Questions cloud return of Benin Bronzes

“It’s a very good thing. This will allow Africa to come to terms with its past and reclaim these objects that would never have left Africa” if colonisers hadn’t taken them, Fon Happi told DW.
Representative image
Representative image

By MICHAEL OTI

This is perhaps the most significant agreement signed by a European nation with Nigeria with regards to cultural diplomacy,” Yusuf Tuggar, Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, told DW after the agreement to return more than 1,000 Benin Bronze artifacts was signed on Friday. “It is a very significant achievement, a very significant milestone and we hope that it will lead to the return of not just the Benin Bronzes, but other stolen cultural properties from other countries as well.” In all, German museums hold more than 1,130 of the artifacts. They’re spread across the Linden Museum in Stuttgart, the Berlin Humboldt Forum, the Cologne Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, the Hamburg Museum for World Cultures and the State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony. The importance of the decision to return the Benin Bronzes is underscored by the leader of the Bana people in Cameroon, Fon Sikam Happi V.

“It’s a very good thing. This will allow Africa to come to terms with its past and reclaim these objects that would never have left Africa” if colonisers hadn’t taken them, Fon Happi told DW. The valuable artifacts were stolen from the former Kingdom of Benin by the British when they sacked Benin City in 1897. The royal palace was razed to the ground, and Benin City, in what is now the southern Nigerian state of Edo, was almost destroyed. For many residents of Edo the news of the return couldn’t have come at a better time. “We are really happy about the news of the return of the Benin artifacts,” Friday Osaro told DW. “Our heritage and assets that were stolen years back are being returned to the rightful owner, Benin Kingdom. We are really happy.”

Lancelot Imansuen, a restitution activist, believes this decision will inspire creatives. “As an artist, as an Edo man, as a creative, I feel very elated by this move by the German government to return these artworks,” he told DW. Across Nigeria, many see this as an opportunity to learn their history.

“This is like physical history for us. Everyone today can see this and know that our people had history and they were civilised to an extent because all these artifacts are not toys, they tell a story”, Samuel Marv, a history graduate and user interface designer, said in an interview with DW.

Although there is excitement about the return of cultural artifacts to Africa, there are still questions surrounding the payment of compensation. “Beyond the restitution of objects that have been stolen and exhibited in European museums, compensation must be paid. This would help Africa build proper museums to house these artifacts”, Fon Happi added. Ify James, an independent contractor, told DW, “I think that the return of the Benin Bronzes should come with huge compensation, because it made them tons of money while they had them.”

The agitation is particularly strong on Facebook. Justin Curtis, a user from Liberia, commented on a DW Africa video about the bronzes that “the healing process should be extended further to paying for what was done to Africa. This is a new way of seeing Africans as partners to a global solution to the many challenges we all face as a people”.

Harry Koffi, another user on DW Africa’s Facebook page added: “They must also return all monies they accrued from the museums that housed these artifacts.”

And while it is unlikely that Germany will pay any monetary compensation, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said during the official ceremony on Friday that the country is “assisting Nigeria in establishing a new museum in Benin City, which will also display Benin Bronzes in the future.”

This article was provided by Deutsche Welle

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