Vanderkindere, an auction house based in Brussels, the capital city of Belgium, caused an outcry when it planned on auctioning three human skulls. The human skulls, which are of Congolese people killed between January 1893 and May 1894, were allegedly part of a private collection. The intended auction did not proceed as plans to sell the skulls were met with criticism from human rights groups as well as backlash on social media. This led to Vanderkindere abandoning the auction. The auction house said the skulls would be sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Vanderkindere sincerely apologizes for having offered for auction a lot including three human skulls linked to the Belgian colonial past, which are therefore imperatively withdrawn from the sale and will be repatriated,” the auction house posted on Facebook. “We do not in any way condone the suffering and humiliation suffered by the peoples who were victims of these colonial acts. Once again, we express our deepest regrets to anyone who has been hurt and injured by the sale of this lot,” they continued.
The since abandoned auction of the skulls was criticized by people in several quarters. Genevieve Kaninda, a coordinator at the collective called Colonial Memory, spoke out against Vanderkindere’s actions. “It is simply a scandalous sale; it is a sale of the skulls of victims of colonization. This auction is a bit like killing them a second time in fact,” Kaninda said. “Normally the penal code forbids the concealment of a corpse, which is why this auction is of great concern to us, and I think that a clear answer is needed in relation to a legal framework for all the remains of these people from the colonial period who are on Belgian soil,” she adds.
Similar sentiments were shared by Rajae Maouane and Guillaume Defosse, members of the Belgian Parliament representing the Green Party. “It is inconceivable to me that the trade in human remains is legal in Belgium today,” they said. “The remains, including those of people killed during the colonial period, are entitled to absolute respect. One does not sell corpses,” they added. “That has to change.”
Belgium colonized, controlled, and profited from the Congo under the leadership of King Leopold II. According to reports, at least 10 million people died from starvation, disease, and killings during the first 23 years of Belgium’s rule.