18.01.2017 Opinion

Endangered Artefacts - Icom Issues Red List Of West African Cultural Objects At Risk

By Kwame Tua Opoku
Endangered Artefacts - Icom Issues Red List Of West African Cultural Objects At Risk
18.01.2017 LISTEN

It is indeed unfortunate that so much Nok material has been looted over time to supply the international art market. Properly excavated, such pieces might have shed valuable light on the Nok culture.’


Ekpo Eyo. (1)
The International Council of Museums, ICOM , has issued a Red List of West African Cultural Objects at Risk - Emergency Mali which should interest all those concerned with the continuing looting of West African artefacts. (2) The additional title ‘Mali Emergency’ indicates that the list was largely inspired

by the emergency in Mali in 2012 that threatened to destroy important manuscripts and artefacts relating to African history. (3)


Terracotta statuette covered in pastilles, Djenné-Djeno (Niger River Valley), Musée national du Mali.

The new guide should help the public, museum officials, government officials, auction houses and dealers to sort out the endangered West African artefacts. As the document states in its introduction, ‘’Throughout history, West Africa has suffered extensive losses of its cultural heritage’’. To be more precise, West Africa suffered its greatest loss of cultural artefacts during the colonial period when Belgian, British, Dutch, German, French, Italian and Portuguese regimes enabled the looting, stealing and transfer of African artefacts and other resources. (4). The U.S.A, Austria and other States, even though not directly controlling colonies, were beneficiaries of the cultural plundering enabled by the oppressive colonial system. That clearly is the explanation of the presence of a huge number of African artefacts now present in Western museums in Berlin, Brussels, London, Paris, New York and other cities.

The Red List urges museums, auction houses, art dealers and collectors not to acquire objects like those presented in the list without first carefully examining their origin and documentation. The introduction ends with this advice: ‘If you suspect a cultural object from West Africa has been stolen, looted or illegally exported, please contact: International Council of Museums(ICOM). This recommendation is not explicitly limited to objects that have been recently stolen, looted, or illegally exported. Does ICOM extend this reporting duty to West African artefacts ‘stolen, looted or illegally exported ’in colonial times? There is hardly any West African artefact of great value in Western museums or on the Western art market that does not fall into this broad category. For example, most valuable Benin artefacts, including, the ones depicted in the list are from the loot of 1897 by the British army during the notorious Punitive Expedition .

We have it on the word of Ferdinand Luschan, the Austro-German expert on Benin art that before the British invasion of Benin there were hardly any such Benin artefacts in Europe. That also accounts for the impact made by the Benin Bronzes in Europe. (5)

A statement adds that ‘’A Red List is NOT a list of actual stolen objects. The cultural goods depicted are inventoried objects within the collections of recognised institutions. They serve to illustrate the categories of cultural goods most vulnerable to illicit traffic’.


Queen-Mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, now in British Museum, London. One of the 3500 Benin artefacts that the British looted in the notorious Punitive Expedition of 1897. A symbol of Pan Africanism that the British adamantly refuses even to ‘lend’ to Nigeria.

Most looted West African cultural artefacts are in the collections of recognised institutions. (6) One would expect recognised institutions not to acquire looted artefacts or if they ‘unknowingly’ acquire them, to return them to the rightful owners as soon as they become aware of the illegal status. However, experience has shown that no Western museum is prepared to return looted artefacts unless, as in the case of Italian artefacts, it is forced to do so. Looted West African artefacts such as Nok, Benin, Komaland and Dogon in Western museums have not been returned. It may be significant that in seeking to show examples of West African artefacts at risk, ICOM had to resort in some cases to Western museums for the relevant images. Could it be that in some cases not even the national museums in West Africa have examples that could be used or is there some other consideration in resorting to museums that have looted West African artefacts? And which major Western museum does not have looted West African objects?

It is true that many Westerners have banned morality and justice from questions of restitution of artefacts. Indeed, some museum directors seem to have more sympathy for grave-robbers than for the so-called resource countries. The discourse of many museum directors is an extraordinary narrative in which there is no room for sympathy for those States where artefacts were looted; their energy has been spent in justifying the actions that led to such losses. (6)

Of the 49 artefacts illustrated in the List, 19 are from Mali, 13 from Nigeria, 7 from Senegal, 6 from Cote d’Ivoire, 3 from Niger and 1 from Burkina Faso. There are no images of artefacts from Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania and Togo. Does it mean that ICOM could not obtain images from certain countries in the region or did those countries not respond? It should be mentioned though that the Red List of African Archaeological Objects, 2000, contained only 16 images.

