These treasures have finally returned home. After more than a century in France, the treasures of the kingdom of Abomey, looted by French colonists in the 19th century, have returned to their homeland. The plane carrying the artworks landed around 3:15 pm at the airport of Cotonou, the nation’s economic capital.
To the rhythm of songs and royal dances, they were transported to the presidential palace where the head of state, Patrice Talon, and several other guests including traditional and customary leaders were waiting for them.
While stressing that “there is no shame in reminding us that the deportation of the relics of our greatness outside the territory of Benin (...) is part of the history of humanity,” he expressed his satisfaction to see them return to his country.
“I must confess that contrary to my habits, I was not sure that this claim would succeed one day, even less in my lifetime. But once it was expressed, I was carried away by the momentum. And we did not stop until it succeeded,” he said in an emotional speech.
Patrice Talon also recalled that the history of Benin did not begin with the French invasion of 1892. And for him, this historical fact marks “the symbolic return to Benin of our soul, our identity and the testimony of what we have been; the proof that that we have existed before, and the evidence that we have known greatness.
“I believe that this is simply the sign of our rebirth. (For) everything we are committed to achieve for some time, we are achieving,” he said.
The tenant of the palace of La Marina, referring to other treasures still exposed in museums, lamented the fact that the repairs, many times, are not up to the expectation and expectations. “The idea would have been that the restitution was more general, more complete. And I almost reproached the French president for this yesterday,” he said, adding that “if we had been associated, we would have composed the package differently.”
For all that, he said “the coincidence of the return of 26 art treasures exclusively taken from the palaces of the kingdom of Abomey does not detract from our pleasure, our joy, our pride and our satisfaction to have worked for a restitution that begins with these works.”
The Beninese president further congratulated the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who “had the courage to initiate the restitution process.”
Status of the treasures
Of these 26 works, everyone will be free to establish the link that suits him best, the Head of State said. “But, he added, in our secular republican identity, these works do not have, for the Republic, any religious or spiritual character.”
According to him, if the spirituality that can be conferred on them is only a neutral spirituality, then it is republican. It is a particular spirituality that the Republic respects but would not carry, he said.
“The works, whether here or in other locations and even soon in the museum of the epics of kings and Amazons of Abomey, will be in spaces of the Republic. And as such, they are devoid of any religious consideration. Everyone can establish at his ease the link he wants with them,” he concluded.
On Tuesday, November 9, France officially finalized the restitution of 26 works of art from the royal treasures of Abomey looted in the 19th century by colonial troops and kept until now in the Quai Branly Museum.
Among these art objects are totem statues from the ancient kingdom of Abomey, as well as the throne of King Behanzin, which were looted when the Abomey palace was sacked by colonial troops in 1892.