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.
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.”