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.

Calls for full inventory of world artefacts held by Church of England

Pendant Ivory mask representing Queen Idia, Iyoba of Benin City (16th Century)
Pendant Ivory mask representing Queen Idia, Iyoba of Benin City (16th Century), exposed at the MET

The call for the repatriation of Benin artifacts, and African artifacts as a whole, has been gaining more attention. As you an imagine, it is news to think of churches being involved in this, or having these looted treasures. Well, as the excerpts below show, the Church of England has been urged to open up its books on all the world artifacts in its possession, after it agreed to return two Benin kingdom artifacts [Benin City: the Majestic City the British burnt to the ground, Europe’s Largest Museums to “Loan” Looted Benin (Nigerian) Artifacts back to Nigeria, Bronze Cockerel from Benin Kingdom to be returned to Nigeria]. Will the Church of England agree to it? Can you imagine the number of artifacts held in the coffers of other churches in Europe or the Vatican? Thousands! Excerpts below are from The Guardian.

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Promise to repatriate Benin bronzes comes as momentum grows at other institutions on returning works

The Church of England has been urged to open up its books on the full range of world artefacts in its possession after promising this week to repatriate two Benin bronzes.

The move came amid a gathering sense of momentum around the issue of the disputed bronzes – most of which were looted by British forces in 1897.

Rooster from Benin Kingdom (18th century)
Rooster from Benin Kingdom (18th century), exposed at the MET

While the British government has said UK institutions should “retain and explain” contested artefacts, the University of Aberdeen announced last month it would repatriate a bust of an Oba, or king of Benin, which it has had since the 1950s. The Horniman Museum in London also confirmed it was taking steps to return artefacts.

It’s clear that this is now a Nigerian-led exercise,” said Dan Hicks, the curator of world archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and author of The Brutish Museums: the Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution.

Arguments put forward in the past that Nigeria was somehow unready to receive repatriated artefacts no longer held waterafter the formation of Legacy Restoration Trust, a Nigerian organisation facilitating restitution, said Hicks, describing it as a “game changing”.

It’s also no longer just about the British Museum, which holds only a fraction of these artefacts. They are increasingly marginal to this conversation, which is more and more about regional and international museums.”

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3,000-year-old ‘Lost Golden City’ of Ancient Egypt Discovered

Archaeology experts have said discovery of Aten – called the ‘lost golden city’ – is the largest ancient city uncovered in Egypt. Photograph: Zahi Hawass Center for Egyptology/Reuters

Doing archaeology in Egypt is really a dream come true! Every day reveals new findings… it is amazing to witness the rediscoveries of this ancient African civilization… and each time as more artifacts are unearthed, we are in awe because current world civilizations seem so less advanced than the civilization of the Egyptian pharaohs! Today, in Egypt, the discovery of a 3,000 years old lost city was announced. This is not just any city, this is Aten; it dates back to the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, one of Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs who ruled from 1391 to 1353 BC. Excerpts below are from the Guardian… Enjoy!

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Archaeologists have hailed the discovery of what is believed to be the largest ancient city found in Egypt, buried under sand for millennia, which experts said was one of the most important finds since the unearthing of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

The famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass announced the discovery of the “lost golden city”, saying the site was uncovered near Luxor, home of the Valley of the Kings.

The Egyptian mission under Dr Zahi Hawass found the city that was lost under the sands,” the archeology team said. “The city is 3,000 years old, dates to the reign of Amenhotep III, and continued to be used by Tutankhamun and Ay.”

It called the find the largest ancient city, known as Aten, ever uncovered in Egypt.

The archaeologists found a large number of decorative and ritual items, including scarabs and amulets. Photograph posted by Dr. Zahi Hawass on Facebook

Betsy Bryan, Professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, said the find was the “second most important archeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun”, according to the team’s statement.

… Items of jewellery such as rings have been unearthed, along with coloured pottery vessels, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks bearing the seals of Amenhotep III.

… “The archaeological layers have laid untouched for thousands of years, left by the ancient residents as if it were yesterday,” the team’s statement said.

