I have a t-shirt with a photo of Patrice Lumumba and every time I wear it, my friends in Senegal ask: who is that man? He was an independence leader and the first Prime Minister of the independent Democratic Republic of the Congo and was assassinated on this day, 17 January 1961.
A week ago I found this street sign in Ixelles by accident, at the other end of the street that is better known under the name of Rue de Longue Vie. If you look closer, you can see that this new sign has been glued on the official street name. Ironically, Lumumba did not have the chance to have a long life! If you also check the area on Google Maps, you can find a square that honors his name, as well as a Library called Bibliothèque Lumumba* on Rue de la Tulipe. The library is open on appointment only, which is a shame as it has an interesting collection of books related to the Congo and the region. It is run by an association that has been actively promoting local recognition of Lumumba by insisting on having a Square Patrice Lumumba close to metro Porte de Namur and a Futur Place Lumumba right behind the Church Saint-Boniface in the heart of Ixelles. The library is hosted by a very welcoming man Philip Buyck, an active member of the association, who would love to open the library on a more permanent basis. He is also one of the initiators of Matonge Art Gallery Project that transforms some of the neighborhood’s restaurants and other venues into galleries showing works by famous Congolese painters and photographers.
There is an exhibition called Congolisation coming up at Pianofabriek** on 7 to 10 February. It’s the fourth edition of the Afro-Diaspo-Arts Made In Belgium festival. There you just might stop by a giant molar among the artworks. What’s the story? A few years ago there was a documentary on the Belgian TV explaining that one of the members of the team that executed Lumumba and later exhumed his body claimed to have saved two of his teeth, while the remains of his body were dissolved in sulfuric acid. Inspired by these macabre events, Hugo Claus wrote the original poem on the teeth of Lumumba in French and there is now a wiki*** in which the poem has been translated into several other languages. If you wish, you may take part!
The teeth of Lumumba
Lumumba, the god of the Albinos
sat down on your corps as on a toilet »
I wrote thirty years ago in a poem,
and only now it slowly comes to light
how Lumumba was destroyed.
How the Belgian police inspector Gerard Soete
worked the body with a saw and sulfuric acid.
« Until nothing remains, » he says.
He ripped out two golden teeth and kept them.
« As a souvenir » he says. When he was eighty
He swung them in the North Sea.
Soete, illiterate, butchery mercenary,
think of the Argonauts who sailed in the Mediterranean
looking for the Golden Fleece.
They tore the teeth from the mouth of the Dragon
and sowed them in the sand
and from the teeth grew one hundred warriors
with axes and spears
and they lined up in rows.
And this night they come screaming by your bed.
* The association homepage can be found here
** Pianofabriek, Rue du Fortstraat 35, 1060 Saint-Gilles
***Les dents de Lumumba wiki