Has the Tervuren Central African museum been decolonized?

In a word, no.  They shut the place down for five years and spent $84 million, to redesign the displays, and what they reopened still looks and feels incredibly colonial.  That’s not an architectural complaint, only that the museum cannot escape what it has been for well over a century.  Most of the 180,000 art objects there were either stolen or bought under terms of implicit coercion.  There is an Africa Gallery covering the crimes of King Leopold in the Congo, but it is easy enough to be transfixed by the art and not really take it in.  How about a full room near the entrance devoted to the anti-imperialist E.D. Morel?  And while there are now more art works from the post-colonial period, there is no room devoted to the often very impressive art worlds of Central Africa today.  Having more African people talk on screens was nice, but it doesn’t do the trick.  The colonial still seems glorious, and the post-colonial mediocre.

Despite DRC demands, I do understand that the repatriation of the objects themselves would not be wise, given the current state of the DRC.  In 1976-1982, 114 objects were in fact restituted, but most of them ended up stolen (NYT).  For me preserving the art comes first, and furthermore the current DRC government is hardly a legitimate spokesperson for the historic civilizations of the region.  But might the museum at least have presented the issue in some morally conscious manner?

Before you walk into the museum proper, there is a room devoted to all the sculptures and displays now considered too colonial or too racist for the current museum.  Of course this draws more attention to them, and furthermore the dividing lines are by no means always clear.  That said, there is a double irony, namely that some of the items in this room are sufficiently obnoxious that their display represents a better apology than any part of what is intended as apology.

This is still all much better than the past, when at one time a human zoo of 267 enslaved Congolese was put on display here, in fact that was the inaugural exhibit in 1897.  At least there is now a memorial to those of the enslaved who died of influenza.  And the plaque “Belgium Brings Civilization to the Congo” has been taken down.  Yet this:

The rapacious monarch’s monogram dots the walls of the palatial museum on the former royal estate, which he used to drum up investment for his colonial ventures at the 1897 World Exhibition.

Oh, and there are colonial statues built into the walls:

One was of black children clinging to a white missionary. Another was of a topless African woman dancing.

They cannot be removed because of cultural heritage laws in Belgium.

The animal displays also no longer seem of our time, more about size and stuffing and the conquest of nature rather than with much of a notion of environmental or biodiversity or animal welfare awareness.

It is nonetheless a spectacular museum, the best chronicle anywhere for the Central African artistic achievement by an order of magnitude, and one of the best and most interesting places in Europe right now.  It is worth the rather convoluted one hour trip you must take from Brussels, or if you are visiting Waterloo it isn’t far away at all.  For all its flaws (or in part because of them?), go if you can.

The art aside, the other lesson is imperialism and colonialism cast a longer shadow than you might at first think.  The realities of cultural constipation remain underrated.

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“imperialism and colonialism cast a longer shadow than you might at first think”

A bit closer to home - The economy based on slavery in the South produced a population mix of free white people and black slaves that then produced a cultural, political, legal hegemony that has endured for another 150 years.
See the book “Deep Roots: How Slavery Still Shapes Southern Politics.”

Aaaand . . . we still have political forces deliberately using that momentum from 150 years ago to maintain an illegitimate hegemony.
Pundits, think tankers, operatives, supported by traditional elites and working in uneasy but effective collaboration with a mass-based party keeping it going.
But slavery, racism etc., casting a longer shadow than you might at first think, that’s all just a spontaneous natural process, some might have you believe.
Stubborn attachments indeed.

Or just the complacent class hoping no one rocks their boat.

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Stubborn attachments, media ownership version:
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/15/us/alabama-newspaper-kkk-editor.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share

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History ... get over it.

We all have our 'throwness'. Your life story is how you deal with it.

Quit whining.

Good luck if you think unmasking of history and motives will be policed. The post just above your comment is about *current* history. Maybe you’re aligned with KKK sympathizers? Seems you’d prefer not having them exposed. Clearly your comment is part of casting the longer shadow. What’s your investment in this history and present that you can’t get over it?

"Good luck if you think unmasking of history and motives will be policed."

Policed? Who said anything about policed? Only you.

History is history. Sure, the past influences, but does not determine, the present.

