France Returning 26 Looted Artifacts to Benin After 130 Years

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The pilfered 26 artifacts, which include thrones and sacred altars, are the first of many that might be returned to the continent after being in Europe for so long.

France is returning some items it looted from West Africa 130 years ago to the nation of Benin, Washington Post reported.

Twenty-six prized possessions known as “Abomey Treasures,” will go back to the West African nation after being looted during colonial times, Washington Post reported.

Benin’s Culture Minister Jean-Michel Abimbola called the move a “historic milestone.”

The items include 19th-century thrones, sacred altars and royal statues, that were plundered by the French army during the raid of Abomey Palace in 1892 and have been held at the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac in Paris since 2003, Washington Post reported.

Calixte Biah, curator of the Museum of History of Ouidah, Benin, spoke to Associated Press and marveled at their return.

“It’s been more than one century that they have been removed from their historical context. And when you look at the quality of each of these artifacts altogether, you realize that ... there were great artists,” he told The Associated Press.

Benin is creating a new museum at Abomey, with funding help from the French government, and will house the works of art, ABC News reported.

In 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron said that his country needed to right the wrongs of the past in a landmark 2017 speech where he admitted "that a large part of many African countries’ cultural heritage lies in France,” USA Today reported.

The 26 pieces will be returned days after they are signed over to Benin by Macron in Paris on Nov. 9, Abimbola said.

There are thousands of other artifacts that need to be returned but Biah calls this step the first of many.

“I think it would be decent that other countries which hold African artifacts take the same path as France,” he said. “We see 26 artifacts. There are others, no? I’d say we are at the beginning of a process.”

At least 90,000 artifacts from sub-Saharan Africa are held across various museums and cultural institutions in France, according to a 2018 report  by the French government.

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