BRUSSELS - Suddenly Eva finds herself face to face with a portrait of her Congolese great-grandfather François. Retrieved from the AfricaMuseum in Tervuren. In the unfamiliar portrait, Eva recognises traits of herself. She sees the man from whom she inherited family name and skin colour, but who died before she was born. Eva rediscovers her great-grandfather François Kamanda; a Congolese who settled in Belgium in 1930, at the hand of his white patron. The painting, which the AfricaMuseum appears to have kept in its custody since the 1980s, dates from 1936.

A Hidden Life is the book-documented result of three years of searching and digging into a (family) history that remained hidden for too long. It is the discovery of a great-granddaughter and her writing friend, to one of the early Congolese in Belgium. When the Belgian colony was still a distant land where blacks generally stayed, away from the idealised white European world. When World War II had yet to break out here, and Belgium was suddenly occupied itself, including the black natives who also resisted it.

The recovered life of François Kamanda and his black fellow-sufferers touches on the great institutions of colonialism: on the all-powerful mining company Union Minière de Haut-Katanga, on the church that allowed fathers-missionaries to come and go, on the National Lottery that used to be the Colonial Lottery, on Expo '58 with its "authentic" Congolese village, on the former Musée du Congo now called AfricaMuseum.

Through interviews with descendants and archive sources, the journalistically conceived book exposes an unknown piece of Belgian history. That of a generation of early Congolese in Belgium, to whom more credit is due than was given to them for the time being (bitterly little, that is).

€ 5.000 allocated on 28/06/2021.

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