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Talon expresses happiness over return of looted artefacts

By Guardian Nigeria
05 December 2021   |   2:45 am
President Patrice Talon of Republic of Benin has expressed happiness over return of looted artefacts.

[FILES] Benin’s President Patrice Talon. THIERRY CHARLIER / AFP

President Patrice Talon of Republic of Benin has expressed happiness over return of looted artefacts.

Speaking while welcoming back treasures from France after 130 years, he said the ability of Benin citizens to collect back those artifices is a humanitarian history.

According to him, “I think since 1965, some writers from Dahomey (current Benin) have started asking for the return of those artifices. From 2016 when I became President I continued with the request again. We took actions through educated people, associations, non-governmental organisations. May our ancestors bless the French President and the people of France in general.”

Speaking further, he said: “I am happy that we are able to achieve this restitution through cooperation and not wars as it is used to happen before between nations, people, kingdoms and communities. For people who know their history, those artifices are mosaic for ancient or old kingdoms.”

He added that he wanted everyone to be at ease or comfortable to establish the relationship or connection they desire with the artifacts.

In Benin Republic, 26 pieces of looted artifacts were recently returned. A homecoming was held in Benin for the artworks stolen by French colonial masters. The citizens were happy to see their ancestors back home after 130 years. There were cultural displays. Billboards on the street of Benin were adorned with some of the artworks. The billboard reads: “Resitution des tresors Royaux du Benin” which translates Restitution of Royal Treasures of Benin. Television stations held talk shows on return of the artifacts.

Among these artifacts are totem statues from the ancient Kingdom of Abomey and the throne of King Behanzin, which were looted when the Abomey palace was sacked by French colonial troops in 1892.

The objects were in the collection of the Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, located in Paris, France. The ethnography museum is reported to hold around 70,000 objects from sub-Saharan Africa.

French President Emmanuel Macron had assured in 2017 that he would return the artifacts. French lawmakers last year passed a bill allowing Paris to return artifacts to both Benin and Senegal, another former French colony. Macron said there is no reason why African youths should be denied access to their ancestors.

In an interview, President, Consortium Touristes Par Millions Au Benin (CTM), Mr. Dine Bouraima, disclosed that the restitution was historical and came to finalise African nations’ independence.

“The artwork would help in tourism development. The country is trying to make tourism number one. In fact, we want to make Benin Republic the number one tourism destination in Africa. I want to congratulate our president that has the courage to ask about the artifacts. I hope other artifacts are returned.

He said the artifacts would still be in a bus for two months in order to get them acclimatised with the weather in Benin Republic. The artifacts, he further explained, would thereafter be displayed for three months for people all over the world to view.

Subsequently, he said they would be put in a museum-like place for two years after which they would be taken to a modern museum at Abomey.

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

Nigeria government said recently that it had agreed with Germany on the return of hundreds of Benin bronzes from the 16th to 18th centuries that were stolen from the palace of the ancient Benin Kingdom in present-day Nigeria.

The General Manager/Chief Executive Officer, National Theatre, Prof. Sunday Ododo, said it was a victory for African culture and it is correcting historical misinformation that Africans have no civilisation until Europeans came.

According to him, “for the artefacts to have even survived the century proved beyond any doubt the robustness and our rich technology and creative ingenuity. Perhaps the gods have redeemed themselves and cause them to begin to return them to the original posts.”

Continuing, he said “our young ones would have reasons to study some of these artifacts and know the history behind them and reconnect back to their history as a people, because every artwork has a history and philosophy and in every artwork, stories are told, you remove one, you distort the history.”

Celebrated printmaker, painter and sculptor, Bruce Onobrakpeya, however, said the artefacts should be returned to the palace where they were taken from.