Africa

See why African Americans do not want stolen African treasures to be returned back to Africa

A lawsuit against the return of the Benin statutes to Nigeria has been launched by an organization that advocates for African Americans.

The renowned Benin statues have been on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC, but the Restitution Study Group (RSG), led by its creator and executive director Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, has opposed their transfer to Nigeria.

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Governments in the United States and Europe have been compelled to return looted African artifacts to their countries for some time, and they are doing so slowly but gradually. The tale can be read here.

They contend that Black Americans, who are considered to be the offspring of slaves, are as as entitled to the statues as Nigerians are, if not more so.

The bronzes that were taken from the kingdom of Benin in what is now Nigeria by British colonialists, according to the BBC, “are also part of the heritage of descendants of slaves in America, and that restoring them would deny them the opportunity to experience their culture and history.”

However, certain important Nigerian stakeholders in the statues have resisted this opinion.

A 93-year-old member of the cabinet of the Oba of Benin, the king or traditional ruler of Edo state in southern Nigeria, said “However, the relics are not just for the Oba. Whether you live in Benin or elsewhere, they are for all Benin people.”

The RSG is a New-York based NGO that was founded in 2000 to help members of oppressed minority groups find healing. According to Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, about 100,000 slaves from the Benin kingdom were shipped to the west, which means that numerous black Americans have Benin ancestry, and as such are entitled to the Benin Bronzes.

Another side of her argument focuses on the transactional exchange of manillas brass bracelets which the Portuguese used as currency for purchasing agricultural produce and of-course, slaves. She noted that the manillas were used to create the sculptures, manillas which paid for the enslavement of African American ancestors. She noted, “Fifty manillas would buy a woman, 57 would buy a male slave.”

“What we are saying is that the descendants of the people traded for these manillas have a right to see the bronzes where they live.” She added.

There is no justification for us to have to go to Nigeria to visit them. Citing travel advisories from the US, she said. I don’t want to be abducted, she said.

David Edebiri, however, refutes this claim by pointing out that not all of the manillas used in Benin came from the slave trade.

Mr. Edebiri writes in his book on his great-great-grandfather Iyase Ohenmwen, the early 19th-century prime minister for the Oba, that his grandpa “Would transport these manillas to Igun-Eronmwon, a hamlet in Benin that created all these antiques.” They would later sculpt them into bronzes and other elaborate objects.

The governments of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom have so far committed to restoring stolen property, and discussions about the issue are becoming more widespread.

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