Saturday, October 16, 2021

Looting Africa's Treasures

 A bronze cockerel kept at Cambridge University that had been looted in a British raid on what is now Nigeria will be handed back this month. The Benin bronze, known as an "okukor", was given to Jesus College in 1905. The college said it became the first institution in the world to announce its decision to return a Benin Bronze", in 2019 .

The Benin Bronzes, a collection made up of carved ivory, bronze and brass crafted sculptures and plaques, are not mere artworks but catalogue the story of Benin – its achievements, explorations and belief systems.

The British Museum holds around 73,000 African objects looted from Africa during wars and colonisation. Six decades on from independence, African governments are still actively seeking the return of stolen artefacts.

“It was purely a colonial power exerting power on the community. They looted and burned down everything and carted away what they took off the people,” Tijani, of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments explains.

The Benin Kingdom theft is well-documented.  The British Museum said that “the devastation and plunder wreaked upon Benin City during the British military expedition in 1897 is fully acknowledged by the Museum.  Yet Benin Bronzes remain profitable for their owners, with single pieces having fetched more than $4m at auction houses. 

In 1899, Henry Labouchère, the MP for Middlesex, described the process by which territory was acquired during a parliamentary meeting. “Someone belonging to one company or another meets a black man. Of course, he has an interpreter with him. He asks the black man if he is proprietor of certain land, and if he will sign a paper he shall have a bottle of gin. The black man at once accepts; a paper is put before him, and he is told to make his mark on it, which he does. And then we say that we have made a treaty by which all the rights in that country of the emperor, king, or chief, or whatever you call him, have been given over to us. That is the origin of all these treaties.”

Full story can be read at

Stealing Africa: How Britain looted the continent’s art | History | Al Jazeera

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