Congo - The New Mâ-Loango museum in Diosso Looks to the future while preserving the past
Cultural Dialogues and Heritage – Committed to promoting cultural dialogue
Curator for the past 36 years, Joseph Kimfoko Madoungou has made the Mâ-Loango museum in Diosso a major center for preserving the memory of the Republic of the Congo. With support from Total, a new complex has been built to carry on the institution's legacy.
This new museum is a source of national pride.
Joseph Kimfoko Madoungou never planned to become a museum curator. In 1977, he decided to study psychology at the University of Brazzaville. But the mandatory internship program created by the government at that time set him on a completely different path. "The Ministry of Culture sent me to work in the reserves of the National Museum. I began reading all of the art and history books in the library's archives and fell in love with cultural heritage." The young student was on hand in 1982 when the Mâ-Loango museum was opened as part of a network of regional museums. The following year, he became the curator at the ripe age of 25. "In fact, I replaced the watchman who was responsible for unlocking the doors," he smiles.
Ten Unique Collections
Located in Diosso in the Kouilou region, 25 kilometers north of the business capital of Pointe-Noire, the museum is designed to preserve and showcase the cultural heritage of Loango, one of the country's nine former kingdoms, founded in the 15th century. When Joseph Kimfoko first arrived, he worked in the 220-square-meter royal palace built in 1952 for Moe Poaty III, who reigned from 1931 to 1975. "A museum exists solely for its collections, and we had very few," admits the curator. "I started sorting things out. The site operated with the resources it had, which weren't many. Fortunately, I had the use of a four-wheel drive. I started prospecting and collecting objects from the villages in the Mayombe forest." All by himself, Joseph Kimfoko built up ten unique collections in three years, with more than 300 objects and documents of great ethnographic and historical value. These included coins, musical instruments, religious objects, farming tools, weapons, furniture, utensils, ornaments, clothing, manuscripts, treaties and portraits of kings.
We can organize more welcoming exhibits and make this a place for discovery, learning and transmission that all audiences can enjoy.
Why Not Build a New Museum?
Melding Loango's traditions, memory and identity, the institution quickly became one of the largest museums in the Republic of the Congo. Joseph Kimfoko graduated from L'Ecole du Patrimoine Africain (EPA) in 1998 with a degree in preventive conservation of artworks in Sub-Saharan Africa. He learned how to protect his collections from insects and humidity. "Guided tours were our only limited source of income," he remembers somewhat fatalistically. The former palace started to lose its luster. The walls began to crack, the ceiling started to peel, holes opened in the floors and the roof began to sag. Certain objects were in critical condition. Not only was the site falling apart, but it was also too small. "We couldn't keep on much longer in those conditions. Even if the palace was considered royal or sacred, it wasn't in any shape to house a museum over the long term." So Joseph Kimfoko put forward a simple, bold idea: Why not build a new museum?
5,000 Square Meters for a More Welcoming Site
Total's affiliate in the Republic of the Congo was on board with the project from the beginning. A partnership agreement was signed with the Ministry of Hydrocarbons and the Ministry of Culture and Arts, and ground was broken in 2012. Total E&P Congo financed and supervised the construction and fitting out of the new 5,000 square-meter museum, which was inaugurated on August 23, 2018. "These new facilities allow us to present all of the collections in a much better light," notes Joseph Kimfoko. "We can finally organize more welcoming exhibits and make this a place for discovery, learning and transmission that all audiences can enjoy. I'm even adding a new natural science section, with fossils, stuffed pangolins and an elephant skull from 1901. The kids love it!" The new museum also houses an exhibit on slavery and the slave trade that was previously on view at the Institut Français in Pointe-Noire. The site comprises four large rooms grouped into a pavilion for permanent collections and another for temporary exhibits. Other features include a forecourt for traditional dance performances, a crafts area, a conference hall, a curator's house, an administrative building, a well and restrooms.
Popular With the Public
"This new museum has become a symbol in the Republic of the Congo," says Joseph Kimfoko, "and a source of national pride. People talk about it and want to see it, and the number of entries has increased regularly. We get a lot of schoolchildren, tourists and expatriates. It's our job to help transmit this heritage and memory by capturing visitors' imaginations through the objects on display."
That's just what the two guides trained at EPA with support from Total do each day as they patiently take visitors through the museum and bring the collections to life.
A few feet away, the museum's former home has been converted into a courthouse. Moé Makosso IV, who became the 17th king of Loango in 2009, lives across the way in a new 960-square-meter residence inaugurated in 2016 – but that's another story, that will one day be told in its own display.
A Project Partnered by Unesco
Unesco is the new museum's scientific partner. Its teams in the Republic of the Congo helped inventory part of the collection and restore and classify objects according to International standards. This is an important project for Unesco. The museum, which addresses the history of slavery and the role played by the former slave port in Loango, is part of the Slave Route Project created by the organization to give visitors a better understanding of the causes, forms of operation, stakes and consequences of the slave trade in the world. Added to the Unesco's World Heritage Tentative Lists in 2008, the former port was the embarkation point for nearly two million slaves sent to the Americas between 1889 and 1923. A six-meter-high memorial was erected and inaugurated the same day as the museum on the nearby road travelled by the slaves to the awaiting ships.