In 1958, a group of Congolese men, women, and children were bundled to Brussels, Belgium for a World’s Fair that featured a Congolese Village.
The exhibition called the Kongorama was a way for Belgium to show its connection with the Congo (now DR Congo). It displayed items under various themes including arts and culture, in which the Congolese natives were featured.
Dressed in ‘traditional’ attire and carrying on their daily duties, these men, women, and children were often ridiculed by the spectators day in day out.
Apparently, the Belgian government brought these Congolese natives to be staff at the fair…only for them to end up on display. They were also unfairly treated: placed in a dedicated building where they were transported to and from the fair and restricted from leaving the building.
The colonial office was apparently nervous about what they could do if let loose, the Guardian reports.
It was, therefore, no surprise that this display closed down after the Congolese got fed up with the unfair treatment and decided to head back home. The rest of the fair continued.
This marked the last of the human zoos that had become a popular spectacle in European and American cities at the time.
But before this, King Leopold II had in 1897 set up a human zoo around his palace in Tervuren in Brussels.
This site is currently the location of the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) (initially called the Museum of the Congo).
The Museum was closed down for renovations in 2013 and will reopen later this year as Belgium comes to terms with its colonial past.
According to Guido Gryseels, the director general at the Museum, the exhibitions had not changed over the years and that the story of colonialism was still as a positive influence to the natives of Africa.
“For most Belgians, their first encounter with Africa is our museum. The initial impression of Africa by most Belgians was made here in this museum, and that is that the white person is better than the black person. We were there to civilise them. The Africans we portray here are naked with a spear without a culture of their own,” he told the Guardian.
Gryseels hopes to use this new renovation to change the mindsets of other Belgians as well as tell the real story of Belgium in Africa.
Will it work?