Congolese activists have removed an African statue from a museum in Nijemegen, saying they were “reclaiming” colonial-era artwork.
The activists said they wanted to return it to Africa in a protest against colonial-era abuses and that it had been looted during the colonial era, streaming their action on Facebook.
A member of the activist group, Mwazulu Diyabanza, said they are acting as “part of the recovery of our artworks that were all acquired by looting, robbery, violence” during Belgium’s rule of the West African country.
The activists were swiftly arrested and the statue returned undamaged.
Speaking in French, Diyabanza lists the works in the museum from former French or Belgian colonies in Africa, accusing European museums of making millions from artworks taken from now-impoverished countries like the Congo.
“It’s wealth that belongs to us, and deserves to be brought back,” he said. “I will bring to Africa what was taken.”
The statue was taken into police possession and later returned to the museum.
The statue reclaiming action in the Netherlands coincided with a decision by prosecutors in neighbouring Belgium who said that a tooth presumed to be that of the late Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba, would soon be handed back to his relatives after years of lobbying efforts.
Reclaiming colonial-era art
Last June, Congolese-born Diyabanza and four other protesters were apprehended at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris as they tried to make off with a 19th-century African funeral pole.
French prosecutors placed them under investigation.
Director of the Dutch Museum, Stijn Schoonderwoerd, told Dutch radio that the museum indeed owned looted art, adding that “we have already said that we are in favor of returning stolen artifacts.”
The Afrika Museum is part of a group of Dutch museums that last year published a set of guidelines for handling claims on cultural objects in their collections.
The case of a relic stolen from Cameroon
In Cameroon, protest posters against the Berlin Humboldt Forum museum hang on the walls of the conference room of the AfricAvenir Foundation in Douala, the country’s largest city, with the spotlight firmly on a replica of a sculpture known as the “Tangue.”
The sculpture serves as a memorial for the fact that the original ship’s beak, an artfully carved wooden piece that once adorned the tip of the 19th-century royal vessel, was stolen.
It has been in on display at Germany’s Museum Funf Kontinente (Five Continents Museum) in Munich for more than 130 years.
For historian Prince Kum’a Ndumbe III, founder of the AfricAvenir Foundation, this is a painful loss for his culture to this day.
“Everything that had a deep spiritual meaning for Africans has been taken away in order to teach (them) other religions,” he says. “But you can’t steal the souls of whole peoples, and then claim to bring them civilization!”