Unfounded Arguments Against Restitution Of Stolen Benin Artefacts
“There was a dim grandeur about it all , and also
these seemed to a fate. Here was this head center
of iniqiuty, spared by us from its suitable end of
burning for the sake of holding the new seat of
justice where barbarism had held away, given into
our hands with the brand of Blood soaked into
every corner and …….. fire only could purge it, and
here on our lassa day we were to see its legitimate fate
overtake it.”…….. (1)
R. H. Bacon, the Punitive Expedition’s Intelligence Officer wrote on the burning of the Benin Royal Palace.
After several articles in which we have answered practically all the usual arguments against the restitution of looted Benin Bronzes or looted artefacts, we are constantly surprised by statements of supporters of retention of looted artefacts which repeat arguments they must know are hardly tenable and have already been answered. (2) An example of this tendency is the recent article by Tiffany Jenkins, in the Daily Mail Online, 10 March 201, entitled
‘Bloody Truth about the ‘colonialist’ cockerel Cambridge students want to send back to Africa. It’s made from melted-down money AFRICANS earned by selling slaves’. (3)
The tendentious title of the article is revealing of the intentions of the writer. Even before we read the article we are informed that Africans earned money selling slaves and with this money which was melted down, they made sculptures such as the Benin cockerel now in dispute. The designation is ‘Africans’ and not the’ Edo’ who made the famous Benin sculptures. The generalization in the title is not accidental.
We are also informed, without any evidence that Benin society was, ‘a brutal but sophisticated culture’. When we are then informed that a trade delegation which was going to see the Oba was attacked and killed, then the picture of the people Benin as perfidious and blood-thirsty is complete.
We know from experience going to most recent times that once the British decide to attack a foreign State head of State, they paint him in the most lurid colours. We remember the attack on Irak where Saddam Hussein was said to be in a position to produce a nuclear device in thirty minutes. The demonization of foreign enemies does not date from yesterday. The British Museum has published material where it is unambiguously admitted that the initial problems in Benin were due to the British deputy- Consul in the area. (Annex l)
The cockerel was one of the artefacts looted by the British Army in their notorious ‘Benin Punitive Expedition’ of 1897. The British sold many of the artefacts to Germans and other Europeans and kept a large portion themselves. One of the participants in the infamous invasion bequeathed the cockerel to Jesus College, Cambridge which has now decided, after protests by students’ to remove the artefact from the front of Jesus College and will probably return it to Nigeria as the students demanded.
Tiffany Jenkins who is obviously against the removal and probable return of the artefact to Nigeria has tried to put up an argument for retaining looted artefacts in Britain. She argues primarily that the Benin bronzes were made from manillas that were’brought to Benin by Europeans traders, which were traded for slaves and then melted down’ and used in making the sculptures such as the cockerel. According to Jenkins,’
‘The sculpture that these noisy Cambridge students want to see returned to Nigeria was created from proceeds of slavery. Arguments for the return of cultural treasures are today made through the prism of a modern nations’ ”identity”.
The argument Jenkins is making here is a bold but a patently false one. One does not have to be an economic historian to realize that the Kingdom of Benin did not make its wealth solely from the slave trade which benefited mainly Britain and other European powers. The conflict or trade conflict, as some prefer,
between Benin and Britain was due to the unwillingness of the Kingdom of Benin to submit to British rule and allow Britain to control trade in the area. But trade in the area covered more that slave trade. (5)
Members of the nefarious Punitive Expedition of 1897 posing proudly with their looted Benin artefacts
Even assuming that all Benin’s wealth derived from slavery, can one argue that every object manufactured or produced in Benin came from slavery? But even if slavery were accepted as the only source of wealth in Benin, could one argue that the manilas which Jenkins herself stated were bought by the Edo, be considered as illegitimate as some sort of ‘blood money’ and thereby justifying the looting/stealing of whatever was produced in Benin?
The argument based on derivation of metal from manillas clearly fails when we remember that many of the Benin artefacts looted by the British were not made of metal but of ivory or some other non-metal material such as wood. Unless Jenkins turns to the ban on the trade in ivory tasks but this would be a present- day perspective that would be inconvenient from the author’s basic argument. Incidentally, the argument for keeping looted African and other non-European artefacts in Western museums is itself a very modern argument. Until fairly recent years most Africans were not aware of where their looted artefacts were and the question of their return or not did not seem to have been given much serious attention.
Jenkins should be careful. If we apply her argument to Britain we could argue that Britain derived all her wealth from slavery and colonization and therefore all objects made in Britain, ignoring British industry, agriculture and manufacture, may be looted/stolen because they derived from slavery and colonization. Surely, this would be going too far. She should abandon this way of thinking which stretches ideas as far as possible to cover whatever view she shares even if the result is patently absurd.
Jenkins states that ‘arguments for return of cultural treasures are today made through the prism of a modern nation’s ‘identity’.But what about arguments for retention of cultural artefacts of others? Are they not also made through the prism of the identity of the retention States? How does she come to the conclusion that ‘The artworks were a force for good, however they were acquired. That’s why the Benin Bronzes-and all other marvellous treasures we can study and appreciate at close quarters-belong here, in Britain.’
This racist and ultra-nationalistic conclusion surely can only be acceptable to those who view Britain through a certain prism of Britain’s identity.
Jenkins, like many supporters of retention of artefacts of others, is very quick to argue that repatriating artefacts ‘would be allowing modern-day sensibilities to rewrite history ‘ Seriously, does anybody believe that returning one Benin bronze to Benin is to rewrite history? Sure, after years of the museums refusing to return any object, an individual like Dr. Mark Walker, who returned two Benin Bronzes, may be said to be making history as the first person to do so after a long period of refusal. But is he really re-writing history? Is history so simple? The history between Benin and Britain is surely more complicated than one return and it is Jenkins and her supporters who should be told that ‘it is always more complicated than that.’
As regards ‘allowing modern –day sensibilities’ to affect our thoughts, Jenkins does not seem to be aware that even condemning slavery involves modern-day sensibilities. As persons of the 21st Century, we have no other sensibilities than those of our times. We cannot use standards of bygone days to judge matters that affect us today, such as the Western museums holding on to African and Asian cultural artefacts that we all know have been looted or stolen. Jenkins and others will want us to use colonialist, imperialist and racist standards that accepted that looting and keeping African artefacts and other resources was acceptable.
