129-Year Journey Nears End as France Returns Benin Treasures

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PARIS—In a determination with imaginable ramifications crossed European museums, France is displaying 26 looted colonial-era artifacts for 1 past clip earlier returning them location to Benin.

The woody anthropomorphic statues, royal thrones, and ineffable altars were pilfered by the French service successful the 19th period from occidental Africa. The French volition person a last glimpse of the objects, from the postulation known arsenic the “Abomey Treasures,” successful the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac from Tuesday done Sunday.

african thrones The 19th period Throne of King Ghezo (L), and Throne of King Glele, from Benin, are pictured astatine the Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac museum successful Paris, connected Oct. 25, 2021. (Michel Euler/AP Photo)
african statue A royal statue of Benin’s 19th period King Behanzin is pictured astatine the Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac depository successful Paris, connected Oct. 25, 2021. (Michel Euler/AP Photo)

President Emmanuel Macron made a code successful 2017 successful which helium said helium tin nary longer judge “that a ample portion of galore African countries’ taste practice lies successful France.” It laid down a roadmap for the return of the royal treasures taken during the epoch of empire and colony.

So far, however, France has lone turned implicit 1 item—a storied sword handed to the Army Museum successful Senegal. And the 26 works going to Benin correspond a tiny fistful of the much than 90,000 artifacts from sub-Saharan Africa unsocial held successful French museums.

Yet critics of specified moves—including London’s British Museum, successful a decades-long tug-of-war with the Greek authorities implicit a restitution of the Elgin Marbles—argue that it volition unfastened the floodgates to emptying Western museums of their collections. Many are made up of objects acquired, oregon stolen, during assemblage times.

French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot tried to assuage jitters among European museums, emphasizing that this inaugural “will not make a ineligible precedent.”

A French instrumentality was passed past twelvemonth to let the restitution of the statues to Benin, and the sword to Senegal.

But she said that the French government’s instrumentality was intentionally circumstantial successful applying solely to the 27 artifacts. “[It] does not found immoderate wide close to restitution” and “in nary mode calls into question” the close of French museums to clasp connected to their heritage.

The communicative of the “Abomey Treasures” is arsenic melodramatic arsenic their sculpted forms. In November 1892, Colonel Alfred Dodds led a pilfering French expeditionary unit into the Kingdom of Danhomè located successful the southbound of present-day Benin. The colonizing troops broke into the Abomey Palace, location of King Behanzin, seizing arsenic they did galore royal objects including the 26 artifacts that Dodds donated to the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro successful Paris successful the 1890s. Since the 2000s, the objects person been housed astatine the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac.

One 100 and 20 9 years later, their far-flung travel overseas volition yet end.

Benin’s Culture Minister Jean-Michel Abimbola called the instrumentality of the works a “historic milestone,” and the opening of further practice betwixt the 2 countries, during a quality league past week. The state is founding a depository successful Abomey to location the treasures that volition beryllium partially funded by the French government. The French Development Agency volition springiness immoderate 35 cardinal euros toward the “Museum of the Saga of the Amazonians and the Danhome Kings” nether a pledge signed this year.

The authoritative transportation of the 26 pieces is expected to beryllium signed successful Paris connected Nov. 9 successful the beingness of Macron, and the creation is expected to beryllium successful Benin a fewer days later, Abimbola said.

While locals accidental the determination is overdue, what’s important is that the creation volition beryllium returned. “It was a vacuum created among Benin’s humanities treasures, which is gradually being reconstituted,” said Fortune Sossa, President of the African Cultural Journalists Network.

By Thomas Adamson

The Associated Press

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