Sunday, March 21, 2010

Central Africa Museum

It had been on my list practically since arriving in Brussels, but somehow I just now made it out to the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren. Why would Belgium have an African Museum you ask? Ever heard of the Belgian Congo?
We took the metro/tram combination out to the suburban museum. It wasn't a difficult ride - actually very beautiful. The symmetric trees and promenades around Tervuren warm the heart. Hopping out of the tram, guess what we saw? Elephants! I told Connor we were going to an "Elephant Museum" just hoping there would be some. Thank goodness I was right!

Elephants, elephants, everywhere elephants!!!

The museum structure was breathtaking. Situated on grand grounds with lakes and well-loved parks. It could have passed for a Royal Palace instead of a Royal Museum.
After all the elephant friends outside, we couldn't wait to see what treasures the inside would reveal.
We found another elephant...Whereas the elephant model elicited joy from my little one, the elephant tusks were not so joyful. They were strangely, tearful.Hello Mr. Hippo!We passed through room after room of animal displays - it was a veritable stuffed zoo menagerie. And certainly honored the special species of Africa. But the real reason I came to the museum was to learn more about how Belgium exhibited their Congo colonization.I am reading for book club this month King Leopold's Ghost and Conrad's famed Heart of Darkness. Leopold's tricky takeover of this African area is controversial. Through these literary accounts I am learning how the people and places in my expat hometown influenced the course of history for the Congolese. Many atrocities. Much violence. Fascinating to note how the ROYAL museum acknowledges the story today. I mean, the museum owners are direct descendants of Leopold II, the King of the Belgians. I am only 50 pages into the book so I can't make any grand interpretations. But the complex contrast is jarring.It all made me wish I had paid more attention when studying Heart of Darkness in high school. Yep, I am pretty sure I had the Cliff Notes. Looking forward to studying it now with my new Belgian background.Connor of course could have cared less about the Congo colonization. She was all about the animals and the drums.Click here for full album of our time at Beligum's Central Africa Museum

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