Who Cares About Heritage?

How can we discuss heritage in the absence of inventory and museums? Archives and relics of history are a problem in the Republic of Congo, as they are extremely rare, kept in European museums and overwhelmingly colonial or neo-colonial. The modern obsession with preserving the artifacts of the past is not shared by the Congolese people, nor by the state. In Brazzaville, the capital city, there is no national museum, nor any museum in fact and the archives are virtually non-existent. This careless relation to archives has some critical advantages. The haphazardous scenography of the only collection on display in a national conservation area, cannot mislead the visitor or historian about the manufacture of heritage, its staging, its a priori reconstruction of history and its instrumentalization by the authority.
I will describe the mausoleum built to house the remains of the explorer and Congo’s first governor Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza. The mausoleum seems to serve as a substitute for a non-existent national museum. I will also give a brief presentation of Brazzaville, whose name is already a tribute to colonization since, unlike Leopoldville which changed its name to Kinshasa, for example, it still bears the name of the first governor. The city, its streets and its monuments will be envisioned like the displays of an open-air museum, with its corridors dedicated to the great figures of colonial liberation in Africa, and its deliberate neglect of certain painful parts of the past, such as the series of civil wars in the 1990s and the repressions of colonial times.
At a time of heightened demands for the return of African artworks held in European and American museums, Congo’s silence is an anachronism. However, the refusal of the government, largely maintained by French interests, to invest in the conservation of their local and traditional heritage, leaving only French archives to exist, is not only an anti-democratic desire to maintain positive relations with France. It can also be seen as a clear devaluation of material conservation per se in societies faced with the ephemera of material possessions as much as with daily power cuts. At the risk of taking an exoticist view, I would like to critically discuss the “archive fever” in contrast to societies where ancestors are celebrated in other ways.