National Museum of Ireland forges plan to return looted Benin bronzes

Queen from Benin kingdom
Queen from Benin kingdom, exposed at the MET

The National Museum of Ireland has now forged plans to return the looted Benin bronzes. I hope their plans actually take form! Wen I hear of all these museums planning to return all these African artifacts, I cannot help but notice that the loot was a general or rather an international concerted affair… remember how we always hear about the international community? As you can see the distribution of the loot, in the case at hand, that of Benin City (Benin City: the Majestic City the British burnt to the ground), was done among all those European countries! This brings shivers! Moreover, when I see this, I cannot help but wonder why these museums are now so conscientious and are all talking about repatriation of these bronzes, particularly when these looted artifacts have generated millions upon millions of euros each year to their museums as part of tourism. Why will they be so happy to forfeit millions of euros in revenues for our poor African souls who not long ago were deemed too backward to take care of our very own artifacts? Also, with 3D printing being so ‘hip’ these days, I wonder if Africans will be getting the original artifacts? How will we know? Enjoy! Excerpts below are from the Sunday Times.

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The National Museum of Ireland (NMI) intends to return 21 historical artefacts looted from Nigeria in the 1890s. The Benin bronzes, which were stolen by British soldiers, have been the subject of renewed focus in recent months, with growing pressure on cultural institutions to return them.

While there is no formal plan for when the Benin bronzes will be returned, the NMI said it was committed to progressing “a restitution process” for the artefacts.

African Bird: The Bronzy Sunbird (Souimanga Bronzé)

I just found another species of birds in my mother’s garden. It is called the Souimanga in Malagasy which has been adopted as its name in French, or simply sunbird in English. In the case at hand, it is the Souimanga bronzé or bronzy sunbird known by its scientific name as Nectarinia kilimensis; it is very close to the Souimanga de Mariqua or Marico sunbird. It is native of Sub-Saharan Africa. Its coat is quite shiny and irridescent. Its flight is quick, similar to the American hummingbird. As you can see, this pretty visitor has a shiny green coat sparsed with black, and a red underbelly; it feeds on flower nectar. The shiny metallic color indicates that our visitor is a male. Enjoy!

When Benin City was Compared to Amsterdam, and much Bigger …

Benin City in 1897
Benin City in 1897

In the 15th century, a Dutch traveler visited the great Benin City, in West Africa, located in modern-day Nigeria, in Edo State. This man was visibly stunned by the beauty and the discipline of the people he met. The city he talks about, Benin City, was so much bigger than Amsterdam, the Dutch capital… and so much cleaner… As you read, please note the wealth of the Benin Kingdom, the well-ordered hierarchy, and lastly note the pride and discipline of the people of Benin City. Also note the mention of the great renowned Benin bronzed sculpting on the pillars. No wonder the British could not help but loot the city [Benin City: the Majestic City the British burnt to the ground] because greed and jealousy had the better of them. Below is his account:

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The town seems to be very great. When you enter into it, you go into a great broad street, not paved, which seems to be seven or eight times broader than the Warmoes street in Amsterdam….

Benin City around 1600
Benin City around 1600

The king’s palace is a collection of buildings which occupy as much space as the town of Harlem, and which is enclosed with walls. There are numerous apartments for the Prince’s ministers and fine galleries, most of which are as big as those on the Exchange at Amsterdam. They are supported by wooden pillars encased with copper, where their victories are depicted, and which are carefully kept very clean.

The town is composed of thirty main streets, very straight and 120 feet wide, apart from an infinity of small intersecting streets. The houses are close to one another, arranged in good order. These people are in no way inferior to the Dutch as regards cleanliness; they wash and scrub their houses so well that they are polished and shining like a looking-glass.”

Source: “How Europe under-developed Africa,” by Walter Rodney, Howard Univ. Press, 1981, p. 69

 

The Alok Ikom Stone Monoliths of Nigeria and Cameroon

Monolith in Western Cameroon: notice the designs around the eyes and the body, and the ring on the head, could it be a crown or hat?

Today we will talk about the Alok Ikom stone monoliths of Nigeria and Cameroon. I told you on Monday that the US customs recently seized a few of these coming from Cameroon. Many years ago, I was quite fortunate to stumble upon these treasures which date as far back as 200 AD. At the time, even though I knew I was looking at something special, I did not realize (insouciance of youth?) that I was in front of relics of some ancient civilization of Central Africa. Fast forward many years, and I now just learn that they are on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.

