Provenance Research Project


The PROCHE project (MB21 - PROvenance Research on the Ethnographic Collection - Herkomstonderzoek op de Ethografische collectie) is a federal science policy program implemented by the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA).

Its launch is a response to the many social and political discussions that have intensified over the years to understand and acknowledge the historical context and the modes of acquisition of the Congolese cultural heritage collected during the colonial period. Thus, the museum has been engaged in a research project on the provenance of its ethnographic collections, particularly those from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In order to ensure transparency in discussions about the origin of the cultural heritage it manages, the RMCA wishes to provide access to the inventory of the collections concerned. This inventory of 83,200 cultural objects managed by the RMCA, originating from the DRC and more broadly from Central Africa, was transmitted to the Congolese Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde in February 2022, in the presence of Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Secretary of State Thomas Dermine. 

An online inventory with provenance research 

The goal of the research is to document the entire chain of an object's acquisition and to contextualize its various historical backgrounds, so that any person or organization can conduct its own investigations to determine the licit, illicit or indefinable nature of a transaction (e.g., a looting, a theft, a transfer, or a gift). This is an ‘in progress’ work that will be constantly renewed by the contribution of new data and knowledge, leading to new questions about the context of acquisition but also about the current relations that we maintain with our scientific knowledge.

The provenance research project does not aim to determine the status of the collections but to compile, index, and analyse the available data on the circumstances that led to their registration in the cultural heritage of the Belgian federal government. This will be done in the first place by making the information available online through an open access database in order to allow the widest access to anyone interested.

In-depth research will be carried out by a mixed team of researchers from the RMCA and Congolese academic and heritage institutions specialized in history, anthropology, art history and law. This team will be reinforced by field research and the valorisation of other forms of knowledge that will allow the deepening and a critical reading of the data present in the archives. This qualitative aspect is necessary for a better historical and social knowledge on the creation of the museum's collections

A multi-voice in progress approach

Through its network of national institutions with heritage value, the Institut des musées nationaux du Congo (IMNC) is an essential partner in this research in partnership with the university and academic sector, and other heritage institutions in the DRC. The IMNC and the RMCA  constitute two institutions with a long-lasting historical interweaving.1 This bilaterality is necessary in order to privilege all forms of knowledge and to offer a broader contextualization. A program of research residencies, doctorates and ongoing communication between the partners will provide a fresh perspective at the collections and a better understanding of the objects they contain. Providing access to information and facilitating transparent discussions are prerequisites to allow different perspectives, knowledge and to bring different views, knowledge and readings to meet within these collections.


> Project website


1. S. Van Beurden, Authentically African: Arts and the Transnational politics of Congolese Culture, Ohio University Press, Colombus, 2015