We are all at the endpoints of long historical trajectories that include war, conquest, murder, and, in many cases, slavery.

Quit whining about it.

Again with this? Exposing illegitimacy isn’t whining, you just seem not to like it. Too bad. Remember people are “Free to Choose”. Take responsibility and your own advice - and get over it.
Glad you acknowledge history’s influences. This is the start of taking responsibility and not merely posturing.

"This is the start of taking responsibility and not merely posturing."

I am the product of history, not the creator of the past. I bear no responsibility for the past other than my own.

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And while there are now more art works from the post-colonial period, there is no room devoted to the often very impressive art worlds of Central Africa today seems like a reasonable ask.

The colonial still seems glorious, and the post-colonial mediocre. seems like an impossible demand to fix. Limits to how what they can present, surely, to satisfy a subjective impression.

"The colonial still seems glorious, and the post-colonial mediocre."

There's a lot in this. It's not just a problem for this exhibition.

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"The realities of cultural constipation remain underrated."
Why underrated? Likely properly rated. Africa produced close to nothing prior to colonialism and mostly nothing much after, except that in the early days the despots controlled their tribal area, now they can ravage entire nations. That said the Belgians really should remember the guilt and shame of Leopolds time. If there is a chance for Africa it lies in its people and Tyler and his fellow elites should understand that by allowing the few people with smarts and drive to permanently migrate to the west will just doom those left behind to even more misery. Funny the sort of migration policies that the elites like is essentially a modern form of colonialism, instead of us sending our people there to make us richer, we bring their best here to make us richer. What's the difference?

Thats a good point you made. Taking in their best people(I believe African immigrants are the most highly educated immigrant group coming to the US) could be considered a form of resource extraction without compensation, except for their possible remittances to families.

I think those highly educated Africans are from Nigeria. I could be wrong. We have many Nigerians in our community and they are indeed very well educated. Many are artists and musicians and all are very well integrated into the community.

They know how to party too!

It gets pretty wild when King Sunny Ade comes to town. It's not to be missed!

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"Allow?"

Thats a funny choice of word to use on an obstensibly libertarian blog.

Watch out, this comment may not be deconstructed.

Moo Cow, if a nation does not allow entry, then it's a crime, if it does allow entry then it can be assumed that the nation is ok with the entry. Just because Tyler has allowed people to think he has a libertarian bent, doesn't mean it's so.

FWIW Tyler was on the Rubin Report and identified as a libertatian "with a small L". He is in favor of controlled immigration, and asylum only in bad situations, not must because a Central American has a bad gang problem in their town.
https://youtu.be/-nDEaHx2iN0

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Thread winner!

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Wikipedia: "King Leopold II of Belgium called his vast private colony the Congo Free State. Effectively this meant those exploiting the area were free of all restraint and answerable only to the Belgian king. The treatment of the Africans under this system was harsh enough to cause the other colonial powers to plead with the Belgian king to exercise some moderating influence. Eventually the Belgian government annexed the territory as a Belgian colony."

So even by the low standards of the colonial era, Belgium was brutal. My question: What triggered the scramble for colonies in Africa in the late 19th century? Answer: It was the economy, stupid. The economy in Europe was in an economic depression, and powerful European countries were running out of money and looked to Africa for resources to exploit. Depressed economies produce bad behavior whether by the colonizers in Africa in the late 19th century, Nazis in Germany in the 1930s, or white nationalists today.

I would contrast the motivation of the European powers with the motivation of America. America likes to promote the image of a country determined to make the world safe for democracy (Woodrow Wilson). I would revise that to read make the world safe for capitalism. The baser motivation of the Europeans is understandable, given the their history with each other (a competition for military power as well as for economic resources), while the more noble (?) motivation of America reflects a different history.

"America likes to promote the image of a country determined to make the world safe for democracy (Woodrow Wilson). I would revise that to read make the world safe for capitalism."

Nonsense. Most Americans are isolationists. The USA did not go easily into WWI or WWII. Korea was a UN conflict, and Vietnam a mistake that tore the nation apart - a terror bombing per day in the US in 1968 I believe.

Iraq and Afghanistan were a reaction to 911.

