Though they won’t be officially returned to their rightful owners until the completion of a museum that is currently under construction, a group of Paris gallery owners have decided to set the pace after returning antique royal scepters to a museum outside Benin’s capital, Cotonou.
According to VOA, the Petit Musee de la Recade received the artifacts on Friday from a group of Paris Left Bank gallery owners who personally bought the pieces with the intent of returning them to their rightful owners.
The returned artifacts, which number over 24, include 17 scepters that were looted from the once-powerful ancient Kingdom of Dahomey.
The construction of the museum was also financed by the group.
In 2018, French president, Emmanuel Macron, announced France was going to return stolen Benin statues after over 120 years in the country. The artifacts include 26 statues and thrones that were looted by French forces from the Kingdom of Dahomey.
The artifacts are being kept in the Quai Branly museum in Paris. They were taken in apparent punishment of one of Dahomey’s wars of resistance against French control.
They would be returned once a museum, which is under construction with financial assistance from their former colonial master, is completed.
This move has piled pressure on other former colonial powers to hand back looted artifacts to their countries of origin – and fired up dreams of a lifeline in Abomey.
The items will be returned to the royal palaces in Benin’s sleepy southern town of Abomey, where its current display cases are coated in dust and the exhibition halls plunged in darkness.
But local tourism chief, Gabin Djimasse, hopes things will take a positively drastic turn on the return of the 26 artifacts from France and with the construction of a new museum to hold them.
“These objects are a chance for the survival of the site. They will allow us to build a new museum and make the royal palaces more economically sustainable,” Djimasse told AFP.
The $22.5 million loan, which was taken from the French Development Agency, will fund the new museum and aims to make the 47-hectare (116-acre) UNESCO World Heritage Site more attractive for visitors.
“We really have to have the good condition — temperature, isolation, conservation — to welcome them … a lot of things have to be done. The training of all the conservators in Benin, how to protect the pieces,” Jose Pliya, head of Benin’s national agency for heritage promotion and tourism development told VOA.
Experts estimate that up to 90 percent of African art is outside the continent.