This explains why anytime the issue of restitution comes up, Westerners argue that we are referring to past events or trying to rewrite history. We are not. We are complaining about the present imbalance where Western States and their museums have more African artefacts that African museums and States. We are not concerned with apportioning blame and accusing the colonialists and imperialist of wrong-doing even if this is incidental. We are asking their present-day successors to return some of the looted artefacts so that we can continue our own cultural development without interruption or interference. It is the retentionists who look to the past whilst we look at the present. We can only deal with them with our present-day sensibilities and not the standards of the past. We say clearly and loudly, return Nefertiti, Queen-mother Idia and all the African kings, queens and servants in exile in your museums, palaces, institutes and other places. We are not interested in apportioning blame among your predecessors. We just want our things back.
Pair of leopard figures, now in the Royal Collection Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, London, UK. The commanders of the British Punitive Expedition force to Benin in 1897 sent a pair of leopards to the British Queen soon after the looting and burning of Benin City. See Nigel Barley, The Art of Benin, p.112.
It is in this connection, noteworthy that Jenkins and the supporters of retention do not refer to the United Nations, UNESCO and ICOM. They act and write as if these international bodies did not exist: they ignore the almost yearly resolutions of these bodies calling on holders of looted artefacts to return them to their countries of origin. It is frightening to see educated persons openly defy laws and regulations they themselves have contributed in passing. The position of the ‘noisy Cambridge students’ is that of the international organizations set up mainly by Western States and in which they still remain members. There is a large movement in Africa for the restitution of African artefacts. Our Eurocentric writer is obviously not interested in African views
It is not only Nigeria that has been asking now for some decades for the return of these artefacts. The Oba of Benin has been asking for the return of the looted artefacts but such requests have falling on deaf ears with sensibilities of the past. (6) Countries such Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya have been asking for the return of their artefacts looted/stolen by the British.
No African writers on the question are mentioned thus leaving the reader the impression that only Westerners care for the artefacts. For Jenkins, many of the African writers who have dealt with restitution of the Benin Bronzes, such as Prof Ekpo Eyo, Prof. Folarin Syhllon, Prof. Peju Layiwola and Dr. Kwame Opoku may as well never have existed. Probably, in her Eurocentric perspective,
she cannot imagine how African intellectuals could also be possibly interested in the looted Benin artefacts safely kept in the museums in London for Western scholars to study.
Leaving out African writers and international institutions is not by accident. The author of the article appears to be following the usual Western tendency to confine discussions to Western sources and leave out all others whose writings do not support the imperialistic epistemology or might suggest there are others ways of looking at these problems other than the affirmation of the dominant Western view and its devastating consequences and implications for Africa.
Prof.Yash Tandon dealt with this problem in his recent article entitled The Rhodes controversy: a storm in a tea cup?‘http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/ He shows clearly that such omissions are not due to simple ignorance but to institutional and structural backwardness as well as to epistemical shortcomings. He concludes, inter alia that
Racism is structurally embedded in the system of education in the social sciences at Oxford. It is part of the imperial ideology that is deeply rooted in the system and psyche of the British ruling classes. This imperial/racial ideology has taken institutional manifestation at the university, especially in the social sciences. The dominant mainstream academics working on Africa have no real understanding of the African reality. They have very serious epistemic limitations that do not allow them to look beyond their noses. This extends, consciously and unconsciously, to a blanket disrespect and disregard for
African writers on Africa’.
The limitations we have been pointing out are therefore not personal or accidental but part of a whole system
Some of the statements of Tiffany Jenkins are simply astonishing and are likely to mislead the uninformed:
‘Equally, the Benin Bronzes were created as far back as the 13th century, long before the modern state of Nigeria existed.
So the idea that they ‘belong’ to the people of Nigeria is deeply flawed. No matter where we are from – no matter what ethnicity we are – we can see and admire the Benin Bronzes. We do not have to be from Nigeria to do so.
The truth is that objects of art are a misguided target for those truly concerned about social justice. The fact that there is a sculpture of a cockerel in a university dining room is hardly the most pressing problem facing us today.’
Plaque of Oba Ozolua with warrior attendants, Benin, Nigeria, World Museum, Vienna
To argue, as Jenkins does, that because the Benin Bronzes were created in the 13th century, long before the birth of the State of Nigeria and therefore could not belong to Nigeria, is a favourite way of thinking of some Europeans. Jenkins even writes that the idea that ‘they belong to the people of Nigeria is deeply flawed’. This is a way of thinking which at first sight may appear convincing but on a short reflection we realize how wrong it is. The essence of the argument is that-these things were made before you were born and therefore cannot possibly belong to you. Does this make sense? Most of the valuable things that States and individuals inherit have, by the nature of things, been made before they were born. Think of the enormous wealthy artistic resources of many Western State and their institutions that have been accumulating since early periods, mostly before the modern concept of State was born. Has anyone ever suggested that Western States and museums have no right to hold or own objects that were made before they were created? Jenkins like some Western writers uses a different logic when it comes to discussing non- Western people. The world was not created yesterday and the achievements of our predecessors would be in danger if the thought displayed by Jenkins governed the world. Anyone could collect Stonehenge which was made before the modern State of Britain was born.
Jenkins declares that ‘No matter what ethnicity we are-we can see and admire the Benin bronze. We do not have to be from Nigeria to do so’.
Nobody ever suggested that we have to come from Nigeria or be of a specific ethnicity to be able to admire the Benin Bronzes. Jenkins attributes directly or indirectly to those demanding restitution arguments that they have never made. Another favourite delaying tactic of those with no convincing argument.
Again Jenkins states that ‘The truth is that objects of art are a misguided target for those truly concerned about social justice. The fact that there is a cockerel in a university dining room is hardly the most pressing problem facing us today.‘
Jenkins is suggesting that the students are wasting time and should be busy with more urgent issues. This is very interesting. Who is wasting time? The students who, with youthful exuberance, have agitated successfully for the return of a looted African artefact or the writer who devotes a whole article to the students ‘time wasting’ activity? Jenkins reveals here her Eurocentric view point and contempt for Africans and their problems. If one applied her logic to other cultural activities, nothing would be achieved in the cultural area. The world would always have more urgent matters than a single cultural artefact.