OTOH, the European royalty were fighting amongst themselves for power and prestige from the dark ages on, including from 1620 - 1783. Those conflicts from 1620-1783 had a North American component. Americans grew tired of fighting European wars on American soil. Hence the reluctance to get involved in subsequent European conflicts, which never really ended until the devastation of Europe in WWII.

Now Europe is a castrated version of it's former self, which is why the USA had to solve - temporarily - their problems in the Balkans.

There is nothing like US air superiority to bring a genocidal maniac to his knees.

Sorry about that bridge over the Danube, sort of.

America is so isolationist. That's why they spent the whole 20th century roaming the whole world doing trade, wars and clandestine activities. But they did it reluctantly enough so they can still call themselves isolationist. Got it.

You are either dumb or an idealogue.

America was isolationist with respect to war, especially European wars. The people of the USA wanted no part in the world wars. They did want trade.

You really don't know this?

"America was isolationist with respect to war, especially European wars."
That's why the good, old US of A decided not to enter WW1 or WW2. Because they were isolationist. Got it.

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Colonization in Africa rarely broke even. Driven by prestige and desire for military presence to boost military strength. To the collusion between governments and benefiting companies (at expense of public purpose), and fear of missing out (potential profits in the far future). Or "It wasn't the economy, idiot.", to use the paraphrase.

It's conventional wisdom that the depression triggered the scramble. The conventional wisdom could be wrong, but it is the conventional wisdom. That colonization didn't produce the returns hoped for doesn't mean the conventional wisdom is wrong, only that the colonizers were wrong.

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The Belgian Congo is one of the few places where all of the evils ascribed to colonialism are true and that the counterfactual of no Europeans showing up is much much better than what actually happened.

Perhaps the museum isn't a museum about central Africa but about 19th century Belgian perspectives on central Africa?

You've confounded the Belgian Congo (a government run dependency) with the Congo Free State (Leopold's grisly plunder operation). The later was discontinued in 1908.

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'Colonization in Africa rarely broke even'

Tell that to Cecil Rhodes, who you undoubtedly know of, as he seemingly shared many of your own apparent beliefs concerning the place of Anglo-Saxons, and the cognitive skills of many of those he ruled as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony.

And one can say the De Beers probably contributed a pretty pence to Victoria's treasury too.

It didn’t need to make economic sense for the nation as a whole; it only needed to make sense to those empowered to direct the government. It would not surprise me that the people who carried out the vile policies in the Congo didn’t really care that people in Bruges or Ghent were worse off as long as they could get them to go along. Kind of like many projects of our military industrial complex.
I recently reread Heart of Darkness. All of these evils were done to produce tchotches, ivory billiard balls and umbrella stands out of legs of elephants. To get these things people were enslaved and noble animals destroyed.

Heart of Darkness is definitely not Tyler’s favorite work by Conrad. I’d guess he thinks it reads like an anti-imperialist & anti-European polemic. But Conrad was there and saw what was done.

I also was thinking Heart of Darkness. On many levels, it's highly valuable. The little (a European warship shelling a jungle, the horrid scenes around the main station, etc.) about imperialism, to me, are less important than his overall insights into the human mind and the problem of evil.

One of my favorite scenes is when the unnamed European MD asks to measure the narrator's cranium and to remeasure it if (uncertain) he gets back.

Conrad's comment on women taking things over is prophetical.

n’est pas normal (is not normal). The Proto-Germanic rune berkanan is named after the birch. An example of an English wh-element that is not in situ (see wh-movement): "What did John buy?"

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What is Conrad's comment on women taking over? Just tried Googling, and couldn't find anything!

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It didn't even need to make sense to them in the sense of being profitable, it just needed to be supportable. They weren't paying out of their own pocket.

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I doubt Rhodes shared any of my opinions. The guy believed in attempting to build a huge economic empire in Africa that I frankly regard as purposeless and wasteful. If he did believe that Anglo-Saxons were some kind of superior folk of superior moral value who could or should support a dominion over the world, I pretty clearly think that's a fanciful and fairly abhorrent idea.

I believe empires are pretty bad political structures (self ruling fairly homogenous democratic nation states probably work best and are also most just), I just don't think empires were ever particularly profitable for Britain, Germany, France, etc, especially in Africa (and the economic history bears me out on this as far as I'm aware).

