Belgium’s King Philippe has returned to the National Museum in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, a Congolese mask stolen during the colonial era. The mask, known as Kakungu, belonged to the Suku ethnic group from the country’s southwest, who utilized it in healing ceremonies.
The mask was collected by an art dealer seventy years ago and displayed at Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa. The relic was on “indefinite loan” from Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa to the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to Phillipe. It’s also the first of around 84,000 antiquities plundered during the colonial era to be retrieved from the Royal Museum for Central Africa.
At the invitation of President Félix Tshisekedi, Philippe and Queen Mathilde are on a historic week-long visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Philippe’s visit is his first since assuming the throne in 2013.
“I wanted to return to you this great masterpiece during our visit to the National Museum and in your presence in order to allow Congolese to explore and adore it,” Philippe said of the mask. He went on to say, “It symbolizes the symbolic beginning of the reinforcement of the cultural collaboration between Belgium and Congo.”
According to the BBC, an agreement was reached to begin a cultural partnership between the National Museum of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Royal Museum for Central Africa. Philippe’s journey to the Democratic Republic of the Congo is part of his country’s efforts to atone for its genocidal and terrorist acts during colonialism.
Philippe is an indirect descendant of Leopold II, who governed Congo for more than a century with an iron fist. Leopold II, King of Belgium from 1865 to 1909, as compared to Adolf Hitler for his genocide against the inhabitants of the Congo Free State (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), whom he deemed his personal property, including their lands and minerals. Untold millions of Congolese were murdered by Leopold’s private colonial force, Force Publique, which he used to rule a region the size of Western Europe and 76 times the size of Belgium.
Philippe offered his “deepest sorrow” to the African nation for his country’s colonial misdeeds on the 60th anniversary of DR Congo’s independence in 2020.