A Hero's Tooth Is Laid to Rest in Congo

Independence hero Patrice Lumumba's body was dissolved in acid after 1961 murder
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 22, 2022 5:40 PM CDT
Updated Jun 30, 2022 1:57 PM CDT
Remains of Independence Hero Finally Return to Congo
Congo's former prime minister Patrice Lumumba, center right, with hands tied behind his back, sits in a truck upon arrival at Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) Airport in Congo, Dec. 2, 1960, following his arrest the previous day.   (AP Photo, File)

Update: Patrice Lumumba's gold-crowned tooth—all that remained of Congo's independence leader after his body was dissolved in acid more than 60 years ago—finished its tour of the country and was on Thursday entombed in the capital, Kinshasa. The BBC reports it is being kept in a coffin that will be housed in a "specially built mausoleum." The ceremony occurred on the 62nd anniversary of Belgium giving up its control of the country. Lumumba, credited with helping to end colonial rule, became the country's first prime minister but was shot dead in 1961. His body was dissolved, with the tooth secretly kept by a Belgian police official. Our original story from June 22 follows:

The remains of Congo's independence leader Patrice Lumumba arrived in the capital, Kinshasa, from Belgium on Wednesday and will be taken around the country, a government official said. After leading the struggle for Congo's independence from colonial power Belgium, Lumumba became the country's first prime minister before he was killed six months later in 1961. After a military coup, he was imprisoned and executed by separatists and Belgian mercenaries, the Guardian reports. Immediately after his killing, Lumumba’s body was dismembered and dissolved with acid in an apparent effort to keep any grave from becoming a pilgrimage site.

A gold-capped tooth was all that remained and was kept by the Belgian police commissioner who oversaw the destruction of Lumumba's body. In 2016 the tooth was seized by Belgian officials from the police commissioner's daughter. A coffin containing Lumumba's tooth was taken Wednesday from Kinshasa to Lumumba's birthplace in Onalua village in Sankuru province. From there it will be taken around the country.

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The restitution of the relic took place after Belgium’s King Philippe expressed regrets earlier this month for his nation’s abuses in Congo when it was a colony. Lumumba was a patriot and Congolese people wanted to honor his memory by paying their respects to his remains, member of parliament Lambert Mende tells the AP. "I welcome the return of the relic of the Congolese prime minister," Mende says.

(More Democratic Republic of Congo stories.)

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