The artefacts depicted in the new Red List include historical manuscripts, pendants, ceremonial stools, jewellery, ornaments, headsets, tools, sculptures, funerary vessels and containers. These categories are illustrated with images from actual objects in museums. The images are useful tools for learning about

the varieties of West African artefacts that are considered endangered.


Leather bound paper book-Timbuktu manuscripts, Mali.

This valuable publication also includes a list of international and national legal instruments that govern artefacts in West Africa. Among these international instruments are:

The Hague Convention of 14 May 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict;

UNESCO Convention of 14 November 1970 on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property;

UNIDROIT Convention of 24 June 1995 on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects.

It is interesting to note that very few West African States have ratified these conventions that are supposed to assist in preserving cultural artefacts. For example, only six States in the region have ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention that is frequently cited by those who write about protection of artefacts: Niger, Nigeria (1972), Senegal (1984), Burkina Faso, Mali (1987) and Côte d’Ivoire (1990).

Is there any valid ground for the non-ratification by so many other States in the region? We do not see any. (7) It could well be that some Africa States are under the mistaken impression that by ratifying the 1970 UNESCO Convention they forfeit thereby their right to recover the massive amounts of national treasures stolen under the colonial regime. This impression may also have been reinforced by the tendency of Westerners to suggest that the 1970 Convention excludes the right to sue on cases occurring before 1970. The Convention itself explicitly provides in Article 15

Nothing in this Convention shall prevent States Parties thereto from concluding special agreements among themselves or from continuing to implement agreements already concluded regarding the restitution of cultural property removed, whatever the reason, from its territory of origin, before the entry into force of this Convention for the States concerned.

Nothing in the Convention abrogates any previous rights existing before 1970. Thus, individual and collective rights to property existing prior to 1970 may be pursued on other basis than the Convention. One may also recall that the UNIDROIT Convention contains this provision in its Article 9:

(1) Nothing in this Convention shall prevent a Contracting State from applying any rules more favourable to the restitution or the return of stolen or illegally exported cultural objects than provided for by this Convention.

A list of national legislations is provided for Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo. No national legislations are mentioned for Cape-Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Mauritania, and Sierra Leone. Does this mean that those countries have no national legislations on the protection of artefacts and the punishing of illegal traffic in artefacts? It would be useful to read the explanation of experts on the state of legislation in countries that certainly have remarkable artefacts. Incidentally, Nigeria seems to have only legislations from 1979 and 1999. Has there been no need for a new comprehensive legislation on artefacts? The versions of the Constitution of 1999 that we could find did not include any article 60b and article 60 does not deal with artefacts. (8) Readers may be that surprised to learn that Nigeria does not yet have a comprehensive legislation on cultural artefacts despite the various suggestions made by Nigerian specialists such as Folarin Syllon.

A quick look at the homepage of the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB) reveals that ‘The GMMB’s rules and regulations are stated in National Liberation Council Decree(NLCD) 387 of 1969 ( now known as Act 387 of 1969) and Executive Instruments (EI) 29 of 1973 and 42 of 1972. Act 387 deals, inter alia, with the control of antiquities and EI 29 deals with, inter alia, export of antiquities and sale of antiquities. Why are none of these instruments mentioned in the Red

Mali appears to be the only State in the region to have entered into a cultural property agreement with the USA establishing import restrictions on imports of archaeological artefacts from Mali into the USA. The agreement was established in 1997 under Article 9 of the UNESCO Convention of 1970 which provides that:

Any State Party to this Convention whose cultural patrimony is in jeopardy from pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials may call upon other States Parties who are affected. The States Parties to this Convention undertake, in these circumstances. to participate in a concerted international effort to determine and to carry out the necessary concrete measures, including the control of exports and imports and international commerce in the specific materials concerned. Pending agreement each State concerned shall take provisional measures to the extent feasible to prevent irremediable injury to the cultural heritage of the requesting State’.

Why would other States in the region not enter into similar agreements with the USA where many looted West African artefacts end up? One could also envisage similar agreements with States where precious African artefacts are located in the West. It is time that African States engaged in direct negotiations with Western States for the restitution of artefacts rather than with their museums. After all, the massive lootings of African artefacts were done by States.

The new Red List of West African Cultural Objects at Risk has been issued without any explicit reference to the earlier Red List of African Archaeological Objects, 2000 . Obviously the two lists are not exclusive but it would be useful if we had some explanations on the relationship between the two ICOM lists. Does it mean that those objects on the archaeological list are artefacts that under are no circumstances may be exported out of their countries of origin because of their importance for the history of the countries whereas those on the new list can be exported out of their countries of origin if proper papers are obtained? Are these later ones of less historical importance? What about the Benin Bronzes that were not on the earlier list but now appear on the second list?