The Ikom or Alok Ikom monoliths are about 300 upright carved stones, arranged in perfect circles usually facing each other and standing erect, except in cases where they have been tampered with by weather, time, erosion, or man. These carved stones are found in the Ikom area of Eastern Nigeria in the Cross River state, and in some areas of Western Cameroon. They are thought to be at least 1500 years old.

Monolith in Western Cameroon

Often found in the center of villages or central meeting place of elders, or in sacred areas, researchers initially counted about 450 in Eastern Nigeria, but now because of diverse issues, only about 300 can be found. They vary in height, from 1 to 2 meters. Given that parts of Eastern Nigeria and Western Cameroon’s soils are volcanic, it is not surprising that the monoliths are mostly carved out of basaltic stone and in some cases out of sandstone or shelly limestone. On these stones are carved images and texts which to this day have not been deciphered. For many, these prehistoric carvings are a form of writing and visual communication.

Monolith in Western Cameroon: notice the motifs

Some of the carvings form complex geometric motifs. The carvings have anthropomorphic features and depict a human being from the torso up, with a big emphasis placed on the face; in some of the stones, one can pick out the navel. At the time I saw these, I was told that the monoliths represented the ancestors, and they were 12 of them arranged in a circle. If I could travel back in time, there is so much I would ask about these monoliths: who made these? what was the purpose? Why the circular arrangement? what is the meaning of the intricate motifs? and more importantly which civilization is this? One thing is for sure, from the features, it was definitely a Black civilization! Enjoy!

Monolith in Western Cameroon: notice the intricacies of the design. This one almost looks feminine?

Please check out the British Museum website which provides extensive work on the Ikom monoliths of Cross River state (the B.M. of course holds one of these in house), the World Monument Fund, the Factum Foundation, and the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List. Please also visit the article I wrote on the Senegal/Gambian Ancient Civilization: the Senegambian Stone Circles.

Stolen 18th Century Crown Returned to Ethiopia

Ethiopian Crown 18th Century
The crown is currently being stored in a highly secured facility in the Netherlands (Source: BBC/AFP/Getty)

Following our article back in October of last year, 18th Century Ethiopian Crown to be Returned Home from Netherlands, it is with great joy that we announce the official return of the crown to Ethiopia. Below is from the BBC.

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The Ethiopian government has received an 18th Century crown that had been stolen then hidden in a flat in the Netherlands for 21 years.

The crown is thought to be one of just 20 in existence. It has depictions of Jesus Christ, God and the Holy Spirit, as well as Jesus’ disciples, and was likely gifted to a church by the powerful warlord Welde Sellase hundreds of years ago.

Ethiopian Sirak Asfaw, who lives in the Netherlands, discovered the crown in the suitcase of a visitor he was hosting.

Upon realising that it was stolen he held onto it until 2018 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was elected to office. He then reached out to art historian Arthur Brand and Dutch police to help keep it safe until its return home to Ethiopia.

On Thursday, Mr Abiy tweeted photos of him receiving the crown from a delegation that included Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag.

Description of African Dressing in 1400s

Van Sertima_They came before Columbus
‘They Came Before Columbus, The African Presence in Ancient America’ by Ivan Van Sertima

As I have always said in the past, I truly despise the claim of  The New York Times that Africa’s fabric is Dutch. This is simply a case of falsification of history. As I have proven before, African Fabrics and Textiles traditions is large, existent, and real; it is not just VLISCO-based. Below is an account by a European of African dressing in the 1400s! And yes… the Africans he met wore garments.

They numbered seventeen, of considerable size. Checking their course and lifting up their oars, their crews lay gazing. … We estimated on examination that there might be about one hundred and fifty at the most; they appeared very well-built, exceedingly black, and all clothed in white cotton shirts: some of them wore small white caps on their heads, very like the German style, except that on each side they had a white wing with a feather in the middle of the cap, as though to distinguish the fighting men.

“A Negro stood in the prow of each boat, with a round shield, apparently of leather, on his arm. They made no movement towards us, nor we to them. Then they perceived the other two vessels coming up behind me and advanced towards them. On reaching them, without any other salute, they threw down their oars, and began to shoot off their arrows.

Bogolan
A piece of Bogolan

This encounter between the Portuguese and the boatmen on the Gambia occurred in 1455. It is the only account of West African riverboats documented by Europeans before the coming of Columbus.

