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Africa Museum, Tervuren

Posted on: Saturday, 6 October 2012

In our mission to visit as many different tourist attractions with as many of our visitors as possible, we took a trip out to Tervuren last weekend. 

Next door to my new school, there is a museum dedicated to Belgium's colonial past; specifically, in the Congo. It boasts an enormous taxidermy display and rooms filled with instruments, weapons and Picassoesque masks. Leopold II commissioned the building of the museum - take a look below, it's a pretty grand place - to house his growing collection of African artefacts and show them off to the Belgian populace. 

In the entrance hall there are several gilt statues of African children with swollen bellies kneeling at the feet of wealthy Belgian benefactors. It takes that kind of angle. The circa-1900 angle. 

He was quite the boyo, Leopold. Museum already in mind, he headed out to the Congo for a shooting trip with his pals every so often with the intention of recreating the African savannah in several dozen glass cases. He was like a mad Noah, killing a male and female of every creature he could get within 20 feet of. 

He even shipped out a number of natives, built African-style huts in the carefully-pruned gardens of the museum and invited visitors to view his 'human zoo'. 

Along with the spoils of Belgium's spree, there's also a (much smaller) interactive section with gory photos of plantation workers holding the severed hands of other Africans who raised voices against the brutal exploitation of the country, the random acts of violence executed by authorities and the rubber trade. 

The guidebook explains that the Museum will close for a refurbishment at some point in the next year, and the new-and-improved Afrika Museum will place more emphasis on the darker side of Belgium's past, and the emergence of Zaire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The intention is to redress the balance between the awe inspired by viewing the extensive collection of artefacts and set it more firmly against the exploitative means used to acquire it. 

Meanwhile, I'm taking my Year 10 class there in a couple of weeks for a creative writing exercise. I think the grinning toothy skulls will really bring something special out of them...


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