France returns to Benin this Tuesday, the 26 treasures looted by colonial troops in the 19th century

Emmanuel Macron receives Beninese President Patrice Talon this Tuesday. The French president will solemnly restore to him the 26 royal treasures of Abomey looted in the 19th century by colonial troops. Preserved until now at the Parisian museum of Quai Branly, the works will reach Benin on Wednesday.

The Ministers of Culture of the two countries, Roselyne Bachelot and Jean-Michel Abimbola, will sign the deed of transfer of ownership from France to Benin, allowing the works to return to their country after nearly 130 years of absence. This solemn ceremony marks the last stage of an unprecedented process initiated with the promise made in 2017 by Emmanuel Macron to proceed with restitution of African heritage in France.

Other works in Germany, Great Britain and the United States

“It is a historic moment of national pride,” Jean-Michel Abimbola said a few days ago on Beninese television. “Granted, it’s only 26 works out of the thousands, but we’re starting something that can’t stop anymore,” he said. “We have primed the pump and do not despair of recovering other works” in Germany, Great Britain, the United States …

This initiative is “an important marker for the construction of a new relationship and a new perspective between France and the African continent”, welcomed the Elysée.

King Béhanzin’s throne among the treasures

Among the restored works 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 French colonial troops in 1892. These treasures will be returned aboard the ship. ‘a plane with Patrice Talon and their arrival will be celebrated on Wednesday in Cotonou, where they are awaited with emotion. “I shudder at the idea of ​​taking a closer look at these royal treasures, especially the thrones of our ancestors. It’s unimaginable ”, confided in Cotonou a dignitary and head of community Dah Adohouannon. “From the height of my 72 years, I can die in peace, once I see 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 is obvious that there will be a rush because everyone will want to see them very quickly and soon enough”, predicts a student, Henriette Béhannzin, who hopes that the visits will not be reserved for the privileged, “because this are treasures to all of us ”. The treasures will then go to the old Portuguese fort of Ouidah and the governor’s house, historic places of slavery and European colonization, located on the coast, pending the construction of a new museum in Abomey.

Restitution to reconnect with the African continent

During his speech in Ouagadougou in November 2017, Emmanuel Macron pledged to make temporary or permanent restitution of African heritage in France possible within five years. Based on a report submitted by Senegalese and French academics Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy, he decided to return 26 works requested by the authorities of Benin.

A law passed in December 2020 made these restitutions possible in Benin by allowing exceptions to the principle of “inalienability” of works in public collections, because they had been the subject of marked looting. Before being returned, the 26 works were shown together one last time at the Parisian museum of Quai Branly, seen by “15,000 people in seven days”.

According to experts, 85 to 90% of African heritage is outside the continent. Since 2019, in addition to Benin, six countries – Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Chad, Mali, Madagascar – have submitted restitution requests. Paris must soon return to Côte d’Ivoire the Djidji Ayokwe, famous drum speaker of the Ebriés, long claimed by Abidjan. The restitution of works of art looted from Africa is one of the salient points of the “new relationship” that the French Head of State intends to forge with the continent.

Source: 20Minutes – Une by

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