Benin: official return of 26 treasures looted by France 130 years ago

France solemnly returned this Tuesday, November 9 to Benin 26 works from the royal treasures of Abomey looted in the 19th century by colonial troops, a “historic moment of national pride” for the Beninese authorities, an examination of conscience for France.

Restitution “is only one step”

Under applause, the ministers of culture of the two countries, Roselyne Bachelot and Jean-Michel Abimbola, signed at the Elysée the deed of transfer of ownership of these properties which will return to Benin on Wednesday November 10, after 130 years of ‘absence.

It is a symbolic, moving and historic moment, which was long awaited and unexpected said French President Emmanuel Macron, who in 2017 pledged to restore African heritage in France.

“The whole people of Benin express their gratitude to you”, thanked their Beninese counterpart Patrice Talon, who came to France especially for this occasion. But ” the return of 26 works is only one step “, he underlined.

How do you want my enthusiasm to be total while works such as the God Gou or the Fâ divination tablet continue to be held here in France, to the chagrin of their heirs? ? “, he launched, promising to return for other restitutions.

“Beyond this restitution, we will continue the work”, for his part promised the French president.

“From the top of my 72 years, I can die in peace”

Among the works returned on Tuesday, which were exhibited at the Parisian Quai Branly museum, are totem statues from the former kingdom of Abomey as well as the throne of King Béhanzin, looted during the sacking of the Abomey palace by the French colonial troops in 1892.

These works are eagerly awaited in Cotonou.

I shudder to get a closer look at these royal treasures, especially the thrones of our ancestors. It’s unimaginable “, told AFP in Cotonou a dignitary and community leader Dah Adohouannon. ” From the top of my 72 years, I can die in peace, once I have seen them “, he added.

The works will be subjected to two months of “acclimatization” to the new climate and humidity conditions, before being exhibited for three months at the Beninese presidency.

“It’s obvious that there will be a rush because everyone will want to see them very quickly and quite early”, foresees a student, Henriette Béhanzin, who hopes that the visits will not be reserved for the privileged, “because this are treasures to us all”.

Historical places of slavery

The treasures will then go to the old Portuguese fort of Ouidah and the governor’s house, historical places of slavery and European colonizationlocated on the coast, pending the construction of a new museum in Abomey.

During his speech in Ouagadougou in November 2017, Mr. Macron had undertaken to make temporary or permanent restitution possible within five years. of African heritage in France.

On the basis of a report submitted by the Senegalese and French academics Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy, he had decided to return the 26 works requested by the Benin authorities.

Derogation from the principle of inalienability

A law passed in December 2020 made these restitutions possible in Benin by allowing derogations from the principle of “inalienability” of works in public collections, because they had been the object of characterized looting.

New relationship with Africa

Returns of works of art looted from Africa are one of the highlights of the “new relationship” that the French Head of State intends to establish with the continent.

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Benin: official return of 26 treasures looted by France 130 years ago

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