Are they not also important for the history of Benin and Nigeria? Is it significant that the Benin Bronzes were not on the archaeological list but are now on the second list of artefacts? Does it now mean they can be exported on condition that proper papers are provided? We know what proper documentation in the context of artefacts often means even where ‘recognized’ institutions are involved. The last 20 years have provided enough experience on this matter.

If the requirement of proper documentation is to be taken seriously, then we must have in all West African States well- established and known systems of certification. Each State must indicate who the proper authority is for issuing permission to export and the forms must be published in an accessible form, preferably also at an internet site established for that purpose with copies at a definite place for consultation. A list of permits granted must also be published regularly by the relevant authority. The public must know exactly which authority to contact in case of doubt on the existence of permit. No room should be left for corruption in a region that has enough experience of corruption.

What are the implications the new Red List for Benin Bronzes that are already in Western museums and other’ recognized’ collections? Indeed, are there any valuable Benin Bronzes that are not already in ‘recognized’ collections?

It is noted that Nok and Sokoto sculptures are on the archaeological list and are again on the new list. Can one now legally export Nok sculptures? Can one obtain valid papers for the exportation of objects that are banned from exportation? There is some contradiction here that must be explained.

Are attempts being made here to procure some legitimacy and legality for the Benin Bronzes and the Nok sculptures already in western museums.? Are we moving from the absolute ban on export included in the early archaeological list to a conditional ban in the new list? Clarifications from the experts would be would be very helpful. (9)


Wooden agba (ceremonial stool) for an oba, with metal tacks, Benin, Nigeria, now in Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

We note that terracotta from Komaland (Ghana) was included in the earlier Red List of African Archaeological Objects that are so important for the history of the country that they should under no circumstance be exported out of the country. But are not included in the new Red List (10). The logical conclusion is that the absolute ban on export continues. However, recent auctions and sales have offered Komaland objects for sale and therefore these pieces must be considered as illegally exported from Ghana. What then are the actions and policies of the government of Ghana in this matter? Where can a reader inform herself about what is being done about this and how she can help? Should she report to the government of Ghana or ICOM or keep quiet, on the assumption that these facts are known to all concerned?


Funerary vessel with human figure, Bura, Niger, now in Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, USA.

Recent efforts by ICOM to save endangered West African artefacts must be supported by all who are interested in cultural preservation. Many of the African artefacts have a long history of being at risk. For example, the Benin artefacts have been endangered since the British invasion of Benin City in 1897 that resulted in looting of some 3500 artefacts which were sent to Europe and mostly auctioned. German institutions as well as bought USA collectors bought many. Most of the valuable Benin artefacts are thus outside Benin and Nigeria. So very little was left in Benin that when it was decided to create a National Museum in Benin City, there were no Benin artefacts to exhibit. Commenting on this Ekpo Eyo, the great Nigerian archaeologist, stated:

“By the end of the 1960s, the price of Benin works had soared so high that the Federal Government of Nigeria was in no mood to contemplate buying them. When, therefore a National Museum was planned for Benin City in 1968, we were faced with the problem of finding exhibits that would be shown to reflect the position that Benin holds in the world of art history. A few unimportant objects which were kept in the old local authority museum in Benin were transferred to the new museum and a few more objects were brought in from Lagos. Still the museum was ‘empty’. We tried using casts and photographs to fill gaps but the desired effect was unachievable. We therefore thought of making an appeal to the world for loans or return of some works so that Benin might also be to show its own works at least to its own people. We tabled a draft resolution at the General Assembly of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) which met in France in 1968, appealing for donations of one or two pieces from those museums which have large stocks of Benin works. The resolution was modified to make it read like a general appeal for restitution or return and then adopted. When we returned to Nigeria, we circulated the adopted resolution to the embassies and high commissions of countries we know to have large Benin holdings but up till now we have received no reaction from any quarters and the Benin Museum stays ‘empty.” (11)

The people of Benin and the Nigerian government have been asking for the return of some of these artefacts but to no avail. (12) The British Museum that holds a great number of Benin artefacts has so far not returned a single artefact to Benin or Nigeria but was willing to sell them even to Nigeria. (13) The Germans and Austrians pretend that nobody has asked for the Benn artefacts. Meetings between Nigerians and some Western museums have only ended in plans that do not even mention restitution. (14)

Now that everybody seems to recognize that Benin Bronzes are also endangered or at risk, if you prefer, we should set about considering how these artefacts could be saved for the people of Benin and Nigeria. The first task would be to draw up a list of Benin artefacts that now exist, including those in western museums and in Benin so that we can have an idea about the extent of the danger faced here. We hope the museums will finally agree to tell us how many of such artefacts they hold. Similar lists could be established for other artefacts such as Nok and Dogon, if the resistance of Western museums can be overcome. Incidentally, most African museums are not well provided with Benin Bronzes as Western museums are. Who are Benin’s neighbours?


