Belgium and Germany return cultural treasures to Rwanda | New times

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The former colonial masters, Belgium and Germany, are ready to return to Rwanda the cultural heritage illegally held and preserved for years, Amb. Robert Masozera, director general of the Academy of Cultural Heritage of Rwanda, told The New Times.

Good progress has been made, noted Masozera, although he could not specify exactly when the Rwandan heritage, preserved in Belgium and Germany, will be returned.

In 2018, Belgium made announcements indicating that it was ready to give up Rwandan cultural treasures.

Masozera said: “Over the past three years, a lot of work has already been done: Belgian institutions have prepared and made available to Rwanda inventories to help prioritize the archives to be digitized.

He noted that Belgian institutions have already finalized the digitization of several collections such as films and photos on Rwanda as well as the inventory of ethnographic and historical objects from Rwanda.

“As you can see, the process is well underway. We are waiting for Covid-19 conditions to ease to speed up the process. “

In Belgium, the objects are mainly kept by the Royal Museum for Central Africa (MRAC-Africa Museum) and the General Archives of the Kingdom of Belgium (AGR), he said.

Masozera said that the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren (Africa Museum), for example, alone has over 2,000 objects and over 30,000 photographs, while the archives relating to Rwanda held by Belgian institutions are well over 3.5 linear kilometers.

In Germany, Masozera said, human remains are kept at the Museum of Pre and Ancient History at the Humboldt University in Berlin, at the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory; the ethnographic objects are in the Grassi Museum of Ethnology in Leipzig.

Among the objects are 904 skulls collected in Rwanda before the First World War.

“The heritage that has been brought abroad is mainly cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible. It includes heritage objects: collections of ethnographic and archaeological museums; human remains, remains of our ancestors – probably complete skulls and bodies; and archives, ”Masozera said.

The archives are written, photographic, audio and video documents produced by the colonial administration, the army staff, missionaries, explorers, researchers, travelers and traditional authorities, he said. Explain.

Then there are also natural collections: zoological, botanical and geological samples.

“These objects have been collected by researchers, anthropologists, missionaries, ethnographers and archaeologists and even tourists. Collectors were all interested in “racial studies”. They were taken to show the superiority of European civilization over that of our ancestors, ”Masozera said.

“Belgium has already expressed its willingness to share, in digital form, the archives of Rwanda kept in its public institutions. The project is progressing well. Germany is also willing to repatriate human remains from Rwanda held by the Museum of Prehistory and the first national museums in Berlin. This project is also on track.

Why is repatriation important?

Masozera explained that the repatriation of Rwandan heritage is not only legitimate, but that the return of these objects could contribute to socio-economic development and to “the cultural pride of our nation”.

The Rwandan cultural heritage objects selected by Europeans “are in fact the best specimens, for their exceptional quality, aesthetics and finesse,” he said, citing examples such as basketry and basketry, and also by their sacredness, “for example, spiritual symbols and symbols of traditional power.

Not only do they embody the Rwandan identity, but the fact that these cultural treasures have been preserved for a very long time outside of Rwanda, noted Masozera, has created a huge gap in the knowledge of Rwandan history and culture, and disconnected most Rwandans from their ancestral tradition.

Cultural objects, especially archives abroad, are primary sources that can help shed light on important aspects of Rwanda’s history, Masozera said.

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