An exhibition of items that France will return to Benin opens in Paris
The museum on the Parisian Quai Branly, named after Jacques Chirac, says goodbye to some of the artifacts from its collection.
The opening exhibition features exhibits that France is returning to Benin.
The Elysee Palace decided to grant in the end the petition of the state of Benin and return, albeit partially, the objects of art that belonged to this country.
Benin became a victim of the colonial war, which France started because Benin (and then the kingdom of Dahomey) had access to the ocean and a developed (for the 18th century) system of ports.
The Kingdom of Dahomey became the center of the slave trade for French merchants.
The sale of living goods brought in money, but robbery also brought in no less – today Parisian art critics believe that the French removed at least 80 percent of the objects of African art that existed then from Dahomey / Benin.
In total, as the curators have calculated, in the storerooms and the permanent exhibition of the Branly Museum there are 90 thousand artifacts, priceless for the Beninians themselves and for the entire African civilization, including, among other things, relics and signs of monarchical power that belonged to the royal family that ruled Dahomey. Paris is returning them.
Benin’s battle with France to reclaim the treasure lasted for several decades. And the authorities of the African country constantly received refusals. The last one dates back to March 2017 – Paris has officially announced that the issue of restitution is closed.
Three years later, when Macron was already at the Elysee Palace, the authorities ordered a new report.
And on the basis of the conclusions it contained, France decided, albeit not too willingly, to start returning the loot.
The document itself points to an interesting circumstance: the authors believe that the Benin youth’s knowledge of their roots – and this, in turn, is possible mainly through the study of artifacts – will force young Beninians to relate to the history of the country in which they were born differently.
As the French press wrote at a time when the National Assembly was discussing a law according to which a small part of their relics would be returned to Benin, “such a step will force us to look into our own colonial past in order to give it a moral assessment.”
One way or another, this step by Paris creates a necessary precedent for the EU and Europe – when the moral imperative eventually prevails over petty political games.
The exhibition in Paris will close on October 31st, its exhibits will be packed, and will return to their homeland on a special flight.