Jenkins’ statement that ‘these students want to return the cockerel as a kind of therapy for the ‘sins’ of British imperialism’ This is definite proof that Jenkins, like many of our Western contemporaries, has no idea about the horrors and demoralizing effects of the oppressive system of imperialism or is deliberately playing the ignorant one, and mocking the victims of British imperialism in Africa and elsewhere.
It becomes obvious from most of her irrelevant declarations that Jenkins does not seem to understand or appreciate that the Oba of Benin and his people want back their artefacts that were looted by Europeans. She does seem to be aware that the people of Benin, the Edo, still exist. She thinks the looted artefacts are at their right places in London museums and cannot understand that Nigerians want to have them back in Benin City, Lagos or Abuja. She cannot understand that those requesting the return of their artefacts are doing so because they want the objects per se back; they are not fighting for any social justice or trying to correct colonialism or rewrite history. They just want their things back.
Jenkins has some very strange conceptions:
‘The problem with these campaigns is that in becoming obsessed with colonialism, campaigners lose sight of the original meanings and purposes of the artworks, viewing them only as objects of apology.
But instead of repatriating artefacts, we need to appreciate them in the institutions which care for them – our great museums. For it is here that their true value can be understood.’
Students campaigning for the removal of Cecil Rhodes statute in Oxford are advised by Jenkins that ‘Repatriating artefacts, or pulling down statues such as that of Cecil Rhodes in Oxford – the subject of another vocal campaign – to make amends for colonisation is a poor substitute for reshaping the modern world. These students want to censor and rewrite history rather than do what young idealists should try to do – change the future’.
Jenkins does not seem to realize that if the students can achieve repatriation of many artefacts or the removal of offensive colonialist and imperialist symbols they would have changed the world a little and that the campaign for repatriation is not aimed at rewriting history but to change the present imbalance and thereby prepare a better future. But how does one change the future?
Jenkins cannot understand that the campaign for repatriation is aimed at returning artefacts that have been looted or stolen and not mainly about colonialism though this is incidental:
‘The problem with these campaigns is that in becoming obsessed with colonialism, campaigners lose sight of the original meanings and purposes of the artworks, viewing them only as objects of apology’.
Jenkins must explain to us why a student who thinks the Benin artefacts that were looted in the invasion of Benin in 1897 should be returned should be concerned with the ‘original meanings and purposes of the artworks’. Is an understanding of artworks a primary condition for supporting their repatriation? Some of us have supported the restitution of many looted artefacts without ever being a position to explain fully the artworks themselves. It seems sufficient for most of us to know the circumstances of the looting/removal of cultural objects in order to be for their repatriation. The students need not understand Greek history and mythology in order to decide whether to be in favour of the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles or not. The majority of British people have always been in favour of returning these artefacts to Athens but I doubt whether they are all well versed in Ancient Greek mythology or archaeology. It is enough that they have a strong sense of what is just.
The irrelevancies of Jenkins may irritate many readers. For example her statement that ‘It has now emerged that one of the key figures in the campaign is an old boy of an exclusive GP17, 000-a year school.’ What has this to do with the justice or injustice of returning looted artefacts? What will she make out of the fact that many of the supporters of restitution went to very expensive universities in the world? We are of course, not interested in the school or university where the author studied.
Queen-Mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, looted in 1897 and now in transferred captivity in Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany.
The Eurocentric statements found in the article are astonishing for our age and time:
‘It is here in Bloomsbury, that millions of visitors every year come to understand what these magnificent marble sculptures have meant to humans across time and around the world’
This selfish, arrogant, racist and self-serving statement is again reinforced:
‘The artworks were a force for good, however they were acquired.(Our emphasis) That’s why the Benin bronzes and all the other marvelous treasures we can study and appreciate at close quarters belong here in Britain.’
It would be difficult to find a more egocentric, Eurocentric and contemptuous statement in recent discussions on restitution and looting. Only those unaware of the criminal experiments on humans in Namibia under the cruel German colonial, the Nazi experiments by Dr. Eugen Fischer and similar attacks could praise acquisition of knowledge no matter the method used. Jenkins does not realize that many lives were lost in the Western acquisition of artefacts in Ethiopia, China, Benin and elsewhere during imperialistic wars.
Consciously or not, by stating that the artworks were a force for good, however they were acquired, the writer has touched also upon the great divide in the discussions on restitution.
There is on the one hand, a large group of scholars, especially archaeologists and restitutionists, who take the view that we should not deal at all with artefacts that have been acquired illegally, with violence and force or in a manner, morally objectionable. There are on the other hand, another group of persons, usually antiquities’ dealers and museum directors who take the view that no matter how an artefact was obtained, so long as it yields knowledge and information, we should accept it.
James Cuno, a well-known retentionist and high-priest of the universal museum supporters, previously Director of the Art Institute of Chicago and now President of the J. Paul Getty Foundation, has opposed any restrictions on the illegal exportation of artefacts. Indeed, until fairly recently, most major Western museums freely acquired artefacts without any proper documentation. James Cuno raised in his book, Whose Culture? the question ‘Can it then be said that the Laocoon is in any way meaningless without our knowing the archaeological circumstances of its finding? Of course not. And yet many archaeological critics of museums would argue precisely this with regard to unexcavated and undocumented antiquities today…And they would discourage museums from acquiring it and other ‘orphaned ‘objects similarly found alienated from their points of origin. (7)
The major museums stated in their notorious self-serving Declaration on the Value and Importance of Universal Museums(1982) that artefacts that were in their museums, however acquired, had become part of their acquisitions which they hold on behalf of mankind. (8). Shortly thereafter many leading American museums and universities were obliged to return looted artefacts to Italy. Most of these institutions have opposed UNESCO and United Nations attempts to control illegal trading in antiquities, especially, the UNESCO Convention on the Illicit Trafficking in the Exportation and importation of Cultural Property. (1970) These museums do not generally accept ICOM bans on the importation of such items as NOK sculptures from Nigeria. Among this group are still persons who do not really accept recent UN Security ban on importation of artefacts from Syria and Iraq following massive destruction of cultural objects in the area. Some believe that by accepting illegal objects from those areas, they are saving them from destruction. (9) Through their illegal acquisitions, the Western museums had acquired such a bad reputation that James Cuno wrote: ”It is the purpose of this book to challenge the perception of museums as rapacious acquisitors of ill-gotten goods and to argue instead that our public museums build their antiquities collections responsibly and for the public’s benefit”. (10)
On the other hand, Lord Renfrew, a leading Cambridge archaeologist and prominent member of the group that opposes acquisition of unprovenanced artefacts by museums wrote in his book, Loot, Legitimacy, and Ownership, that’ ‘All the major and ancient museums of the world have in earlier centuries obtained large parts of their collections by means that would today be considered dubious…It is the aim of this book to invite museum curators to concede that they betray their trust as serious students of the past when they acquire unprovenanced antiquities or permit them to be displayed in their galleries’. (11)
. Renfrew states on the same page:
‘‘I find it strange also that the collection of unprovenanced antiquities by wealthy private individuals is still widely considered a socially acceptable undertaking, and that reputable scholars are willing to contribute to the published catalogues when such assemblages, replete with looted antiquities, are given public exhibition by public institutions, although I myself must plead guilty to having done so in the past. These institutions should know better than to allow such dubious artefacts to darken their doors’. (12)
Discussions on the acquisition of knowledge from looted artefacts or artefacts generally, do not pose the question, knowledge for whom? It is surely useful for colonialists and others to acquire more knowledge about natives and their societies that would enable more efficient exploitation of resources. But what about the victims of unmitigated European aggression such as the people of Benin? Are they impressed by the argument based on knowledge acquired through the destruction of their rich and flourishing Kingdom by the British in 1897? Since 1897 no compensation has been paid for the massive destruction of Benin City, the properties of the inhabitants, the loss of lives of the children, women and men that lived in that city. Instead, successors of the looters mock us with baseless arguments when we demand the return of some of the looted artefacts, with or without compensation, for illegal and illegitimate detention for over a century. In many ways, the successors appear to be worse than the original looters. This impression is reinforced by reading the article on the ‘noisy Cambridge students.’
