The social and political debate surrounding the restitution of cultural heritage acquired during the colonial period has intensified over the past few years, both on an international and a European level. The Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) participates in this international debate as a social actor and as manager of the Belgian State patrimony of collections from the countries colonised by Belgium (DRCongo, Rwanda and Burundi), as well as collections collected in other countries in West, South, East and Central Africa.
The RMCA currently manages 128.500 ethnographic objects and musical instruments, of which approximately 85.000 objects from Central Africa. Most of the collection came about through donations, missionaries, civil servants, soldiers and scientific missions. Especially in the Congo Free State period - from 1885 to 1908 - objects were acquired by force or plunder. In the period of the Belgian Congo from 1908 onwards, objects were collected in a context of unequal relations between the colonised and the coloniser. Only a small portion was purchased.
Although the RMCA has well-documented archives on where and by whom a particular object was acquired, there is often little information available on the exact manner of its acquisition (gift, purchase, 'under slight force'). Thorough provenance research into how the 85.000 objects acquired by the RMCA were acquired is essential.