Figure of a seated male. One of the looted Nigerian Nok terracotta bought by the French, now in the possession of the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, France, with a dubious post factum Nigerian consent.

Since West African artefacts are endangered, we could also envisage a moratorium on the sale on such artefacts for 10 years to give the countries of origin time to recover lost ground. Resources and energies must be invested in this effort. In the same period, serious attempts should be made to persuade those museums holding large numbers of Benin artefacts -Berlin Ethnologisches Museum (580), British Museum (900), Weltmuseum, Vienna, formerly Völkerkundemuseum, (167)- to return a few of their Benin objects to Benin and Nigeria. Above all, these museums should be encouraged to end finally, the baseless arguments they have been feeding the public regarding return of artefacts:

-that no one has asked for the return of the artefacts;

-that an ivory mask looted in 1897 from Benin cannot travel because of its fragility;

-that Western museums have better climatic conditions for preserving artefacts looted from Africa;

-that African museums do not have adequate facilities for keeping African artefacts;

-that the artefacts would soon be found again on the free market;

-that Africans could use digital versions of artefacts instead of the physical objects that are best left in Western museums;

-that Western museums are open to the whole world at a time when measures are being introduced to make it impossible for Africans to visit Western States; and

finally, Western museums should stop behaving as if the United Nations, UNESCO and ICOM had not asked them to return some of these artefacts to their countries of origin. (15)

Histories of the acquisition of West African artefacts should be honestly presented to Western public and not distorted to serve the interests of Western museums. This is a duty they owe to their own public.

The Red List of West African Cultural Objects at Risk- Emergency Mali could make a valuable contribution to preservation of cultural artefacts in a region that has always been at risk of Western exploitation. Nevertheless, it is evident that a successful reduction of illicit trade in artefacts in West Africa can only succeed if there are adequate internal structures, resources, and determination on the part of the States concerned to end this plague. So far, there is little evidence of such a strong determination to save artefacts for future generations and none of the West African States has since Independence in the sixties achieved any remarkable restitution of artefacts. West African governments cannot be said to have expended extraordinary efforts to save their cultural heritage. Whether this is due to lack of understanding or the absence of resources, there is sufficient knowledge on the plight of African cultural heritage. (16)

It is more than distressing to read that a State like Ghana is not in a hurry to put in place the necessary legal structures for cultural preservation:

In spite of modest gains in the field of archaeology, some faculty members and graduate students at Legon, doubt the sustainability of the current rate of growth of archaeology and heritage research in Ghana. They often cite the absence of a functioning heritage law as the source of their pessimism. Moreover, since 2005, past governments have failed to even table the revised version of the bill; i. e, the National Liberation Council/N.l.CD 387, for a parliamentary debate and consideration. The draft bill has still not been passed.

A key element of the draft bill requires companies engaged in earth-moving construction activities (including mining and road contractors) to allocate 0.001% of their project budget into a national fund for use for archaeological survey, salvage archaeology and other related heritage management programmes. More so, despite efforts by the department to drum support for the passage of the bill, it is yet to see the light of the day. Therefore, there is no effective law to monitor activities of mining and construction companies whose activities are destroying important sites such as Wodoku and Ladoku in the Accra Plains. Additionally, there is no policy to regulate the conduct, management, and funding of heritage research activities in the country.’ (17)

Friendship and cooperation with the West has so far not resulted in the restitution of any of the valuable African artefacts in Western museums. States and museums in the region should abandon the policy of quiet diplomacy or silence in matters regarding artefacts That policy has not led to any visible success as far as artefacts are concerned. Moreover, the obligation to educate our public about preservation of artefacts cannot fully succeed when there is silence about the interests of various parties in this context. There should be no impression that those paid to protect our artefacts are more interested in having good relationship with Western museums than ensuring that some of the many artefacts looted or stolen in the colonial period are returned.