Head of an Oba, Benin, Nigeria, now in Weltmuseumwien Vienna, Austria The African Section of the Worldmuseum has been closed since 2000 but may open in 2017.
The comments of Tiffany Jenkins on the unforgettable Melina Mercouri are perhaps better left uncommented but since many persons who should know better have made similar statements, it may not be amiss if we comment briefly on this point. Jenkins states as follows:
‘Arguments for the return of cultural treasures are today made through the prism of a modern nation’s ‘identity’.
‘For example, Melina Mercouri, Greek minister of culture in the Eighties, and a prominent advocate for the return of the Elgin Marbles, argued that the Parthenon and its sculptures belong exclusively to the Greek people: ‘We are asking only for something unique, something matchless, and something specific to our identity.’
But the idea of a continued and unique ‘Greekness’, which ties together the ancient past and the people of the present, ignores centuries of invasions, changing borders, and the mixing of peoples. Ancient Greece was a series of city states. Athenians – not Greeks – built the Parthenon’.
What Melina Mercouri, the former Culture Minister of Greece said at the Oxford Union, was that the Parthenon Marbles represented for the Greeks a symbol of excellence, their aspirations and the essence of Greekness:
‘You must understand what the Parthenon Marbles mean to us. They are our pride. They are our sacrifices. They are our noblest symbol of excellence. They are a tribute to the democratic philosophy. They are our aspirations and our name. They are the essence of Greekness”.
The Greek Minister did not in any way try to present a view that there was a Greekness that was not influenced by any other culture nor that the Greek peoples were in anyway devoid of any mixing with others. The racist notions of unique blood or the insinuations thereof have been introduced by those opposing restitution. References to ‘uniqueness’ was in reference to the beauty of the Parthenon Marbles.
This baseless argument can be found in the writings of James Cuno who tried to deny that present-day Egyptians were in anyway related to ancient Egyptians by asking whether they eat the same food, have the same religion or dress the same way. Could we reasonably ask whether present-day Britons drink the same beer as Anglo-Saxons and conclude from the answer a right or lack of right to control Stonhenge or artefacts found in Britain? That such irrelevancies have no bearing on the right of present-day Governments to control artefacts in their territories may be difficult for some to understand but this right of States is enshrined in the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970 The denial of some blood connections between present-day governments and ancient cultures has been used to deny the right of the Government of Nigeria to control Nok artefacts, to demand the return of Benin Bronzes, some even forgetting that the Oba of Benin and his people. Edo, still exist. Strangely enough, these writers do not realize that their arguments could be easily applied to Britain, France and other European States to deny their rights to artefacts under their control. All States have undergone a mixture of peoples, religions and cultures. None of those demanding the restitution of looted, stolen or removed artefacts has ever made an argument based on blood continuity or purity. The argument is usually insinuated by those opposed to restitution without providing any evidence that a restitution demand has been based on this factor. The dishonesty here is simply amazing.
As for the statement that the Parthenon Marbles were built by Athenians and not Greeks we can see what mentality is behind the thinking of the writer. It is similar to the thought of a former director of the British Museum who declared that the Parthenon Marbles were not even Greek. Such persons will deny that the Benin Bronzes are African when it suits them even though they themselves have in the same text castigated Africans who sold slaves and used the manillas obtained in making the Benin Bronzes. They will have it both ways.
The criticism of Melina Mercouri’s definition of ‘Greekness’ is based on a much deeper thought and determination, admittedly not stated. It is the deep-seated desire of the imperialist mind to control the narrative of the history of others and to prevent any attempts of self-definition, self-determination, which will escape his or her the control and oversight.
We have had a former director of the British Museum telling us that Greek culture can only be understood in the British Museum and that the Parthenon Marbles in London have a different history from those in Athens. This same specialist has arrogated to himself the duty to inform other peoples, such as the Russians, about Greek culture and even determined which Greek sculpture can best explain that culture and appointed them ‘Ambassadors of Greek culture’ whilst refusing vehemently to return the sculptures to Athens. He has also mentioned a duty to make it possible for Chinese and Africans to view the Parthenon Marbles. (13)
It is the same imperialist spirit that animates the officials of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts who, when accused of receiving stolen/looted Benin Bronzes, insisted they had a duty to tell the history of Benin. They did not seem to envisage the possibility that the people of Benin might want to tell their own history with the objects that have been stolen and donated to the American museum. (14)
The imperialist museology based on the so-called universal museums, seems to be still the main background ideology of many Western museums and scholars and those influenced by them. They join us in criticising, where necessary, the unlawful and brutal methods used to acquire cultural artefacts from Africa and Asia. But once we request them to return some of these looted artefacts, there ends all communality. They castigate colonialism and imperialism but are unwilling to part with any of the objects brought to Europe by killing thousands of Africans and Asians. They regard the notorious invasion of Benin in 1897 as regrettable and unfortunate but return a Benin Bronze to Benin? That appears to be too much to ask.
