So far, we are here today to convey the Benin bronze to the people, that is, to the Nigerian people,” German Foreign Minister Analina Barbokov (Green) said in December last month, when she presented the Nigerian president with 22 works of art. Then it was exhibited in German museums. For Germany, it was a symbolic act of annulment and redemption of the past.
After the production and destruction of the Royal Thumb of Benin by British forces in 1897, fewer prints of this artifact have spread around the world. In 2022, after years of negotiations, an agreement was reached between Berlin and Nigeria’s Abuja to design a collection of 1,100 exhibits, divided into nearly two dozen German deposits and collections. At the end of the year, Barbock paid out the first twenty artifacts to the Nigerian hundreds.
These carved bronze panels and bas-reliefs, created in the 15th-17th centuries at the behest of the then Kingdom of Benin on the territory of present-day Nigeria, were not even seen by the Nigerians themselves. At least not in the near future nor the Baerbocks pedal stuff.
Nigeria’s outgoing president, Muhammadu Buhari, was awarded bronze medals shortly after the successor to the Benin monarchs, Iwarmu II, the current head of the royal family there. This happened on March 23, as researcher and professor of ethnology Brigitta Hauser-Shuplinov noted yesterday in her text for Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) with reference to African media.
In an official document of the Nigerian government published under the name of the Presidential Proclamation, it was stated that: According to the proposed law, all artifacts should be given to the King of Benin, who would execute the first original owner. This applies to both returned items and those not yet returned. Hence it was up to the king what to do with the artifacts: keep them either in his thumb or wherever he thought fit and safe.
It was a fiasco for Germany
The progress of Nigeria threatens the whole politics, an artifact that has returned not only from European men to African countries.
A new museum of artifacts may be established in the royal thumb, but it is questionable whether such a private museum will ever be open to the public. Therefore, the answer to the following question is not clear: should the new owner load the artifacts according to his own wishes and sell them, for example, to collectors, including those in Europe? That would be silly, but it’s not impossible.
For German politics and museums, the Nigerian people were cast in bronze after a fiasco. How careless the formulaic agreement on the transfer of property between Germany and Niger was, it is now quite clear, the ethnologist Hauser Schuplinov assesses the whole situation very critically for Germany.
It must be remembered that the ruling dynasty of the Kingdom of Benin committed the most heinous crimes and crimes against humanity in its subjects, the British: they are hundreds of tons of wolves associated with looting, massacres, poisoning of captives and human beings in the name of ancestors’ heads depicted on monuments, hunting and slave trade in the great mass, as stated in FAZ.
With five faces of Benin bronzes in private hands, the measurements were predictable. The same thing happened to her in 2021, when the Nigerian president presented the royal family with two bronzes from Benin brought from Britain. The President explained that this is a step towards the message of the valuable relationship between the Federal Government of Nigeria and our traditional institutions, which are the true guardians of history, customs and traditions.
Your minister is young and knows nothing
While the Germans were surprised by the rise of Nigeria, a descendant of the royal family of Okbame Orunsay with the title of prince, which goes to the German federal state of Hesse, wrote in general: e-mail to the Berliner Zeitung.
The Nigerian prince told the German daily that it would be good if your editors knew the historical facts and learned how to deal with them. According to him, the bronzes will not be exhibited in the Museum of African Art, which Germany funded with one hundred million euros, because it is not our museum.
He also criticizes the manner in which German Foreign Minister Analina Barbukov appeared in his country. I’m sorry, but your secretary is very young. I don’t have a day in experience and sometimes it’s up to me when I speak.
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