after seeing it."

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