Jenkins, like many Westerners, does not seem to understand or appreciate what it means to live in a country or continent where all the important cultural icons are abroad in another country or continent. Readers will be aware that the best of African art masterpieces are already abroad in the Western countries where we are not really wanted and where we have to go through unbelievable procedures to procure a visit. As many as 80 questions have to be answered on the internet followed by a personal interview before a leading European State would grant an African scholar a visa for two weeks. Many African personalities, including intellectuals, jurists, international civil servants and international judges have to undergo embarrassing procedures, including submitting statement of bank-account, to determine whether they can cover their expenses in the two weeks stay in a world metropolis. Recent terror acts have provided convenient covers for purely racists demands directed only to Africans and Asians.
How would European intellectuals feel if any time they wanted to see a Rembrandt painting they had to go to Kumasi? How would Europeans feel if they could only write a doctoral thesis on European art by travelling to Enugu? How would they react if the best of the Dutch masters were all in Saltpond or in Lagos?
Jenkins should speak to some of the African and Asian scholars and intellectuals who manage to secure visa for the Western world to change her dangerous Eurocentric views.
Since the Independence of Nigeria and many other African countries in 1960 there has not been a single noticeable restitution of cultural artefacts from Western States and museums to any African States with the possible exception of Egypt when Zahi Hawass was in charge of Egyptian artefacts. We have suggested that there is no shame in admitting that an aggressive State with superior might and violence that travelled thousands of kilometres from Europe to Africa and stole your cultural artefacts has refused to return any. What appears strange though is the effort to create an illusion that there has been successful restitution when you cannot name even one artefact that has been restituted. (15) Whole nations should not be treated this way.
Normally when a method or an approach has not yielded any success, a reasonable person with self-respect would try another approach. African cultural institutions and authorities do not seem to accept the need for change under such circumstances and allow themselves to be easily deceived with promises of digitalization and other assistance instead of the return of the precious national physical objects. Would African authorities learn from the successful Cambridge students? Or will they continue with their unsuccessful policy of quiet diplomacy? There will be a need for many explanations and so long as there is no serious effort to recover our looted artefacts, we may have to put up with statements such as those we have beenexamining. If African intellectuals and officials do not challenge such obvious self-serving approaches, they would have to tell their peoples what they discuss with their Western counterparts. Is it all dining and dancing?
Is it possible that every new generation of Western scholars feels obliged to deny undeniable facts of violence and treachery in the Afro-Western relationship? It is difficult to challenge the view expressed by Rupert Richard Arrowsmith in his book, Modernism and the Museum
‘After the missionaries, Ethnographers appeared, relying on scientific necessity as a justification for what was, even as late as the 1930s, very often little more than barefaced theft. Michel Leiris who took part in the anthropologist Marcel Griaule’s Dakar-Djibouti expedition in 1931, has left a frank account of the acquisition techniques employed…
The methods used in collecting the majority of the so-called ethnographical exhibits at institutions such as the British Museum meant that almost no information about their function, context or even culture of origin was available to curators; for this reason exhibits were usually tagged with faulty information or just displayed unlabelled. Not many people would have noticed this, for the galleries were so infrequently visited that it was 1910 before the museum even published a guidebook to them.’(16)
In the end, many of the arguments presented against restitution of looted/stolen artefacts are based on Western racism, a form of racism that after centuries of practice, becomes most natural to many Westerners, like the air they breathe that they do not recognize it. I can only thus explain the nonsense written or said by people who have received excellent university education. Could any person turn to those who lost their property and offer any of the arguments we have examined?
But behind the economic advantages of holding stolen property, is the sheer determination not to let power over others go. A British academic, Jonathan Harris has written in his book The New Art History – A critical Introduction:’ The question of the meaning of the ‘Benin bronzes’ or ‘Elgin Marbles’ in London – 1900 or 2000 – is inseparable from the issue of British attitudes towards Africa and the Orient as sites, once for direct military and political colonisation, and now for their post-imperial economic exploitation and indirect manipulation. To return them would imply the belief, on the part of the British authorities, that the peoples of those parts of the world were now capable of competently looking after artefacts that were removed ostensibly on the grounds that the local inhabitants were unfit, because of the ‘degeneration’ of their societies, to act as their curators. Their return would also imply admission of their illegal possession by the British. Both implications remain largely unthinkable because post-imperial racism continues to be a highly significant aspect of British foreign policy. Though British society may be relatively ‘multicultural now, its ruling elite, like that of the US, is still predominantly white, middle-class and male.’ (17)
Kwame Tua Opoku.
Head of Oba, Benin, Nigeria, now in Bristol Museum, Bristol, United Kingdom.
1. R. H. Bacon, Benin: City of Blood (pp. 107-108) cited by the great Ekpo Eyo, “Benin; The Sack that was”, http://www.edo-nation.net/eyo.htm
3. Benin Bronze cockerel is made from melted-down money AFRICANS earned by selling slaveshttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3485000/Bloody-truth-colonialist-cockerel-Cambridge-students-want-sent-Africa-s-melted-money-AFRICANS-earned-selling-slaves.html#ixzz42oUZ3ONg
4. K. Opoku,’The Man who returned his Grandfathers Looted Benin Bronzes’, http://www.museum-security.org/2015/03/the-man-of-conscience-who-returned-his-grandfathers-looted-benin-bronzes/
‘The history of this unwelcome visit which proved fatal should be clarified. Captain Philips had requested a visit to the Oba who replied he could not receive him because he would be involved in sacred ceremonies during which time no foreigners were permitted to see the Oba. Philips and his group were equally warned by chiefs who were well disposed to the British to refrain from the journey. Despite all warnings, Philip and his group proceeded with the visit as planned. Philips and his group with some 120-200 personnel disguised as carriers but having arms in their boxes, had as undeclared objective: to depose Oba Ovonramvem who was considered by the Acting Consul- General Philips as the main obstacle to Britain gaining control over trade in that part of Nigeria. Instead of the surprise attack the British group intended to launch, they were themselves surprised by an ambush on their way. Readers must ask themselves since when can one visit another person who says clearly that the tine proposed is inconvenient? Since when does one visit a monarch who states he is not prepared to receive such a visit?