The best places to see icons of African art continue to be Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, London, New York, Paris, Tervuren and other Western cities. (18)

Kwame Tua Opoku, 18 January, 2017.
1.Ekpo Eyo, From Shrines to Showcases: Masterpieces of Nigerian Art, Federal Ministry of Information and Communication, Abuja, 2010, p.23.

The preamble to ICOM red List Africa reads as follows: The looting of archaeological items and the destruction of archaeological sites in Africa are a cause of irreparable damage to African history and hence to the history of humankind. Whole sections of our history have been wiped out and can never be reconstituted. These objects cannot be understood once they have been removed from their archaeological context and divorced from the whole to which they belong. Only professional archaeological excavations can help recover their identity, their date and their location. But so long as there is demand from the international art market these objects will be looted and offered for sale. ICOM red List See also K. Opoku, ‘Recovering Nigeria’s Terracotta’

‘Revisiting Looted Nigerian Nok Terracotta Sculptures in Louvre, Musée du Quai Branly, Paris,’

‘Does the Demand for the Restitution of Stolen African Cultural Objects Constitute an Obstacle to the Dissemination of Knowledge about African Arts? Comments o a Letter from Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.’

2. A Red List of West African Cultural Objects at Risk - ICOM › Press Releases
A Red List of West African Cultural Artefacts at Risk- … 0

3. See International Criminal Court Judgement in the case of The Prosecutor v. Ahmad AL Faqi Al Mahd Summary of the Judgment and Sentence in the case of The Prosecutor ...

4. Folarin Shyllon, ‘The Nigerian and African Experience on Looting and Trafficking in Cultural Objects, in Barbara T. Hoffman (ed.) Art and Cultural Heritage-Law, Policy and Practice, Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp.137-144; Peter Schmidt and Roderick McIntosh, (eds.) Plundering Africa’s Past, Indiana University Press, Bloomington ,1996.

Annie E. Coombes, Reinventing Africa, Yale University Press, New Haven ,1994.

For an account of the notorious French Dakar-Djibouti Expedition ,1931-1933, see Michel Leiris, Afrique Fantôme, Gallimard,1934. Leiris provides detail information on the brutal and criminal methods the French mission employed to extract from Africans their precious artefacts. Afrique Fantôme which is a unique book written by the secretary of the expedition has so far not been translated into English but must be one day translated since it provides incontrovertible evidence of how the French obtained thousands of African artefacts. Musée du Quai Branly-Jaques Chirac, established in 2006, inherited African artefacts that had been in the possession of two institutions. Musée de l'Homme and the Musée National des Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie. The objects include artefacts from the notorious Dakar-Djibouti expedition which, through stealing, blackmail and duress, brought to France 3500 cultural objects from the French colonies. The museum refuses even to contemplate their restitution to the countries of origin.

See K .Opoku, The Logic of Non-Restitution of Cultural Objects from the Musée du Quai Branly.

K. Opoku, ‘Benin to Quai Branly: a Museum for the Arts of Others or for the Stolen Arts of Others?’

Ivan Lindsay, The History of Loot and Stolen Art, Unicorn Press, London, 2014, pp. 219-239.

Russell Chamberlin, Loot! -The Heritage of Plunder, Thames and Hudson, London,1983.

5. K. Opoku, ‘Benin to Berlin Ethnologisches Museum: Are Benin Bronzes made in Berlin?’

6. Many recognised institutions have been involved in the last decades in cases of looted artefacts and indeed a senior curator from a North American institution had to spend time in prison in Italy. K. Opoku, ‘Do Directors of “Universal Museums” ever Learn from Experience?’

Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums: Singular Failure of an Arrogant Imperialist Project.

K. Opoku: Dr. Cuno Again - Reviving Discredited Arguments to Prevent Repatriation of Museum Artefacts... .

Review of James Cuno’s W ho Owns Antiquity? ..

Does Dr Cuno really believe what he writes? Comments on a lecture by Neil Macgregor, British ...

Kwame Opoku - A History of the World with 100 Looted Objects ...!topic/african.

K. Opoku, ‘’Virtual Visit to Museums Holding Looted Benin Objects’’

7. F. Shyllon,’The Recovery of Cultural Objects by African States through the UNESCO and UNIDROIT Conventions and the Role of Arbitration’, ...

K. Opoku , Would Western Museums Return Looted Objects if Nigeria and Other African States were Ruled by Angels? Restitution and Corruption. …

8. Article 60, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 that I could find reads as follow:

60. Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Senate or the House of Representatives shall have power to regulate its own procedure, including the procedure for summoning and recess of the House . Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

See F. Shyllon, PDF] NIGERIA I. Information regarding the application of the UNIDROIT .Convention..

