France returns 26 Artifacts from Behanzin’s Era to Benin

Behanzin, king of Dahomey
Behanzin, king of Dahomey

Last Wednesday, on November 11, 2021, artefacts that had been looted by France 130 years ago were finally returned to Benin. As you recall, on November 17, 1892, the colonel Alfred-Amédée Dodds led a French expedition into the Kingdom of Dahomey. The colonizing troops broke into the palace of King Behanzin at Abomey, and looted a huge number of royal objects, ancient statues, royal thrones, sacred altars, and much more. Upon the troops’ return home, Colonel Dodds donated the stolen objects to the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadero in Paris; they have been housed at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac since the 2000s. It took 130 years for them to be returned to the homeland. So you can imagine the joy of the people and celebrations that followed. The collection – known as the Abomey Treasures – will remain in a room at the Benin presidency while the museum is in construction. As a slight note, only 26 colonial-era artefacts have been returned at this point, as you can imagine these represent only a fraction of the 90,000 artefacts from Sub-Saharan Africa still held in French museums. 

Benin_Fon statue symbolizing Behanzin Man shark
Benin Fon statue symbolizing Behanzin man shark (Musee du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac)

This is nonetheless a step forward, albeit small, and Benin President, Patrice Talon, said, “The stars have been aligning for Benin for some time now. The symbolism of the return to Benin is about our soul, our identity – to use a word that is easier to put on it to understand. This return is testimony of what we’ve been. The testimony of how we existed before.”

For more information, check out the articles on Euronews, and ABC. Enjoy!

 

France urged to change heritage law and return looted art to Africa

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

France, like so many European countries, is being urged to return looted art to Africa. Below is the article. For the full article, go to the Guardian.

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A report commissioned by Emmanuel Macron will call for thousands of African artworks in French museums taken without consent during the colonial period to be returned to the continent.

Unless it could be proven that objects were obtained legitimately, they should be returned to Africa permanently, not on long-term loan, said the authors of the report, the Senegalese writer and economist Felwine Sarr and the French historian Bénédicte Savoy.

They have recommended changing French law to allow the restitution of cultural works to Africa, after Macron announced that he wanted it to begin within five years.

… “I cannot accept that a large part of the cultural heritage of several African countries is in France,” the French president said last year in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. “There are historical explanations for this but there is no valid, lasting and unconditional justification. African heritage cannot be only in private collections and European museums – it must be showcased in Paris but also in Dakar, Lagos and Cotonou. This will be one of my priorities.” [Politicians always make promises, but never deliver. Let’s wait and see if Macron can do anything. In 2015, Francois Hollande, then French President Acknowledged French Genocide in Cameroon while in visit in Cameroon, without ever apologizing!]

Benin_Fon statue symbolizing Behanzin Man shark
Fon statue symbolizing King Behanzin, the Man-Shark by Sossa Dede (c. 1890) – currently exposed at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris

The extent to which France, Britain and Germany looted Africa of its artefacts during colonialism is not known, but according to the report, which will be released this Friday, about 90% of Africa’s cultural heritage currently lies outside the continent.

The report’s authors travelled to Mali, Senegal, Cameroon and Benin and looked through the works held by the Musée du quai Branly, a museum focused on non-European cultures in Paris, and found that about 46,000 of its 90,000 African works were “acquired” between 1885 and 1960 and may have to be returned.

… To start with, they [the researchers] have recommended that palace doors, thrones and statues stolen from Abomey be returned – something the modern-day country of Benin has long requested [especially given that Béhanzin, the King of Dahomey, was one of the last African Resistant to French Colonization, and had been deported to Martinique and then Algeria – Deportation of African Heads of States]….