The attack on Philips and his group provided a welcome pretext for invasion which the British had been weighing for a long time, including discussing the possible sale of Benin artworks to defray the costs of the intended campaign. British troops were sent to Benin on what they called Punitive Expedition. Benin City was captured and burnt. The Oba sent into exile in Calabar, in Nigeria. The destruction in Benin must have been awful’.
5. Barbara Plankensteiner (ed) Benin-Kings and Rituals-Court Arts from Nigeria, 2007, Snoeck, Ghent.
6. K. Opoku, ‘Formal Demand for the Return of Benin Bronzes: Will Western Museums now Return some of the Looted/Stolen ” http://www.modernghana.com
In response to a declaration by the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum of their willingness to consider demands for the return of the Benin objects, the Benin Royal Family sent out a formal request dated 9 September, 2008, for the return of the cultural artefacts. In that letter Edun Agharese Akenzua, brother of the present Oba, Erediauwa, both great-grandsons of the famous king, Oba Ovonramwen, whose resistance to British hegemonial interferences led to conflict and eventual invasion, looting and burning of Benin City by the British army, recounted the history of the invasion of 1897 and explained the significance of the artefacts as records of Benin history. Thus looting those artefacts is also a deprivation of the records of Benin history. Up to today, neither the Field Museum nor the Art Institute of Chicago has had the decency to acknowledge receipt of the letter. This is presumably in order to be able to continue arguing that there has been no request for restitution, a favourable argument of Western museums.
7 James Cuno, Whose Culture? Princeton University Press, 2009, Princeton, p.13
8. K. Opoku, ‘Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums: Singular Failure of an Arrogant Imperialist Project’. www.modernghana.com/news/441891/1/declaration-on-the-importance…
10. Colin Renfrew, Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership, Duckworth, 2000, London p.10.
11. Renfrew, Loot p.10
12. Melina Mercouri’s speech to the Oxford Union, June 1986,
13. K. Opoku,’ British Museum Director Defends Once More Retention of Parthenon Marbles’,http:www.modernghana.com/news/580881/1/
A History of the World with 100 Looted Objects of Others: Global Intoxication?
14.Will Boston Museum of Fine Arts Return Looted Benin Bronzes?
15. K. Opoku, ‘What we understand by ‘restitution,’ mondernghana.com
16. Rupert Richard Arrowsmith, Modernism and the Museum–Asian, African and Pacific Art of the London Avant-Garde, Oxford University Press, 2011, p183 Those seriously interested in the relations between Africa and Europe, should read L’Afrique Fantome, by Michel Leiris, Editions Gallimard, Paris, 1934.
17. Jonathan Harris, The New Art Histor– A critical Introduction, Routledge, London, 2001, p.275.
PUNITIVE EXPEDITION OF 1897
Under the heading Brititsh Punitive Expedition 1897,we read as follows:
This episode has to be seen in the context of the spread of British control over
the whole of what is now Nigeria at the start of the colonial period –the kingdom
of Benin was just one the teragets.The initial problem arose out of the decision
by a British consulPhillips to visit the Oba with a small armed group,against the
advice of the British Governor,otherNigerian chiefs,and repeated
warnings,threats and pleas by the Oba himself. Phillips persisted and he and his
group were killed. A punitive expedition was then sent,which arrested and
deposed the Oba and put an end to five centuries of the kingdom’s,with the
British Army looting and destroying the capital city’-p.8
The Wealth of Africa-Thekingdom of Benin p. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum 08/2010
Kingdom Of Benin_TeachersNotes
Once it is accepted that the initial disaster at Benin was caused by the ‘trade
delegation’, it becomes difficult to justify the subsequent reaction of the punitive
expedition, the refusal to pay compensation for the massive destruction of a
flourishing civilization or to return the looted artefacts. The basic justification
for ‘punitive action’ disappears and subsequent actions based on the premise
appear to be without any justification at all.
However several writers have operated on the initial line of perfidious Benin
attack on an innocent trade delegation visiting the Oba to talk about trade:
See Kwame Opoku, ‘Compromise on the Restitution of Benin Bronzes? Comments’,
Nigel Barley writes in, The Art of Benin, (British Museum Press, 2010, p. 15,)
“An unarmed diplomatic mission went to urge the Oba to comply and was attacked by chiefs acting without royal authority”. It is remarkable that the writer mentions that they were unarmed. Is a diplomatic mission supposed to be armed? There is no mention that the Oba had told this “diplomatic mission” that he could not receive them at the time proposed for the visit and that they should postpone the visit. Is this how diplomacy is conducted by entering the territory of a monarch who says he cannot receive the mission?
Paula Girshick Ben-Amos writes in, The Art of Benin, (British Museum Press, 1995, p. 58):
”The British viewed Benin as the main obstacle to their expansion into the agricultural interior and when in 1897, an envoy to Oba Ovonramwen was ambushed and killed, the British sent out a Punitive Expedition against the kingdom”. Here the military force of some 250 is reduced to an envoy.
Neil MacGregor, in “The whole world in our hands’ makes this statement in dealing with the British invasion of Benin:www.theguardian.com/profile/neilmacgregor
“A British delegation, travelling to Benin at a sacred season of the year when such visits were forbidden, was killed, though not on the orders of the Oba himself. In retaliation, the British mounted a punitive expedition against Benin.http://arts.guardian.co.uk/;
Ekpo Eyo describes the Pre-emptive Strike Force and its back ground as follows: CONSUL PHILLIP ILL – FATED EXPEDITION.
