In a bizarre development, on August 4, a Belgian company, Dansant, organized an ‘African-themed party’ on the grounds of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Brussels. Many of the participants came dressed in pith helmets and with blackfaces. The party was attended by almost 2000 people. This offensive notion of fun has a long history in Belgium.
Some of the party-goers were also dressed up in leopard skins and face tattoos. The venue was reportedly littered with pictures of skulls on sticks and so on, leaving a stark reminder of the endurance of colonial perceptions about Africa.
The Congolese community in the country took a strong position against the event. They pointed out that it promoted the worst forms of stereotypes and showed a complete ethnocentric approach towards Africa and betrayed people’s ignorance about African culture even after more than 60 years of decolonization.
Incidentally, such events were very common in Belgium during the colonial era. The country has the shameful record of organizing a human zoo in 1897 where people from Congo were exhibited for days, leading to the death of 7 of them.
Belgium was known to be the most brutal colonial power in the world. During the rule of king Leopold II (1865-1910), Congo was looted on a massive scale and the Belgian rule was among the most brutal eras in African history, leading to the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people and the destruction of the local economy. As if the loot and plunder was not enough, Leopold was fond of flaunting his brutalities before the rest of the world. During his reign, frequent events were organized to show off colonial aggression and racism. He built the Royal Museum of Central Africa which had as exhibits thousands of looted items, including the severed heads of the tribal chiefs.
The fact that even in 2019, such parties are organized shows that Belgians have failed to learn from their history. This may also be a reflection of the rise of the right wing throughout the world and its European manifestation which takes pride in its colonial past and dreams of the return of such unquestioned supremacy.