President of Benin Exhibits ‘Stolen’ Treasures Returned by France

Benin President Patrice Talon has inaugurated an exhibition of historic treasures returned by France last year, nearly 130 years after they were stolen by colonial forces.

The 26 pieces were displayed in a 2,000-square-metre (21,500-square-foot) space in the presidential palace in Cotonou in a show entitled “Benin art, yesterday and today”.

The return of artefacts by France comes as calls grow in Africa for Western countries to hand back colonial spoils from their museums and private collections.

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

The 26 pieces returned in November after two years of negotiations between Paris and Cotonou, were stolen in 1892 by French colonial forces from Abomey, capital of the former Dahomey kingdom located in south of modern-day Benin.

Benin Culture Minister, Jean-Michel Abimbola earlier stated that the exhibition was “returning to the Benin people part of their soul, part of their history and their dignity”.

The objects “were taken from a kingdom, but they are returning to a republic”, he said.

Before its unification Benin was made up of several kingdoms, including Dahomey, which was known for its vibrant artistic culture.

French President Emmanuel Macron has worked to restore African heritage and Benin’s culture minister said discussions were ongoing to return other objects, including the sculpture of the god Gou, which is in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

French lawmakers have passed a bill allowing Paris to return artefacts to both Benin and Senegal, another former French colony.

Some were seized by colonial administrators, troops or doctors and passed down to descendants who in turn donated them to museums in Europe and the United States.

But others were gifts to missionaries or acquired by African art collectors at the start of the 20th century or discovered by scientific expeditions.

A report commissioned by Macron counted some 90,000 African works in French museums, 70,000 of them at the Quai Branly alone.

“The work of restitution continues,” said French minister Bachelot. “We are working on a law that will help facilitate this restitution.”

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