“The event that was to lead to the overthrow of the Oba began when an acting consul-General was appointed for the area in 1896. He was a young naval Officer, called Captain Phillips. With this appointment events moved rather quickly. Soon after his arrival, Consul Phillips began to advise the “Benin River Chiefs” not to comply with Oba Overanwen’s demand for additional tribute to the Oba of Benin for partially opening up the hinterland markets. Phillips followed up his advice to the Benin River chiefs with a letter dated November 1846 to Oba Overanwen proposing a visit to Benin City. The stated purpose of the visit was “to try and persuade the king to let white men come up to the City whenever they wanted to” (Boisrangon p. 58) Such a letter could have done nothing less than increase the fear of the Bini. The king was “to allow whitemen to come up to the City whenever they wanted to”. The visit was planned for early January 1897. In reply, the Oba requested that the visit be delayed for two months, to enable him to get through the IGUE ritual during which time his body is scared and not allowed to come in contact with foreign elements. Igue ritual is the highest ritual among the Edo and is performed not only for the well- being of the king but of his entire subjects and the land. But Phillips showed no sympathy. He replied the king that he was in a hurry and could not wait because he has so much work to do elsewhere in the Protectorate. Defiantly, the expedition set out as it proposed in January, 1897 and when it arrived at UGHOTON, three royal Emmissaries met it with a request that it should tarry for two days so that they could “send up and let the King know in time for him to make his preparation for receiving us” (Boisrangon, p.84). Again Phillips regretted that he could not wait because he has so much work to do and that he would start early the next morning. And, on the next morning, he set out for Benin City. By the afternoon of that day, January 4, 1897 the inevitable happened: Seven out of nine white members of the Expedition including Phillips himself were ambushed and killed. The only white survivors were Boisragon and Locke. The story of this ill-fated Expedition is set out in Boisragon’s book: The Benin Massacre” http://www.dawodu.net
See Alain Boisragon, The Benin Massacre, Methuen &Co, 36 Essex Street, W. C, London 1897. See also, Richard Gott, The Looting of Benin, http://www.arm.arc.co.uk
The Case of Benin
Memorandum submitted by Prince Edun Akenzua
I am Edun Akenzua Enogie (Duke) of Obazuwa-Iko, brother of His Majesty, Omo, n’Oba n’Edo, Oba (King) Erediauwa of Benin, great grandson of His Majesty Omo n’Oba n’Edo, Oba Ovonramwen, in whose reign the cultural property was removed in 1897. I am also the Chairman of the Benin Centenary Committee established in 1996 to commemorate 100 years of Britain’s invasion of Benin, the action which led to the removal of the cultural property.
“On 26 March 1892 the Deputy Commissioner and Vice-Consul, Benin District of the Oil River Protectorate, Captain H L Gallwey, manoeuvred Oba Ovonramwen and his chiefs into agreeing to terms of a treaty with the British Government. That treaty, in all its implications, marked the beginning of the end of the independence of Benin not only on account of its theoretical claims, which bordered on the fictitious, but also in providing the British with the pretext, if not the legal basis, for subsequently holding the Oba accountable for his future actions.”
The text quoted above was taken from the paper presented at the Benin Centenary Lectures by Professor P A Igbafe of the Department of History, University of Benin on 17 February 1997.
Four years later in 1896 the British Acting Consul in the Niger-Delta, Captain James R Philip wrote a letter to the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Salisbury, requesting approval for his proposal to invade Benin and depose its King. As a post-script to the letter, Captain Philip wrote: “I would add that I have reason to hope that sufficient ivory would be found in the King’s house to pay the expenses incurred in removing the King from his stool.”
These two extracts sum up succinctly the intention of the British, or, at least, of Captain Philip, to take over Benin and its natural and cultural wealth for the British.
British troops invaded Benin on 10 February1897. After a fierce battle, they captured the city, on February 18. Three days later, on 21 February precisely, they torched the city and burnt down practically every house. Pitching their tent on the Palace grounds, the soldiers gathered all the bronzes, ivory-works, carved tusks and oak chests that escaped the fire. Thus, some 3,000 pieces of cultural artwork were taken away from Benin. The bulk of it was taken from the burnt down Palace.
NUMBER OF ITEMS REMOVED
It is not possible for us to say exactly how many items were removed. They were not catalogued at inception. We are informed that the soldiers who looted the palace did the cataloguing. It is from their accounts and those of some European and American sources that we have come to know that the British carried away more than 3,000 pieces of Benin cultural property. They are now scattered in museums and galleries all over the world, especially in London, Scotland, Europe and the United States. A good number of them are in private hands.
WHAT THE WORKS MEAN TO THE PEOPLE OF BENIN
The works have been referred to as primitive art, or simply, artifacts of African origin. But Benin did not produce their works only for aesthetics or for galleries and museums. At the time Europeans were keeping their records in long-hand and in hieroglyphics, the people of Benin cast theirs in bronze, carved on ivory or wood. The Obas commissioned them when an important event took place which they wished to record. Some of them of course, were ornamental to adorn altars and places of worship. But many of them were actually reference points, the library or the archive. To illustrate this, one may cite an event which took place during the coronation of Oba Erediauwa in 1979. There was an argument as to where to place an item of the coronation paraphernalia. Fortunately a bronze-cast of a past Oba wearing the same regalia had escaped the eyes of the soldiers and so it is still with us. Reference was made to it and the matter was resolved. Taking away those items is taking away our records, or our Soul.
In view of the fore-going, the following reliefs are sought on behalf of the Oba and people of Benin who have been impoverished, materially and psychologically, by the wanton looting of their historically and cultural property.
(i) The official record of the property removed from the Palace of Benin in 1897 be made available to the owner, the Oba of Benin.
(ii) All the cultural property belonging to the Oba of Benin illegally taken away by the British in 1897, should be returned to the rightful owner, the Oba of Benin.
(iii) As an alternative, to (ii) above, the British should pay monetary compensation, based on the current market value, to the rightful owner, the Oba of Benin.
(iv) Britain, being the principal looters of the Benin Palace, should take full responsibility for retrieving the cultural property or the monetary compensation from all those to whom the British sold them.
LIST OF HOLDERS OF BENIN ARTEFACTS
Almost every Western museum has some Benin objects. Here is a short list of some of the places where the Benin Bronzes are to be found and their numbers. Various catalogues of exhibitions on Benin art or African art also list the private collections of the Benin Bronzes. Many museums refuse to inform the public about the number of Benin artefacts they have and do not display permanently the Benin artefacts in their possession since they do not have enough space. A museum such as World Museum, Vienna, formerly Volkerkundemuseum, has closed since 16 years the African section where the Benin artefacts were, apparently due to renovation works which are not likely to be finished before 2017.
Berlin – Ethnologisches Museum 580.
Boston, – Museum of Fine Arts 28.
Chicago – Art Institute of Chicago 20, Field Museum 400
Cologne – Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum 73.
Glasgow _ Kelvingrove and St, Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life 22
Hamburg – Museum für Völkerkunde, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe 196.
Dresden – Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde 182.
Leipzig – Museum für Völkerkunde 87.
Leiden – Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde 98.
London – British Museum 900.
New York – Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art 163.
