At F’s insistence I took him to the Africa Museum in Tervuren this afternoon. Mainly this was an hour zooming round the exhibits at five-year-old speed, with special attention paid to the very large animals, though some of the small ones caught his interest too – “Daddy, what’s that?” “Er, hang on, let me try and read what it says in Dutch/French” – I admit I was defeated by the “Kuifparelhoen” aka “Pintade plumifère”, which turns out to be the Crested Guineafowl. Of course. (see right)

But I was particularly struck by a small corner dedicated to the explorations of H.M. Stanley, who did a lot of work for the Belgians, and a battered metal trunk (“It’s got holes in it!” said F perceptively) that had actually belonged to Dr David Livingstone and had been taken by him on his last journey (later retrieved, and given to the museum by his grandson). Having just read Niall Ferguson’s account of the two men’s rather contrasting careers (and of course their dramatic meeting in 1871) it gave me a bit of a historical thrill.

There are now a number of apologetic notices in French, Dutch and English pointing out the museum’s own colonial and frankly racist heritage. In the Gallery of Remembrance of the 1500 Belgians (and a few Luxemburgers) who died bringing “civilisation” to Central Africa, a small sign now says “The attentive visitor will not fail to notice that, at the time, no need was felt to question the Belgian presence in Central Africa. There was no mention of the Congolese victims, for instance.” In a weird sort of way this is becoming a museum of a museum. And a good thing too.

One thought on “Museum

  1. Having originally read the book as a teenager, I can assure you it does not work. 🙂 Or at least didn’t on me. It’s possible that getting the actual letters as my introduction to Aristotle might have had a different outcome. I always did love that book though.

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