Benin authorities seek return of more stolen artworks from France

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Statues, scepters, and the doors of the royal palace of Dahomey are just some of the 26 looted artefacts returned to Benin by France’s Quai Branly museum in November 2021, after three years of negotiation.

The return of the artworks was a priority for Beninese President Patrice Talon since his election in 2016.

“We’re not going to ask for everything to be returned. Beninese works must remain in museums around the world so that the world sees the greatness of Benin,” Talon said in February 2022, at an exhibition in Cotonou that included returned works.

French colonial forces took the artworks, which were royal property, during the looting of the Kingdom of Dahomey in 1892. Thousands of other looted artworks remain in France.

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French President Emmanuel Macron visited Benin on Wednesday some eight months after France returned 26 works of art seized by colonial soldiers in Benin in 1892. Thousands of other looted artworks remain in France, and traditional leaders and government authorities in Benin are hopeful that the return of the 26 is only the beginning of a process of restitution.

In the original palaces of Abomey, traditional leaders hope to see them returned.

“I am happy but there are still many objects to be recovered, like those of the amazon women who lost their lives fighting against the French,” said Kpodjito nan Zognidi, a traditional queen. “What belonged to them was taken away by the colonizer. I would like all these to be returned too.”

Beninese authorities are hopeful the return of the 26 artworks is only the beginning in a long process of restitution.

“France started this restitution process with these 26 works, we believe that this is just the beginning, and we are sure this is a movement that will not stop any time soon,” said Culture and Tourism Minister Jean Michel Abimbola.