The Museum of Middle Africa in Tervuren is to investigate a complaint alleging racist remarks made by one of the museum’s own tour guides.
The complaint was made by one of a group of students of history from the university of Antwerp, who claims the tour guide made derogatory remarks about African people in general, claiming that some of the images on view, such as the Leopard Man, were ones that “the blacks would have liked to see disappear from the museum,” adding that “the appetite of those blacks was not satisfied by everyone”. And he indicated that the contested images remained in the museum.
The man also mentioned his mother-in-law, who had lived in the Belgian Congo, and who “had a boy [a servant – TBT] who was allowed to sit at the table once a week”. In addition, he called on his visitors to “keep an open mind about the amputated hands,” referring to the practice in colonial times of cutting off the hands of anyone accused of the most minor offences. Following remarks from several students, the professor in charge brought the tour to an early end. One student went on to make a complaint to the museum management.
“We have opened an enquiry,” said Bruno Verbergt, the museum’s director of public relations. “The statements reported by the student are diametrically opposed to the values of the museum. There is no place here for racism and the glorification of colonialism.”
The guide has been interviewed, Belga reports, and claims his comments were “wrongly interpreted”. Nevertheless, he admitted that at the end of the tour he had the impression it had not gone well, and he had not made a good impression.
“We have 40 to 50 guides, all trained and evaluated regularly by us,” Verbergt said. “We have not previously noted any inappropriate comments from him, but we will be investigating the matter. The man does not have any tours booked this weekend, so we will take up his case on Monday.”