The coffin of slain Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba returned to his home Wednesday for an emotionally charged tour and funeral, more than six decades after his assassination.

The plane carried Lumumba’s remains – a tooth that former colonial power Belgium gave to his family on Monday – from Brussels to Kinshasa for a nine-day journey through the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The coffin and accompanying delegation then flew to the central province of Sankuru, where in 1925 the country’s first post-independence leader was born in the village of Onalua.

“Mr. First Prime Minister, the DRC police and military are lining up to pay their respects to you upon your return to your home village,” said a police officer solemnly standing at attention in front of the coffin as he arrived at the airfield in the city of Chumbe.

From there he was driven 25 kilometers (15 miles) to Onalua, where two days of tribute were scheduled.

Transported in an army vehicle covered with a Congolese flag, the coffin arrived in the village square to the sound of drums tam-tam.

A grandstand in the national colors of yellow, blue and red, tents and banners featuring Lumumba were erected.

The remains will visit sites symbolic of Lumumba’s life and will be buried in a mausoleum in the capital Kinshasa on June 30, after three days of national mourning.

“His spirit, imprisoned in Belgium, is returning here,” said Onalua Maurice Tasombo Omatuku, a traditional chief and Lumumba’s nephew.

Finally mourning his uncle, but knowing that he was killed in 1961, Omatuku said he felt emotionally broken.

“Son Returns”

Onalua has been part of a commune since 2013 called Lumumbavil after the anti-colonial leader.

On Tuesday, ahead of his beloved son’s arrival home, a local resident pointed to a large, unfinished concrete house that was falling into disrepair, with most of its roof missing.

“This is the family plot where Lumumba was born,” he said.

Katherine Mbutshu said she rejoiced at the thought that Lumumba’s “relic” was finally returning to the land of his ancestors.

“I’m old and my legs hurt, but I’m happy because my son is coming back,” said the woman who is believed to have once known Lumumba.

“I spoke to him before he left for Kisangani, his political stronghold in northeastern Congo,” she said.

Lumumba earned his place in history as an anti-colonial icon when the DRC declared independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960, with a fiery speech against settler racism.

He was overthrown in September of that year before separatists from the southern region of Katanga and Belgian mercenaries executed him and two of his closest supporters, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, on January 17, 1961.

“Decent Burial”

Lumumba’s body dissolved in acid and never recovered.

Decades passed before human remains were discovered in Belgium after a Belgian police officer who took part in Lumumba’s death bragged about his actions to the media. Belgian authorities removed a tooth from an officer in 2016.

In a ceremony in Brussels on Monday, the coffin containing the tooth was placed in the coffin that Belgium handed over to the Congolese authorities in the presence of Lumumba’s family.

“Father, we mourned your death without performing a prayer for the dead… our duty as descendants was to bury with dignity,” said his daughter Juliana.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Croo again apologized for his country’s “moral responsibility” for Lumumba’s death.

Two weeks earlier, King Philip of the Belgians, on his first trip to the DRC, once again expressed his “deepest regrets at the wounds” inflicted by Belgian colonial rule.

Historians say that millions of people were killed, maimed or died of disease when they were forced to harvest rubber under Belgian rule.

The land was also plundered for its minerals, timber and ivory.


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