Skip to content

Where ‘Human Zoos’ Once Stood, A Belgian Museum Now Faces Its Colonial Past

Category: Inclusion
Black and white photo of Belgium mock African village in late 1890s.
In 1897, Belgian King Leopold brought 267 Congolese people to his country estate to display them in a mock African village — a practice referred to as a human zoo. Alphonse Gautier/RMCA, Tervuren

The Belgian Royal Museum for Central Africa’s first exhibit was a mock African Village temporary exhibit that included 267 Congolese adults and children on display as a “human zoo” in 1897. Later exhibits included statues of “primitive” African children clinging to the robes of “heroic white European” conquerors. About to reopen after a four year renovation, the museum now intends to share the stories that went untold, acknowledge the dark side of colonization and become a forum for shared stories, memories and history.

“When I walked inside (the museum), it struck me that our history had been confiscated,” he says through a translator.”

-Aimé Mpane

Aimé Mpane remembers when he first saw the old statues. It was 1994, and the Congolese visual artist had just moved to Belgium, which once ruled his country. Growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mpane says he had been taught in school that the Congolese were descended from the Gauls - "that they were our kings."

Continue Reading at

AAM Member-Only Content

AAM Members get exclusive access to premium digital content including:

  • Featured articles from Museum magazine
  • Access to more than 1,500 resource listings from the Resource Center
  • Tools, reports, and templates for equipping your work in museums
Log In

We're Sorry

Your current membership level does not allow you to access this content.

Upgrade Your Membership


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Field Notes!

Packed with stories and insights for museum people, Field Notes is delivered to your inbox every Monday. Once you've completed the form below, confirm your subscription in the email sent to you.

If you are a current AAM member, please sign-up using the email address associated with your account.

Are you a museum professional?

Are you a current AAM member?

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription, and please add to your safe sender list.