Authorities in Belgium say they will soon give relatives the only remains left of Congolese political icon Patrice Lumumba, a single tooth.
Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba met a grisly end after his assassination in 1961: His body was dismembered and dissolved with acid in an apparent effort to keep any grave from becoming a pilgrimage site.
Then, the story goes that a tooth was pulled from his corpse during the effort in the middle of the night. And even that was taken from Congo, brought home to colonizer Belgium by a man whose family then apparently kept it for more than half a century.
Now a court in Belgium has cleared the way for the tooth presumed to be Lumumba’s to be returned home, with prosecutors announcing Thursday that it will soon be handed back to his relatives after years of lobbying efforts.
Daughter Juliana Amato Lumumba had renewed the family’s calls around the 60th anniversary of Congo’s independence from Belgium in June, commemorations which came amid a global reckoning over racial injustice that has brought new scrutiny of European wrongs in Africa.
“In our culture as in yours, the care given to someone’s remains is a sign of respect for that human being,” she wrote in her letter to Belgium’s king asking for help in returning the remains.
“So why, year after year, is Patrice Emery Lumumba condemned to remain a dead person without burial, having only a date on a tomb?”
Lumumba remains for many in Congo a symbol of what the country could have become after its independence. Instead it became mired in decades of dictatorship that drained its vast mineral riches.
After pushing for an end to colonial rule, Lumumba became the newly independent Congo’s first prime minister in 1960.
A court in Belgium rules that a tooth taken from the corpse of Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba should be returned to his family.
His only daughter Juliana had written to the Belgian king asking for its return.