African Artefacts yet to be Returned to Their Countries of Origin
By Nomali Cele
Africa’s history of colonialism – people trekking from the west and deciding that they, not only ‘discovered’ entire nations, but were also entitled to everything belonging to those nations – has impacted on our heritage. Africans’ discoveries, creations and innovations are either glossed over in favour of a white saviour narrative or completely claimed by colonialists as their own.
African people are inventive, we have always been.
Here are two of many African artefacts that are yet to be returned to the countries where they were created.
The Bust of Nefertiti
Queen Nefertiti is one of the most prominent women rulers in Egyptian history. She was the ‘chief wife’ of Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten. The Bust of Nefertiti is estimated to have been created in 1345 BC by sculptor Thutmose.
The sculpture was found by archaeologists led by Ludwig Borchardt in 1912 during an excavation of Amarna. Borchardt has long been suspected of underplaying the bust’s value.
The sculpture, like many Egyptian artefacts, is not in Egypt. At present, it is housed at the Neues Museum in Berlin.
The Benin Queen Mother Pendant Masks
According to art historians, images of women rarely featured in artworks in the Benin Empire (now Nigeria). Why is it then, that the few rare pieces of Benin’s art history depicting a woman are not on Nigerian soil?
The Benin Queen Mother Pendant Masks are a pair of pendants that were made in the West African empire. King Esigie of the Edo people commissioned the pendants, said to be made in his mother’s image, in the 16th century. The pendants reflect much of the Edo people’s heritage. The king would likely have worn the pendants around his neck during ceremonies honouring his mother.
While many other African works of art are littered across the globe, students at Cambridge University college called — inspired by the Rhodes Must Fall movement — for okukor, a bronze cockerel of Benin Empire origin, to be returned to Nigeria. The statue was removed and the university is said to be looking at repatriation options.