Belgium’s King Philippe has returned a Congolese mask looted during the colonial era to the National Museum in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mask, called Kakungu, belongs to the ethnic Suku people from the southwest of the country, who used it during healing ceremonies.
Seventy years ago, an art dealer bought the mask and it was exhibited at Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa. Phillipe said the object was on “indefinite loan” from Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa to DR Congo. It is also the first of some 84,000 artefacts looted during the colonial era that are expected to be returned from the Royal Museum for Central Africa.
Philippe and Queen Mathilde are on a historic week-long visit to DR Congo at the invitation of President Félix Tshisekedi. It is Philippe’s first visit since ascending the throne in 2013.
“I wanted, during our visit at the National Museum and in your presence, to return to you this exceptional work in order to allow Congolese to discover and admire it,” Philippe said of the mask. “It marks the symbolic beginning of the reinforcement of the cultural collaboration between Belgium and Congo,” he added.
BBC reports that an agreement was signed to open cultural collaboration between DR Congo’s National Museum and the Royal Museum for Central Africa. Philippe’s visit to DR Congo is part of his country’s efforts to make amends for colonialism.
Philippe is an indirect descendent of Leopold II, who ruled Congo with an iron fist for more than a century. The King of the Belgians, Leopold II, ruled from 1865 to 1909 and has been described as worse than Adolf Hitler for his genocide against the people of the Congo Free State (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) who he considered as his personal property including their lands and minerals. An undetermined number of Congolese, ranging in the millions, were killed in the hands of Leopold’s private colonial militia of 90,000 men called Force Publique, which he used to run the region that is the size of Western Europe and 76 times larger than Belgium.
On the 60th anniversary of DR Congo’s independence in 2020, Philippe expressed his “deepest regrets” to the African nation for his country’s colonial abuses.