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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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

 

Europe’s Largest Museums to “Loan” Looted Benin (Nigerian) Artifacts back to Nigeria

Queen from Benin kingdom
Cast Bronze figurine from Benin City at the MET museum

Unbelievable! I had to share this article about European museums loaning looted African artifacts back to Africans. It sounds so mind-boggling! How can someone steal from you, steal your cultural work, the work of your ancestors, your sweat, and then several years later loan it back to you, not even return it? and they call that progress! For the entire article, go to  Europe’s Largest Museums Will Loan Looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria and What do you know about Africa’s looted art treasures.

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Major museums across Europe have agreed to loan important artifacts back to Nigeria for a new museum the country plans to open in 2021. The African nation’s Royal Museum will house a rotating display of artifacts, including the Benin bronzes that were looted during the Benin Expedition of 1897. The agreement marks a significant step after years of negotiations among European institutions and Nigerian authorities.

Art from Benin kingdom (18th century)
Benin City art exposed at the MET Museum, NYC

… Together, museum leaders from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Britain agreed to facilitate a display at the planned institution within three years. Further specifics—including which objects will be loaned over what period of time—have yet to be confirmed.

… The objects in question were looted by the British army during a so-called “punitive expedition” in 1897. The army took around 4,000 intricate sculptures, including bronze works now known as the Benin bronzes, from the king’s palace in the former Kingdom of Benin.

A century later, the vast majority of these bronzes have ended up in some of the world’s most important museums, including the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. …

Benin City-Cast_brass_plaques_from_Benin_City_at_British_Museum-1024x721
Cast brass plaques from Benin City at the British Museum. Photo: Andreas Praefcke