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:

=====

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

 

When Looted Art is returned to Nigeria

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

A British man recently decided to return looted art that his grandfather had taken (stolen?) away during the 1897 Benin City Massacre. The article about the art returning is on BBC. I do salute the man for doing it; and I wish the British museums and museums around the world will return art looted by Europeans in African countries and countries around the world. True, the man excuses his grandfather’s acts by saying: “We are taught from a very young age that the killing of enemy combatants under the umbrella of statehood is a regrettable necessity of life.” And excuses the art looting by saying, “To him [his grandfather], it was probably no more than picking up stuff that’s washed up on the beach, because people had fled and nobody owned them any longer.” But he is happy they are now back in Benin City. “These objects are part of the cultural heritage of another people… to the people of Benin City, these objects are priceless.”

I also decided to link back to the story I wrote a while ago about the Benin City Massacre.