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For me preserving the art comes first, and furthermore the current DRC government is hardly a legitimate spokesperson for the historic civilizations of the region.

When does the ownership or custodial responsibility for art pass from one owner to a collective? Shouldn't Americans be concerned that the works of artists like Bastiat have been sold and shipped to other countries, an obvious theft of our cultural heritage?

"When does the ownership or custodial responsibility for art pass from one owner to a collective? "

When it is lawfully sold to the collective.

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It's hilarious how it's only the West that is expected to wrestle with its past.

Saudi Arabia isn't expected to apologize for its imperialist expansion into India, Persia and Egypt. Iran is not asked to return any of the art stolen by Nader Shah on his violent invasion of India. West African and Arab states haven't come to terms with their role in the slave trade.

Name any country in history, and you can find horrendous crimes by our current standards (and even some at their historical standards). The fact that there is zero push from Western countries to get the rest of the world to own up to their prior "crimes" (i.e., business as usual for centuries) suggests that we have a very low opinion of the morality of non-Westerners and their ability to be in our moral circle.

Makes for nice virtue signaling though.

'Saudi Arabia isn't expected to apologize for its imperialist expansion into India, Persia and Egypt.'

Heard any apologies from the Greeks recently for doing the same thing?

But what is there to live for? Don't blame me for complaining. My afflictions surpass any you ever heard of earlier.
Belief
Belief Snow y affliction a fiction fl …. n’est pas normal

Guru Sakshat Guru Brahma (The feeling you have when you're eating): observation.... anduva, number, remember, ember, memory, burnt ember, sienna, REASON (Penguin), burnt water, “Let the armour be hers" and "Both boy and man were recalled in the letters inscribed on the petals, AIAI for cry of lament, AIAI for the name of a hero" -- his base into (some horrible form)--both boy and man (Bartelby)...abhimaan (Soft, light, heavy, hard rain) A FISH TAIL -- the hair that hid his shoulders and covered his back!!!!!!!!!!

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” (Erus Tu)

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A tie for thread winner!

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Bravo for not making an exception to the cultural heritage laws.
From a visitor experience it's hard to see how you could mix the items. Hard to appreciate the art when every third item triggers a grief and horror that collectively we may never come to grips with. It would certainly cut down on family visits.

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"For me preserving the art comes first"

Then I'm not sure what your complaints about the colonialism are for.

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"the current DRC government is hardly a legitimate spokesperson for the historic civilizations of the region"

Never understood why any current government can legitimately claim to be the owners of art that was produced [and often buried and abandoned] hundreds or thousands of year before the current political entity existed.

We should ignore these claims.

The museum owners here are the valid owners of all the art unless an actual person can prove it was stolen from an ancestor.

Amusing the degree to which the moderators fail to critically evaluate the kultursmog at GMU.

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Convoluted trip? I don’t know what you did, but is is a direct line 20m tram ride from Montgomery metro station, and the most scenic tram line at that. The end stop is smack in front of the museum. I would say for tourists it is probably the easiest to reach destination in the suburbs from Brussels.
+1 on the rest of your post though.

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Why would you repatriate objects unless you could identify a personal owner whose property was stolen or appropriated by fraud.

Of course, there was never much in the way of colonialism in Africa outside of the subtropical and temperate zones at the southern end of the continent, the east African highlands, and some mining towns and service centers in the Congo. The Europeans present were a rotating corps of soldiers and civil servants, and not very numerous. You had 50,000 Europeans living in France's portfolio of dependencies in 1960, about 20,000 living in Tanganyika. The bloody plunder in the Congo aside, Africa benefited on balance from European supervision. A gradual and piecemeal departure by Britain, France, and Portugal would have been more salutary than the pell mell exodus you saw in 1960. This is especially so of the Congo, which has had a horrible time of it the last 60 years.

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And the plaque “Belgium Brings Civilization to the Congo” has been taken down.

Civilization in the Congo disappeared after the Belgians conceded the territory to the locals.

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Colonialism: forever and always a European thing, except for that brief period when it was also Japanese (thankfully ended by the USA).

But by all means, let’s rip America for it, because that feels good!

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