The exhibition is based on the Royal Museum for Central Africa’s collections. By choosing specific objects from the collections, they wanted to highlight what men have done and created in that part of the world to be able to connect with the gods, ancestors, nature and animals. Ceremonial masks, music instruments but also animals, insect collections or termite mounts were exposed, in a very peculiar way.
They are several objects that really caught my eyes :
- The Pende masks. The Pende (an ethnic tribe from Congo) used different type of masks to communicate with the spirits during rituals. For example, the 4th mask (black and white, with a twisted mouth) represents someone who has been bewitched, and is considered as a “sickness mask”. It is a symbol of misfortune that can afflict someone. Our guide explained to us that on the black eyelid, the marks of smallpox have been depicted and the face is twisted to illustrated someone with facial paralysis.
- The strange wood carving that looks like a bear (I’ve heard someone next to me saying “oh it looks like a platypus”.. I can’t really see a platypus to be honest :D). It’s a complete mystery, it was also probably a mask but we don’t know the meaning. It’s the oldest wooden sculpture that has ever been found in Central Africa and it is supposed to date from 750 AD.
- The proverb lids were also amazing. That was the first time I was hearing about them. The pot lids are carved with proverbs and were used as a way to express a thought, a reproach or advice within a family. It was difficult to take pictures as they were placed under a glass but this one is supposed to represent a trap used to catch rodents. The proverb illustrated is : “A willow rod can be used as a rat trap, but only near ponds“. And the meaning is : “If you want to be a charmer, do it far away from the marital home” :D
The Goliath beetles were impressive ! Several specimens had holes in their wings because they were captured by people using hunting rifles.
I was also really surprised when I saw an elephant skin rolled in the middle of a room. Apparently, the skin weighs more than 500 kg. The fish nets were very well placed in a dark room.
All in all, it was a nice visit. I almost forget that it was an art museum, not a natural history museum. Even if they exhibit some specimens, skulls and insects, they were more interested by the aesthetic of them rather than by the scientific value. Thus, they are well placed in the room, well lit, it’s beautiful, but in my opinion, it lacks information. We had a guide and I think a visit without a guide is useless since there is no written information next to the objects.