When a Piece of Wood is not just ANY Piece of Wood: Findings from the Great Pyramid of Giza

Great Pyramid of Giza (Source: Wikipedia)

There was a recent discovery of a long lost artifact from the Great Pyramid of Giza, this is one of only three objects ever recovered from inside the last remaining wonder of the ancient world. It was found in… Scotland… at the University of Aberdeen. The wooden fragments were obtained by engineer Waynman Dixon inside the pyramid’s Queens Chamber in 1872, which he offered to someone at the university as a gift. The artifact has been carbon-dated to be about 5000 years old, to the period 3341-3094 BC – some 500 years earlier than historical records which date the Great Pyramid to the reign of the Pharaoh Khufu  in 2580-2560 BC. This raises important question given that they are older than the pyramid… so could they have been part of an older structure, or just part of a tree buried with the pharaoh for continuity ? For the full article, go to the Guardian.

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Curatorial assistant Abeer Eladany, originally from Egypt, was reviewing items in the university’s Asia collection when she came across a cigar box marked with her country’s former flag.

Inside she found several wooden splinters which she then identified as a fragment of wood from the Great Pyramid which has been missing for more than a century. …

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.

1800 years old Ancient Monoliths from Cameroon Seized by US Customs

Two weeks ago, the US customs seized 1000 to 1800 years old monoliths from Cameroon. These were the Ikom monoliths which are found in Nigeria and Western parts of Cameroon. It is important to note the age of these artifacts, 200 – 1000 AD !!! We will write a piece on the Ikom monoliths which are on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List. Enjoy! Excerpts below are an article on the Barron’s website.

Monolith from Agba. 2013,2034.24215© David Coulson/TARA (Source: The British Museum)

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US customs officials in Miami on Tuesday said they seized ancient carved stones from Cameroon known as Ikom monoliths that had been exported to the United States using fake documents.

Experts believe the stone sculptures were made sometime between 200 and 1,000 AD, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a statement.

According to UNESCO the carvings “bear a form of writing and a complex system of codified information .. each stone, like the human finger print, is unique from every other stone in its design and execution.

The Ikom monoliths come from the area round the town of Ikom, in the state of Cross River in southern Nigeria bordering with Cameroon.

Description of Clothing in the Ghana Empire

Below is a description of clothing in the ancient Ghana Empire: Great and Magnificent Ancient Kingdom of Africa, in the 10th century in the West Africa. This clearly shows that the narrative of naked Africans is quite recent and wrong!!!

Map of the Ghana Empire, ca 300 – 1200

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Of the people who follow the king’s religion, only he and his heir presumptive, who is the son of his sister, may wear sewn clothes. All the other people wear clothes of cotton, silk, or
brocade
, according to their means. All men shave their beards and women shave their heads
.”

The Ghana Empire: A Short Video

I found this very short video about the Ghana Empire which I am sharing below. This is just to wet your appetite. There are quite a few really good documentaries out there on the Ghana Empire. Two of them stand out to me, Lost Kingdoms of Africa, Episode 4: Western Africa by Gus Casely-Hayford, and The History of Africa, Episode 10: Desert Empires by Zeinab Badawi based on UNESCO‘s General History of Africa, which I cited earlier.

Description of the King of the Ghana Empire

Below are accounts from Al-Bakri, the 11th century geographer, who described the court of the Ghana Empire: Great and Magnificent Ancient Kingdom of Africa. As you read, notice that this was a very wealthy state, and also very well organized with great hierarchy. Enjoy! This is from the Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West Africa, Levtzion, N., Cambridge Press (1981).

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Chinguetti, a town which was part of the Ghana Empire (Wikipedia)

The king has a palace and a number of domed dwellings all surrounded with an enclosure like a city wall. Around the king’s town are domed buildings and groves …

The King adorns himself like a woman wearing necklaces round his neck and bracelets on his forearms and he puts on a high cap decorated with gold and wrapped in a turban of fine cotton. He holds an audience in a domed pavilion around which stand ten horses covered with gold-embroidered materials…and on his right, are the sons of the vassal kings of his country, wearing splendid garments and their hair plaited with gold.

Map of the Ghana Empire ca 300 -1200

He sits in audience or to hear grievances against officials in a domed pavilion around which stand ten horses covered with gold-embroidered materials. Behind the king stand ten pages holding shields and swords decorated with gold, and on his right are the sons of the kings of his country wearing splendid garments and their hair plaited with gold. The governor of the city sits on the ground before the king and around him are ministers seated likewise. At the door of the pavilion are dogs of excellent pedigree that hardly ever leave the place where the king is, guarding him. Around their necks they wear collars of gold and silver studded with a number of balls of the same metals.