9. There have been some unseeming contortions concerning the ban on exportation of Nok sculpture from Nigeria. See Kwame Opoku: Nok Once More - AfricAvenir International

F. Shyllon, Negotiations for the return of Nok sculptures from France to Nigeria ...

K. Opoku, Revisiting Looted Nigerian Nok Terracotta Sculptures in Louvre/Musée du Quai Branly.Paris. ..

10. Benjamin W. Kankepeyang and Christopher R. De Corse, ‘Ghana's Vanishing Past: Development, Antiquities, and the Destruction of the Archaeological Record.’

Ghana's Vanishing Past - SUrface - Syracuse University

K. Opoku, They are Selling Records of African History: Who Cares?…

F. Shyllon wrote: ‘In 1971, Ekpo Eyo, as Director of the then Antiquities Department of Nigeria, made the ominous forecast that ‘’unless the theft of Nigerian collection was arrested nothing will be left of Nigerian antiquities in about ten years.’ Twenty- five years later, Nigeria’s Minister of Culture, while inaugurating an Inter-Ministerial Committee on the looting of Nigeria’s cultural property on 23July 1996, warned that ‘we are losing our cultural heritage at such an alarming rate that unless the trend is arrested soon we may have no cultural artefacts to bequeath to our progeny’. Also in 1996, Henry John Drewal urged that drastic steps be taken to curb the activities of those plundering Africa’s past, otherwise Africa will soon have a ‘landscape barren of cultural heritage’ ’Barbara T. Hoffman, op. cit. p.139.

11. Ekpo Eyo, Museum, Vol. XXL, no 1, 1979, “Return and Restitution of cultural property”, pp. 18-21, at p.21, Nigeria. See also Ekpo Eyo, From Shrines to Showcases: Masterpieces of Nigerian Art, Federal Ministry of Information and Communication, Abuja, 2010 p.32.

12. See Annex below
13. Martin Bailey, ‘British Museum sold Benin Bronzes’

British Museum Sold Benin Bronzes - Forbes
BBC News | ARTS | Benin bronzes sold to Nigeria
British Museum sold precious bronzes | UK news | The Guardian

‘Benin bronze, sold off by British Museum in 1950, returns to market,

“Benin Plan of Action for Restitution

14. K. Opoku, ‘’Benin Plan of Action: Will this miserable Document be the Last Word on the Looted Benin Artefacts’’

15. See the list of United Nations Resolutions on Return of Cultural Property in

K. Opoku, Did Germans Never Hear Directly or Indirectly Nigeria’s Demand for Return of Looted Artefacts?...

16. Readers will recall the so-called Geneva row where Swiss scholars criticised the exhibition of looted African terracotta which included many items on the ICOM Red List but there was not much reaction from West Africa. See K. Opoku, Let Others Loot for You: Looting of African Artefacts for Western Museums.

K. Opoku – What We Understand by ‘Restitution” ..

We read with sadness and, in some parts, almost with tears the article by Benjamin W. Kankpeyeng and Christopher R. DeCorse, ‘Ghana’s Vanishing Past: Development, Antiquities, and the Destruction of the Archaeological Record’. Abstract.'s_Vanishing_

Ghana's past is being destroyed at a rapid rate. Although the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board has in some instances successfully intervened to stop the illicit trading of antiquities, the destruction of archaeological sites as a consequence of development over the past two decades has been staggering and the pace is accelerating. The potential of the legislation that established the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board and empowered it to manage and preserve the country's archaeological past has not been realized. The lack of political action, limited relevant public education, insufficient funding, and the poverty of the majority of the Ghanaian populace have allowed for the widespread destruction of both sites and historic buildings. Conspicuously, both the absence of integrated development planning by the Ghanaian government and the inability of development partners (both foreign and domestic) to recognize the potential value of cultural resources have contributed significantly to the continued loss of the archaeological record. While the antiquities trade is a continuing threat to Ghana's cultural resources, it is, in fact, tourism and economic development that pose the major menace to the country's archaeological past.

In parts of the article we read,
Perhaps the most disappointing example of GMMB 's unsuccessful intervention in northern Ghana is the destruction of the British fort at the old residency in Wa, which had been used by colonial officials and the regional government up until 2002. The fort was built by the British in the first half of the twentieth century and it continued in service in the early 1970s. By the early 1980s, however, it was in ruins, though still identified as a historic monument by GMMB. Despite this fact, it was demolished in the mid-1980s at the direction of the regional authorities of the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) following the creation of the new Upper West Region. The structure was considered to be outmoded and also a security risk because of its location within an area that served as a residency for the Regional Secretary, as well as for visiting military authorities such as the Chairman of PNDC (the Head of State). While the need for new construction cannot be denied, the fact that the concerns of GMMB were largely ignored and no drawings, plans, or archaeological assessments of the site were made prior to its destruction is unfortunate.

