Patrice Lumumba’s Daughter: I’m Demanding Belgium Give Back My Father’s Remains

Sixty years after his murder, Congolese prime minister Patrice Lumumba’s body has never been recovered — but some of his teeth were kept as “trophies” by Belgian police. In an open letter, his daughter demands that the Belgian state return them to his homeland.

Patrice Lumumba (1924–1961), the first prime minister of the independent Republic of the Congo. (Wikimedia Commons)


We ask you to consider that words have little force in such grievous circumstances, powerless as they are to properly bring into relief almost sixty years of pain.

To tell your majesty how much our hearts buckle under the weight of unspeakable afflictions, we remind you that since January 17, 1961, we have had no information to determine with any certainty the circumstances of our father’s tragic death, nor what has become of his remains.

If anthropologists say that the concern for burial and the funeral ritual are essential human characteristics, each year the DRC, Africa, and the world pay homage to Patrice Emery Lumumba as an unburied hero. The years pass, and our father remains a dead man without a funeral oration, a corpse without bones.

In our culture like in yours, respect for the human person extends beyond physical death, through the care that is devoted to the bodies of the deceased and the importance attached to funeral ritual, the final farewell. But why, after his terrible murder, have Lumumba’s remains been condemned to remain a soul forever wandering, without a grave to shelter his eternal rest?

In our culture like in yours, what we respect through care for the mortal remains is the human person itself. What we recognize is the value of human civilization itself. So why, year after year, is Patrice Emery Lumumba condemned to remain a dead man without a burial, with the date January 17, 1961 as his only tombstone?

We know you are a man of humanity and generosity. So, we refuse to believe that you can remain impassive faced with this interminable grief, which becomes an unbearable mental burden each time we remember that the remains of Patrice Emery Lumumba serve as trophies for some of your co-citizens, as sepulchral items sequestered by your kingdom’s justice system!

Throughout our mother’s life, fifty-three years of it wearing mourning clothes, she fought to give a final resting place to her tender husband. On December 23, 2014, she herself left us, a woman broken-hearted, not having been able to fulfil her duty as a widow. The height of our sorrow is that we know that our mother is not resting in peace.

For my brothers and I, our responsibility as children — our duty as descendants, now that we have ourselves become mother and fathers — is to pay homage to our father, to our progenitor, by offering him a grave worthy of the precious blood that ties us to him, running through our veins. This blood of his was thrown on the ground like water being thrown out — we don’t know where, by whom, how . . . or when!

Since, our father has been our constant grief. He was stripped from the world of the living to live intimately among us, in each of us, but always in an intangible way. There is not a day that goes by when we do not feel his invisible presence. His memory haunts us like the flight of a bird that passes without leaving the slightest trace. Day and night, he visits us in an unchanging dream. When he does not shine like a shaft of light, he blooms like a majestic flower that, born each morning, dies at noon and disappears before twilight.

If Patrice Emery Lumumba was pronounced dead in Katanga, in our country, his remains are scattered in pieces, we don’t know where — except, that is, because of the shameful declarations of ownership of some of his remains, made in Belgium. We, Lumumba’s children, his family, demand the proper return of the relics of Patrice Emery Lumumba to the land of his forebears, so that we might pay our tribute of filial grief.

The greatness of our much-loved father, the eloquence of his heart, and the courageous quest for truth that made him a unique personality, cannot radiate in our own acts and deeds and shine through our works, so long as his soul does not rest in peace in a place worthy of what he represents.

In our country’s traditions, each passing is a birth, every grave a cradle. Our family cannot follow his illustrious footsteps and receive the precious heritage of his genius, his piety, his valiant and patriotic virtues, unless the much-mourned departed can be placed in his perpetual grave.

We, the children of Patrice Emery Lumumba, do not want to leave this painful task to our children, who never knew their grandfather.

We appeal to you to imagine, in these moments which so break our hearts, the added torments which we are inflicting on ourselves through this request, as we build up our hopes that we might give our father a burial to immortalize his memory.

Sixty years after the unspeakable murder, we believe the time for persecution and punishment of Lumumba’s remains has passed, and the time has come for justice.

We only want to bid him farewell, and keenly seek your aid, sir.

In the name of the great Lumumba family, I appeal to your spirit of justice. I remain convinced, from the bottom of my heart, that this request will have a favorable response.

With deep respect,

In the name of the relatives of Patrice Emery Lumumba,

Juliana Amato Lumumba.