Thursday, October 4, 2007

Benin chief appeals for help in tracing missing artefacts

A Benin high chief has appealed to his Federal Government for assistance in tracking down a significant quantity of his country's missing cultural heritage.

But this is not the usual pleading to the British Museum and other Western museums whose Benin collections were formed largely as a result of the 1897 Punitive Expedition which stripped the country of the finest examples of its ancient sculpture (example show above left). This time, it seems, there is evidence that insiders might be responsible for the disappearance of the artefacts, valued at over $100 million. At any rate, that seems to be the subtext of high chief Chief Sunday Emokpae's recent appeal.

"The  government must come in and assist in unearthing those that stole our artefacts in the Benin museum," said Chief Emokpae. "It must not be swept under the carpet."

If true, this is very bad news, not only for Benin, but for many other developing nations across Africa and beyond. Many previous attempts to win repatration of objects plundered during the colonial era have brought a return volley from Western museums who claim that these source nations are not capable of looking after their own treasures. The losses from within Benin itself, if they are as serious as Chief Emokpae claims they are, will merely harden Western intransigence over restitution.

Full story at one of Nigeria's leading newspapers, The Vanguard, here.


Dr.Kwame Opoku said...

This argument that Africans are unable to look after theri cultural objects always comes up when the question of restitution is raised but is this a solid argument as some seem to think?
When my property has been stolen and I ask the person who stole it to bring it back to me,he/she replies that I am unable to look after my property and cites examples of thefts occuring in my house by other persons(to whom he or she is directly related) as a ground for not returning my property, Must we then offer proof or guarantee to those who have stolen or are in possession of stolen goods that we are now caple of protecting our property before they return them?
Must we then include the ability to propect one's property against thief as a necessary element for becoming a property owner? Who looked after African cultural objects for thousands of years before the Europeans came to plunder the continent? Some lost European tribe?
Would any court accept the argument of a thief that the owner of the property cannot look after it properly and therefore he is not going to return it? Should this principle be accepted,no one can be sure of his property for the fact that a thief is able to steal property will itself become his solid defence for refusing to return it.
Surely those who are concerned about Africans ability to safeguard its cultural objects should be addressing themselves to those who support and encourage the thieves rather than use this inabilty as ground for reful to return undoubtedly stolen property.The Europeans and Americans could ensure that their museums do not possess or buy stolen art obnjects and that those caught in this game will be severly punished. They could make their laws more strict. But all this is perhaps wishful thinking for Europeans and Americans are thos e who dominate and manipulate the art market. The museums are not exempt from this illegality in so far as they purchase such objects.

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