Even well-intentioned efforts at preservation sometimes went awry. In 1990, GMMB built a series of walls on the Elmina peninsula to delineate areas for parking and craft kiosks, as well as to afford some protection to the old town site. Excavations for the footings of the more than 1000 m of walls, entirely located within the old town site, were not monitored by archaeologists. The contractor reported that ''... the excavations for the wall revealed that the foundations of the houses [representing the old settlement] were about six inches from the ground [surface] and that, the entire length of the wall's foundations passed over archaeological finds" (letter to Kwesi Agbley from Ato Austin, chairman of the Central Region Development Commission, November 21, 1990; DeCorse, 2001, pp. 217218, n. 39). The fact that the construction work was not monitored is made all the more unfortunate by the fact that the walls have not afforded any protection to the site. Trash dumping and use of the shore as a toilet facility has continued, while a large squatters' village now crowds the western end of the peninsula.

F. Shyllon wrote: ‘In 1971, Ekpo Eyo, as Director of the then Antiquities Department of Nigeria, made the ominous forecast that ‘’unless the theft of Nigerian collection was arrested nothing will be left of Nigerian antiquities in about ten years.’ Twenty- five years later, Nigeria’s Minister of Culture, while inaugurating an Inter-Ministerial Committee on the looting of Nigeria’s cultural property on 23July 1996, warned that ‘we are losing our cultural heritage at such an alarming rate that unless the trend is arrested soon we may have no cultural artefacts to bequeath to our progeny’. Also in 1996, Henry John Drewal urged that drastic steps be taken to curb the activities of those plundering Africa’s past, otherwise Africa will soon have a ‘landscape barren of cultural heritage’’, Barbara T. Hoffman, op. cit. p.139. See also by Shyllon, Unraveling History; Return of African Cultural Objects Repatriated and Looted in Colonial Times’, in James A.R. Nafziger and Ann M Nicgorski (eds.), Cultural Heritage Issues: The Legacy of Conquest, Colonization, and Commerce, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2009, pp.159-168.

17. William Norteh Gblerkpor and Samuel Nilirmi Nkumbaan ‘Archaeology and Sociopolitical Engagements in Ghana’ in James Anquandah, Bejamin Kankpeyeng, Wazi Apoh (eds.), Current Perspectives in the Archaeology of Ghana, Sub-Saharan Publishers, University of Ghana, 201, p.312.

18. A visit to homepages of leading Western museums will confirm this, bearing in mind that many museums do not display most of what they have on the internet or in their exhibition halls.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Home
British Museum - Welcome to the British Museum
musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac - Expositions /expositions/

Musée royal de l'Afrique centrale - Royal Museum for Central Africa
Ethnologisches Museum: Home - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Weltmuseum Wien
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Royal Museum for Central Africa - Official Site
If anyone doubts that the best of African art has been carted to the Western world, she should look at any book on African art, including exhibition catalogues and check the locations of the objects depicted.

-Most of the Nigerian artefacts shown in Eyo’s, Masterpieces of Nigerian Art, (2010) are in Western institutions. See K. Opoku, Excellence and Erudition: Ekpo Eyos Materpieces of Nigerian Art. ... .

We noted the following locations of Nigerian masterpieces:

Musée du quai Branly, Paris, France.
Musée Barbier-Mueller, Geneva, Switzerland.
Dept. of Art History and Archaeology, University of Maryland, USA, British Museum, London, United Kingdom.

Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, USA.
National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institutions, Washington, USA. Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, USA

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.
Museum Rietberg, Zürich, Switzerland.
Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany.
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, USA.
Völkerkunde Museum (now Weltmuseum), Vienna, Austria.

Royal Collection, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, London, United Kingdom. New Orleans Museum of Arts, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA.

Yale University Art Gallery, Connecticut, New Haven, USA. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, USA. Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, Indiana, USA.

Arts of Nigeria in French Private Collections, edited by Alain Lebas, (5 Continents Editions, Milan. 2012), gives us a comprehensive view of the quantity and quality of Nigerian artworks that are in private hands in France

K. Opoku Arts of Nigeria in French Private Collections

African Art-In American Collections, Warren M. Robbins and Nancy Ingram Nooter (Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, U.S.A, 2004) is as complete a book as anyone might wish and shows the wealth of American collections of African art. Could all the museums in Africa assemble such a display of African artefacts?

