“The British Museum takes its commitment to being a world museum seriously.’’ Statement by a British Museum spokeswoman in response to demand by Pokomo(Kenya) for the return of their looted ancestral drum.
Asante, Edo, Yoruba, Igbo, and many other African peoples have been waiting for more than 100 years to see the restitution of their cultural objects that European imperialists and colonialists looted with great violence and destruction during the heydays of Western imperialism. For decades, the demands for the restitution of Dahomean artefacts stolen by the French under General Alfred Amédée Dodds in 1892 at Abomey, the Benin bronzes that were stolen in the notorious invasion of Benin City by a British Army of 1,200 men under Admiral Sir Harry Rawson on 9 February 1897 and the Ethiopian artefacts looted by the British Army under General Sir. Robert Napier on 13 May 1868 have been met with dead silence or other forms of negation.
When the present writer started two decades ago to argue for the restitution of looted African artefacts, many of the African peoples from whom these objects were violently wrenched were so discouraged, dejected and so tired that they wondered whether we were not embarking on another fruitless and wasteful endeavour. Some said they did not want to start again in their old age, attempts made in their youth which had been totally without any success and on which the Western museums only appeared to pour scorn. This was more or less the general atmosphere until the famous speech by the French President Emmanuel Macron in 2017 at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, before a full amphitheatre of students. After this, we had the ground-breaking report of Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy in 2018.
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