G.R. Crone, The Voyages of Cadamosto, London, the Hakluyt Society, 1937, pp. 57-59

Ivan Van Sertima, They Came Before Columbus, The African Presence in Ancient America, Random House, 1976, p.54

Bronze Cockerel from Benin Kingdom to be returned to Nigeria

Benin Kingdom_Okukor2
Bronze cockerel ‘Okukor’ at Jesus College in Cambridge (Source: The Guardian)

Another return of an artifact from a Western institution to an African country, which I applaud… but I remain guarded. Why am I skeptical? Well, because if over 50% of artifacts in the great museums of this world (Louvre, British Museum, MET, Tervuren, etc) which generate a lot of money, and knowledge to western schools, researchers, etc, is made up of looted treasures… will the benefactors of the loot willingly return these? And if they return these, who is to say that it is the real thing? One should not expect a thief not to cheat you again! Below are excerpts from the article in The Guardian. Enjoy!

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Rooster from Benin Kingdom (18th century)
Rooster from Benin Kingdom (18th century) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET)

A bronze cockerel taken by British colonial forces and donated to Jesus College Cambridge is to be returned to Nigeria in an unprecedented step that adds momentum to the growing repatriations movement.

The Okukor, described by the college as a “royal ancestral heirloom”, will be one of the first Benin bronzes to be returned to Nigeria by a major British institution since the punitive expedition in 1897 when thousands of bronzes were stolen from Benin City by British forces.

No specific date for return has been released but the college stated that the bronze cockerel “belongs with the current Oba at the Court of Benin”. The return was recommended by Jesus College’s Legacy of Slavery Working Party (LSWP), a group dedicated to looking at the institution’s connections to slavery, which confirmed the piece was donated in 1905 by the father of a student.

[…] Victor Ehikhamenor, a Nigerian artist and member of the Benin Dialogue Group, said: “No matter how small the gesture may look, it is a huge step towards the realisation of restitution of the works from the Benin Kingdom that were looted by the British. This is very important example, which I hope other Europeans, especially British institutions, will follow without any excuses or delays.”

Dan Hicks, a professor of archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and a representative of the Benin Dialogue Group, said: … In the past, our attention on this matter was focused on national collections like the British Museum and the V&A – but in reality such loot is held in dozens of institutions across the regions: city museums, art galleries and the collections of universities.”

[…] The Jesus College announcement comes almost exactly 12 months after the release of a report commissioned by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, which recommended the return of colonial-era artefacts by France.

Queen from Benin kingdom
Queen from Benin kingdom (at the MET)

The report’s authors, the Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr and the French art historian Bénédicte Savoy, told the Guardian that the British Museum, which houses a huge collection of the Benin bronzes, was acting like “an ostrich with its head in the sand” by not acting faster on repatriations.

[…] Since the release of the report, Ivory Coast, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have made formal requests for the return of artefacts. European countries including France and Germany have committed to handing back objects, with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam opening talks with Sri Lanka and Indonesia and describing the Netherlands’ failure to return stolen artefacts as a “disgrace”.

The news comes a week after Open Society Foundations (OSF) announced a $15m initiative aimed at strengthening efforts to “restore cultural objects looted from the African continent”. …

When A Nigerian Movie gets Disqualified from the Oscars for having … too much English in it!

Lionheart_(2018_film)_poster
Lionheart (2018 film)

I was quite stunned when I heard the reason why the Nigerian movie Lionheart (2018 film) had been disqualified from the Best International Film section of the Oscars: because of … too much English in it! Can you imagine that? Isn’t English the official language of Nigeria? So no movies made in English by Nigerians should be accepted? But an Algerian movie with French in it (French the language of the colonizer) gets accepted in that section? In other words, a Jamaican movie sent to the academy cannot be in English, a Ghanaian, Ugandan, Canadian, or Australian one should not be in English, etc… even though English is the official language in these countries? But an Algerian movie could be in French, an Ivorian or Comoros movie in French, and these would be qualified as ‘international’ enough! This does not even take into account that Lionheart (2018 film) does have sections in Igbo, one of the languages spoken in Nigeria. I think, as always the oscars academy has shown why they are really not inclusive at all, and above all, quite narrow-minded!

Below is the article from The Guardian.

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Oscars_1
The Oscars

[…] The Academy was considering a Nigerian movie called Lionheart in its best international feature film category. I watched Lionheart when it came out last year, partly because of the novelty of seeing a movie from Nigeria’s burgeoning Nollywood film industry on Netflix.

