Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

France has returned 26 treasures looted from Benin during the colonial era, fulfilling a promise made by President Emmanuel Macron to restore a lost part of Africa’s heritage.

Benin President Patrice Talon and Minister of Culture Jean-Michel Abimbola traveled to Paris to bring home the artifacts that had been snatched away by French forces 130 years ago.

Talon said he felt “overwhelming emotion” at reclaiming the items taken during the looting of the Kingdom of Dahomey in southern present-day Benin, including a royal throne.

“This is our soul”

Talon spoke to reporters at the presidential palace in Paris on Tuesday, where France signed the artifacts to Benin, saying the treasures are much more than cultural goods – the term France uses to describe them.

“This is our soul, Mr. President,” he said, surrounded by Macron.

The French leader praised “a symbolic, moving and historic moment” long awaited by Africans.

The return of the pieces taken from the royal palaces of Abomey, which also includes three totemic statues, comes as calls in Africa increase for European countries to return the colonial loot that stands next to their museum shelves.

In France, most are held by the Quai Branly Museum, which has begun a major overhaul of its collection to identify works believed to have been obtained by force or coercion.

French lawmakers approved a bill last year that would allow Paris to return artifacts to Benin and Senegal, another former French colony in West Africa.

Talon made it clear that he regarded Tuesday’s handover as the first step in a large-scale restitution process, asking “how do you expect my enthusiasm to be complete” while France had other important artifacts.

But he added he is “confident” that further restitutions will follow. “Except for this handover, we will continue the work,” Macron promised.

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, who reported from Paris, said the scenes at the Elysee Palace were moving.

“The president of Benin said it is not just about restoring works of art to Benin. It was about Benin getting his soul back… It ends a very long process that started a few years ago, ”Butler said.

In Benin’s capital, Cotonou, the return of the valued works was warmly anticipated.

“I get goosebumps about the prospect of seeing these royal treasures up close, especially the thrones of our ancestors. “This is unbelievable,” an elder of the Dah Adohouannon community told AFP.

“At 72, I could die in peace once I saw them,” the elder added.

The restitution is part of Macron’s efforts to improve his country’s image in Africa, especially among young people.

Before being packed for the long journey home, the works were displayed for the last time at the Quai Branly at the end of October.

In Benin, they will be exhibited in several sites, including a former Portuguese fort in the city of Ouidah, once a slave trade center, while they wait for the completion of a museum in Abomey to house them.

Experts estimate that 85 to 90 percent of African cultural artifacts were taken from the continent.

Some were seized by colonial administrators, troops or doctors and passed on to descendants who in turn donated them to museums in Europe.

But others were offered to missionaries at the beginning of the 20th century or obtained by African art collectors or discovered during scientific expeditions.

An expert report commissioned by Macron counted about 90,000 African works in French museums, of which 70,000 at the Quai Branly alone.

Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany have also received requests from African countries to return lost treasures.

Nigeria said last month that it had agreed with Germany on the return of hundreds of so-called Benin bronze – metal plates and sculptures from the 16th to 18th centuries that had been stolen from the palace of the ancient Benin kingdom in present-day Nigeria.

Belgium has announced plans to return several items looted from what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Source link

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *