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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Patrice Lumumba’s tooth represents plunder, resilience and reparation

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Patrice Lumumba is the hero of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s truncated bid for full independence. He was assassinated by native counter-revolutionary forces with the assistance of the CIA and Belgian authorities in 1961. Since then, all around the growing world, Lumumba’s identify has come to face for defiance in opposition to colonialism and imperialism.

The style of his dying was notably distressing. He was humiliated and tortured earlier than he was murdered. His physique was then doused with acid to facilitate decomposition. A Belgian official reportedly saved his enamel as mementos as if so as to add one other grisly and macabre dimension to the whole sordid affair.

The return of Lumumba’s tooth after 61 years leaves many questions unanswered and threatens to open a can of worms. This inordinately belated gesture got here and not using a formal apology for the harm brought on by Belgian colonialism or a pledge of wide-ranging reparations.

The ghost of Lumumba

Ever since his dying, it appears the ghost of Lumumba has plagued his aggrieved nation, first with the tortuous and weird reign of Mobutu Sese Seko after which with Laurent Kabila.

Patrice Lumumba.

But it surely was beneath Belgian colonial rule that the plunder of the Congo started in earnest. King Leopold II, bloated with colonial self-righteousness, instituted a reign of devastation that left an estimated 10 million individuals useless. Rubber plantations have been remodeled right into a hell by which the enslaved who didn’t meet their manufacturing quotas had their limbs chopped off. Since then, the DRC has been gripped by a delirium of dense, impenetrable, equatorial traumas.

Indigenes of the DRC have at all times been used as disposable pawns of their externally foisted tragedies. And these tragedies have descended on them as thickly as their famed tropical forests.

What are we to make of the ordeal of Ota Benga, for instance, the Congolese teenager who, on account of his uncommon enamel, was captured and relentlessly exhibited within the anthropological zoos of America? Handled like a performing monkey, he skilled essentially the most heartless type of visible cannibalism, bodily humiliation and psychological torture. Would his enamel be returned to the DRC as nicely?

A young African man poses with a chimpanzee, holding on to a stick and wearing a traditional skirt
Ota Benga at Bronx Zoo.
Wikimedia Commons

Certainly, the handing over of Lumumba’s tooth represents a gesture of reparation; the return of pilfered colonial items to the rightful homeowners. However what concerning the tooth’s attendant torture? This a lot delayed political gesture broaches tough points surrounding the African quest for real reparations from erstwhile colonial overlords.

The world’s richest nation

The present plight of the DRC – all however a failed state – makes us weep over its enduring state of abjection. An enormous nation blessed with innumerable pure assets, with a few of the rarest and most necessary minerals of earth, it stays crippled by battle and plunder of its huge pure assets.

It’s sure that if Lumumba had been allowed to pursue his daring challenge of emancipation and improvement, the DRC story would have been vastly completely different.

It’s virtually unattainable to know why the possibly richest nation on this planet stays one of many poorest.

And but the wealth of the DRC continues to shine by means of the accomplishments of its proficient individuals. Out of depleted and crumbling infrastructure, governmental emasculation and persistent internecine strife, miraculously, inventive excellence continues to emerge.

How can one ever neglect the timeless music of guitarist Franco Luamabo, vocalists Tabu Ley and M’bilia Bel, singer-songwriter Fally Ipupa and so many different Congolese musical geniuses?

A woman in a yellow top in profile.
M’bilia Bel.
Jack Vartoogian/Getty Photographs

Or the accomplishments of phenomenal students comparable to Congolese thinker V.Y. Mudimbe, whose work singularly redefined the style by which the west got here to know Africa? Mudimbe reconfigures your thoughts each time you encounter him. But the inhospitability of the DRC retains him secluded within the US. The remainder of the world continues to learn from Congolese abilities and minerals whereas the nation itself regresses.

The eclectic and boisterous city tradition that produced the Congolese rumba and soukous out of the potholed streets of Kinshasa additionally birthed visible artists comparable to Monsengwo Kejwamfi “Moke”, Cheri Cherin, Chéri Samba, Patrick Mutombo, Marthe Ngandu and lots of others.

Collectively, their works seize and replicate the life and power to be discovered within the DRC’s frenetic and teeming postcolonial metropolises. However there’s a snag. These largely self-taught artists have been lower off from their precolonial inventive heritage as a result of violence of the colonial encounter.

The tooth

As in lots of different components of Africa, over 2,000 artistic endeavors stolen from what’s now the DRC stay within the museums of Europe. These works should not merely aesthetic and symbolic. They’re additionally central to the continuation of built-in cultural evolution. As well as, they embody swathes of historical past and custom spanning millennia. The return of these stolen items of cultural heritage and an consciousness of what they honestly signify could be a place to begin for significant reparations for the previous.

Learn extra:
How Patrice Lumumba’s assassination drove scholar activism, shaping the Congo’s future

Finally, past its beauty and even symbolic worth, the gesture of returning Lumumba’s violated tooth must result in a substantial diploma of therapeutic the DRC so desperately wants, in natural, broadly and deeply conceived methods. This implies acts of reparations should not solely be loaded in which means however should even be basically transformative in nature. In different phrases, they have to embody socioeconomic and cultural deliverables.

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