Dorina Hecht and Gunter Kawik (eds.), Afrika und die Kunst, (Kawik Verlag, Bottrop, Germany, 2010) provides us with a perspective on the impressive collections of African art in Germany. The authors refer to a statement by Jean Paul Barbier, a well-known collector of African art that African art objects should never be returned to Afric.p.11. Similar statement has been made by Jean Paul Barbier in connection with one of his exhibitions; “We Westerners are the ones who confer the quality of art to these objects. These statues should not return to Africa.” Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller., “Ce sont nous, Occidentaux, qui conférons à ces oeuvres une valeur d'art. Ces statues ne doivent pas retourner en Afrique”

K. Opoku “Is Africa closer to Oceania than to Europe? Visit to an Exhibition of African and Oceanian Arts”. ..

African art in Italian collections is presented by Chantal Dandrieu and Fabrizio Giovagnoni, in Passion d’Afrique-l’art africain dans les collections italiennes, Officina Libraria,2009, Milan. The book includes a DVD with images of extraordinary Djene sculptures.

Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley, Maria C. Berns, Richard Fardon and Sidney Littlefield Kasfir, Fowler Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles, 2011. This exhibition catalogue shows how much has been taken away from the arts of this area of Nigeria.

Barbara Plankensteiner (ed), Benin: Kings and Rituals - Court Arts from Nigeria, (Snoeck, Ghent, 2007) gives us an accurate idea about where the Benin artefacts are to be found.

The Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany, is one of the few major Western museums that facilitate the search for the African artefacts they have. The museum’s hand book offers information on the number of African artefacts it holds and their history. The museum confesses in its museum guide that it has far more objects than it could possibly display: “Today, the Africa collection of the Ethnologisches Museum embraces 75,000 objects: around 40,000 from West Africa (of which roughly 12, come from Cameroon, and 6,000 from the Congo), around 20,000 from East Africa, 5,000 from South Africa, 5000 from North East Africa, and 3000 from North Africa. By far the largest segment of items is not on display, but is stored in the study collection.” Ethnologisches Museum Berlin, Prestel Verlag, Munich, 2007. Moreover, the publication, Afrika-Kunst and Kultur, (Prestel Verlag, 1999) provides us images of masterpieces of African art in the museum. See also Peter Junge, Kunst aus Afrika, SMB Dumont, Berlin, 2000.

The Musée du Quai Branly has several publications which give us an idea about its African collection. For example, Yves Le Fur (ed.) Musée du Quai Branly, La Collection, Skira Flammarion, Paris 2009.

The catalogue of the Exhibition, Africa-The Art of a Continent, edited by Tom Phillips, (Prestel Verlag, Munich,1996) offers an incomparable view of African art and locations where the artefacts are to be found. See also, Africa, The Art of a Continent,100 Pieces of Power and Beauty, Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1996.


Members of the nefarious Punitive Expedition of 1897 posing proudly with looted Benin artefacts

Almost every Western museum has some Benin objects. Here is a short list of some of the places where the Benin Bronzes are to be found and their numbers. Various catalogues of exhibitions on Benin art or African art also list the private collections of the Benin Bronzes. Many museums refuse to inform the public about the number of Benin artefacts they have and do not display permanently the artefacts in their possession since they do not have enough space. A museum such as Völkerkundemuseum, Vienna, now Weltmuseum, has closed since 17 years (2000-2017) the African section where the Benin artefacts are, apparently due to repair works which are not likely to be finished before 2017.

Berlin – Ethnologisches Museum 580.
Boston, - Museum of Fine Arts 28.
Chicago – Art Institute of Chicago 20, Field Museum 400

Cologne – Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum 73.
Glasgow _ Kelvingrove and St, Mungo's Museum of Religious Life 22

Hamburg – Museum für Völkerkunde, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe 196.

Dresden – Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde 182.

Leipzig – Museum für Völkerkunde 87.

Leiden – Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde 98.
London – British Museum 900.
New York – Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art 163.

Oxford – Pitt-Rivers Museum/ Pitt-Rivers country residence, Rushmore in Farnham/Dorset 327.

Stuttgart – Linden Museum-Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde 80.

Vienna – Museum für Völkerkunde now World Museum 167.


Human-shaped terracotta funerary vase with arm-shaped handles and a hole in the base, Akyé people, Musée des Civilisations de Côte d’Ivoire.