France returns 26 treasures looted from Benin but still holds more
France returned 26 treasures that were looted from Benin during the colonial period, but still refuses to hand over other African heritage items it stole from the continent.
Benin President Patrice Talon and Culture Minister Jean-Michel Abimbola travelled to Paris to bring home the artefacts that were snatched by French forces 130 years ago.
Talon said he felt “overwhelming emotion” at recovering the objects taken during the ransacking of the Kingdom of Dahomey in the south of present-day Benin, including a royal throne.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday at the presidential palace in Paris, where France signed over the artefacts to Benin, Talon said the treasures were much more than cultural goods – the term used by France to describe them.
“This is our soul, Mr President,” he said, flanked by President Emmanuel Macron of France.
The return of the pieces taken from the Royal Palaces of Abomey, which also include three totemic statues, comes as calls mount in Africa for European countries to return the colonial spoils lining their museum shelves.
In France, most are held by the Quai Branly museum, which has begun a major review of its collection to identify works believed to have been acquired through violence or coercion.
French legislators last year passed a bill allowing Paris to return artefacts to Benin and Senegal, another former French colony in West Africa.
Talon made clear that he saw Tuesday’s handover as the first step in a large-scale restitution process, asking “how do you expect my enthusiasm to be complete” when France still held other key artefacts.
In Benin, they will be exhibited at various sites, including a former Portuguese fort in the city of Ouidah, once a slave-trading hub, while awaiting the completion of a museum in Abomey to house them. Experts estimate that 85 to 90 percent of African cultural artefacts were taken from the continent.