Directed by and starring the Nollywood titan Genevieve Nnaji, it is a captivating look at family, class, sexism, politics and the texture of life in the Niger delta. It’s both very Nigerian and very relatable for audiences who know nothing about Nigeria. It’s incredible that Nigeria has never had an Oscars submission before, but this is a good choice for its first. Yet Lionheart has just been disqualified because there is too much English in it.

In fact, Lionheart does feature the Igbo language, which millions of people in eastern Nigeria speak. But the film reflects the way many Nigerians – as former imperial British subjects – speak in real life. As in most of anglophone west Africa, education, politics and formal economic activity is conducted in English, which people interchange with the dozens – in Nigeria’s case, hundreds – of African languages that they also speak. This is the legacy of empire. And this legacy of empire, even though they were once part of it, is what some American institutions don’t seem able to comprehend.

Flag and map of Nigeria
Flag and map of Nigeria

So the American Academy expects films competing in its “international feature film” category to emphatically not be in English. Its rules are very clear on the matter, stating that “an international film is defined as a feature-length motion picture (defined as over 40 minutes) produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track”.

But these rules have nonsensical implications. For example, the Algerian film Papicha, which is a favourite in the category, features a good deal of French – the language Algeria inherited from its colonisers. The message seems to be that as long as your imperial power spoke what Americans regard as a “foreign” language – in other words, anything but English – you can speak it and remain authentic. But if you share an imperial past with the US to the extent that English is your nation’s lingua franca as a result, then it is somehow less authentic to speak it. …

‘My Name’ by Magoleng wa Selepe

Colonization in Africa
Village school in French West Africa (AOF) 1900s – French assimilationism (Louis Sonolet, Source: http://exhibitions.nypl.org)

The poem ‘My Name‘ by Magoleng wa Selepe has touched many strong chords. It is the truth, and still rings true today. During colonial times, our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were stripped of their names and identity: to go to school, they had to have a European name, and very often their own names were distorted because the European colonizer could not spell it properly. Depending on the origin of the colonizer, whether it was France, Great Britain, Germany, or Portugal, one ended up with a French, British, German, or Portuguese name. Enjoy !!!

African Heritage

African Savanna

I just thought about what happened to our fathers, mothers, grandmothers, and grandfathers during colonial times: to go to school African children were forced by European missionaries to adopt a christian name such as John, Peter (Jean, Pierre), etc… as opposed to their good old African name Nomzimo, Makeba, Ndoumbe, Keïta, etc.  Thus many Africans who would have just worn the name ‘Ndoumbe Mpondo‘ or ‘Binlin Dadié‘ or ‘Um Nyobé‘ had to adopt a European name such as John + their own name, such that they became: John Ndoumbe Mpondo or Bernard Binlin Dadié or Ruben Um Nyobé.  To this day, the tradition has remained… most Africans would have three or four names: their family name, and their given name, plus the European first name and in some cases a European middle name as well.  The poem below entitled…

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Scarification: an ‘Ancient’ African Tattoo Culture

Congo_Batetela woman Lualaba Kassai_1905
Tetela woman with intricate ritual scarification designs ca 1905, Lualaba – Kasai

Today, we will reblog our article on scarification, an ‘ancient’ African tattoo culture. Not too long ago, scarification, as practiced in Africa, was much more than art work on skin. For many, it was a way of identification (the ethnic group you belonged to), a right of passage (boyhood to manhood, girlhood to womanhood, …), symbols of beauty and status, protection against evil spirits, and a rich tradition passed on from generations to generations. So next time you think about tattooing yourself, remember the ancient ways and designs of yore.

African Heritage

Image of a young woman's face (agnautacouture.com) Image of a young woman’s face (agnautacouture.com)

These days, many of my fellow African brothers and sisters sport tattoos of some European or foreign symbols on their skins. These symbols are usually alien to our cultures, traditions, thinking, and history. So I thought about talking about scarification, which could be called an “ancient” African culture of tattoos.

For starters, Africa has a rich culture of scarification. Many cite HIV, and ugliness as being the reason why they would not do scarification and why the practice has been abandoned. I neither agree nor disagree with them, but I would like to give a history of scarification and why, this is something to be cherished as part of our history, even if it is no longer practiced and/or needed today.

Sculpture of a Mangbetu person, in Congo (this sculpture is exposed at the MET) Sculpture of a Mangbetu person, in Congo (exposed at the MET)

In the past, a woman or man would have scarification marks that…

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