Oxford – Pitt-Rivers Museum/ Pitt-Rivers country residence, Rushmore in Farnham/Dorset 327.
Paris-Musee du Quai Branly, unknown number.
Stuttgart – Linden Museum-Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde 80.
Vienna –World Museum, formerly Museum für Völkerkunde 167.
EXTRACTS FROM AFRIQUE FANTÔME, MICHEL LEIRIS
Editions Gallimard, 1934. Translations from French are by K. Opoku.
We reproduce below texts from the diary of Michel Leiris, the Secretary to the notorious French Dakar-Djibouti Expedition,1931-33, that travelled from Dakar to Djibouti, armed with authorization from the Government to take whatever objects it thought might be useful in understanding the colonies, its and customs. The mission was under the leadership of the well-known French ethnologist, Marcel Griaule. The incredible methods of intimidation, extortion and direct theft could find equivalents under French, German and Portuguese colonial rule.
It is interesting to note that Afrique Fantome has so far not been translated into English even though it is one of the few records where participants in ethnological expeditions provide us with direct information about their methods of acquisition of cultural artefacts
28 August 1931
“After the journey. Dinner at Sido (128km). Raid, as in the other village, of all that we can find by way of dance costumes, utensils, children’s toys, etc.” (Ibid. p.96)
“On the left, hanging from the ceiling in the midst of a crowd of calabashes, an indefinable packet covered with feathers of different birds and in which Griaule feels that there is a mask.
Irritated by the equivocations of the people our decision is quickly made: Griaule takes two flutes and slips them into his boots, we place the other things in place and we leave.” (Ibid. p.103)
“Griaule decrees then and through Mamadou Vad, informs the chief that since they are obviously mocking us, they must, as reprisals deliver to us a Kono (an initiation altart) in exchange for 10 francs, on pain of the police, said to be hiding in our vehicle, coming to take the chief and the important persons of the village to San where they will have to explain themselves to the Administration. What a terrible blackmail!
With a theatral gesture, I gave the chicken to the chief and as Makan has arrived with the canvas sheet, Griaule and I ordered the men to bring us the “Kono”). With everybody refusing, we went there ourselves, enveloped the holy object in the canvas sheet and went out like thieves whilst the panic-stricken chief fled and at some distance, drove his wife and children to their home with a baton. We crossed the village, which had become completely deserted, in a deadly silence, we reached our vehicles…
The ten francs are given to the chief and we leave in a hurry, in the midst of general astonishment and crowned with the aura of particularly powerful and daring demons or rascals.”(Ibid. pp.103-104)
“Before leaving Dyabougou, visit to the village and the taking of the second “Kono”, which Griaule had spotted by entering into the reserved hut surreptitiously. This time it is Lutten and myself who have the responsibility for the operation. My heart beats very strongly for since the scandal of yesterday, I realize with more clarity the enormity of what we are committing.” (Ibid. p.105)
“In the next village, I recognised a hut for a “Kono” with a door in ruins, I point it out to Griaule and the action is decided. As in the previous case, Mamadou Vad announces suddenly to the village chief whom we have brought before the hut in question, that the commander of the mission has given us the order to seize the Kono and that we are ready to pay an indemnity of 20 francs. This time, I alone take care of the operation and penetrate into the sacred small place, with the hunting knife of Lutten in my hand in order to cut the links to the mask. When I realise that two men – in no way at all menacing, have entered behind me, I realise with an astonishment which after a very short time turns into disgust, that one feels all the same very sure of one’s self when one is a white man and has a knife in his hand.” (Ibid. p.105)
“Towards the evening, the French teacher informed us that the mosque was the work of a European, the former administrator. In order to implement his plans, he destroyed the old mosque. The natives were so disgusted by the new building that they had to be punished with imprisonment before they would agree to sweep the building.” (Ibid. p.115)
“Departure to the Habés. From the first village visited problems. The Habés
are nice peoples who stand firm on their feet and do not seem to be ready to let others disturb them. Attempts to buy a few locks, even a purchase, they will protest and denounce a completed bargain; in a gesture of anger, Griaule breaks a “waamba” (a music instrument for the circumcised) which he had paid for and let it be said that he curses the village.” (Ibid. p.120)
“Yesterday, we were refused with shock several statuettes which were used to cause rainfall, as well as a statuette with raised arms, found in a sanctuary.
Taking away these objects would have been like taking away the life of the country, said a young man who, even though had been in the army, had remained faithful to his customs, almost crying at the thought of the disasters that our impious gesture would have provoked, and opposing our evil design with all his strength, had alerted the old men. Feeling like pirates: saying good-bye this morning to these affectionate old men, happy that we had spared them a disaster, we kept an eye on the huge green umbrella which was normally used to protect us but was today carefully bound. There was a strange bulge looking like the beak of a pelican: it contained the famous statuette with raised arms which I had myself stolen at the foot of the earth mound which served as its altar. I first hid it in my shirt… and then I put it in the umbrella… pretending to urinate in order to divert attention.
This evening, at Touyogou, where we are camping at a public place, my chest is full of earth: my shirt served again as a hiding place for a kind of double edged blade, as we left the cave of masks of this village.” (Ibid. p.156)
“In addition, the abductions continue and the information. Sanctuaries and holes in which one throws old masks are systematically explored.” (Ibid. p.157)
“Our friends, Apama and Ambara brought us secretly costumes of fibres for masques which we had asked them. They requested us, above all, to hide them well. Today, I am preparing with them cards on these objects. Apama and Ambara are very attentive to the slightest noise. A child who wanted to enter was scolded. No doubt; our methods have set an example and the two nice boys went to take the costumes of fibres in the cave of masks where they were hidden. The influence of the European…” (Ibid. pp.157-158)
“In another cave, we were authorised to take one of these objects (objects destined for causing lightning to fall on the heads of thieves). But when we put our hands on it, the people turned away from us, for fear of seeing us terribly punished for our sacrilege… To the right of the cave, in a small sanctuary, a beautiful wooden sculpture. We did not look at it too much in order not to draw too much attention; but it was agreed that this night, Schaeffner and I, we were going to seize it.” (Ibid. p159)
Queen-Mother Idia, Benin,Nigeria, now in captivity in British Museum ,London ,United Kingdom. The symbol of Pan-African culture the British Museum refuses to return to Nigeria,even on a’loan’.
Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.” © Kwame Opoku, Dr..