Much has been said about the preservation of Africa’s heritage. In the very least, a good extent of its culture and languages have stayed with us. Many books have been written to show relevant things about its history ensuring that it is passed on, Monuments have been laid, tourist attractions and museums have even been scattered across the shores of Africa to show full-fleshed struggles and victories of time past. However, one thing that has been debated for times unending is the first phase of swindling that occurred with the overstayed visit of the whites in the name of westernization and colonization – the theft of Africa’s artefacts. While colonization came with education, Christianity, science, and technology; it also came and extracted a lot of Africa’s achievements.
Men of the earliest generations, had creative works that told stories to generations unborn of the old Africa. Artefacts as they are now called, were the things that African forefathers painstakingly worked on in and preserved as legacies. These artefacts, form an integral part of the identity of the continent itself. It shows the minutest form of creativity even before science, technology, or education came about. It also shows the capabilities of the ‘mentally enslaved’ and seemingly ignorant black men and women of old. Today, even after years of Africa being painted as all things than good, millions of these artefacts are shelved in the confines of western museums and facilities.
From Benin, over 4,000 artefacts (including Benin bronze plaques, which are almost 500 years old) were recorded to have been taken in the 1897 – 1899 attacks, when the kingdom of Benin was being burnt down by the British colonialists. Mbulu-ngulu guardian of relics, by the Kota people in Gabon; Kente, from Asante, Ghana and so many others are now in Vatican Ethnology Museum, in Italy. About 300 stolen wooden memorial statues known as ‘Vigangos’ of the Mijikenda ethnic group in Kenya have been tracked to 19 American Museums; and Belgian’s Royal Museum for Central Africa, one of the most visited museums in the country, is filled with numerous Congolese artworks. There are still so many more of such.
For one, there are many ideas as to why British museums have the largest collection of Africa’s artefacts. The first is that some of them were given as gifts. However, the relevance of this is non-existent, as the percentage given as gifts were nothing compared to those that were swindled. The other idea is that westerners, felt or feel that African Artefacts are better protected miles away from Africans. This is regardless of the fact that they have been properly protected for centuries by blacks without electricity and large infrastructures. From all I have read, the bottom-line is that they are refusing to return African valuables. While a few have been returned, others are still far from sight and one too many people have spoken up about it.
In an interesting twist of events, blacks have now started taking extreme measures like stealing their own artefacts in order to bring it back to its rightful place. Personally, I’m lost. First, there is a common ground that most of the said artefacts were stolen and not offered willingly. Next, these items have remained traceable to their ideal locations. In fact, some of the original thieves have been condemned for it. So, why is its return an issue? Why would a superior nation, choose to hold on to the relics of a minority nation? Do these artefacts have much more value than we have been made to believe? And really, don’t they have enough artefacts of their own to beautify their own museums? Undoubtedly, the richness in history, traditions, cultures, of African countries are things the westerners can only dream to attain themselves.
However, clinging on to stolen items should be seen as stealing itself. Since the second owners have chosen not to return it, much more proactive methods should be taken to retrieve these items. If not, a part of Africa’s history would be forever forgotten, dead, and non-existent. Even as Africa itself becomes less and less of Africa as globalization and westernization eats deep into original cultures, we need to have things that, every once in a while, remind us of what used to be. What more than the very first forms of creativity that sprung up?