Benin’s President Says Returned Artifacts Represent ‘Our Soul’

"At 72 years, I can die in peace, once I have seen them," one Benin elder said.

Emmanuel Macron shaking hands with Benin’s president Patrice Talon in 2018. LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images

Last year, French senators approved a bill guaranteeing the return of 26 looted artifacts to Benin and Senegal within the span of one calendar year, and this return has now taken place: on Wednesday, the official handover took place during a ceremony managed by the president of Benin, Patrice Talon. The artifacts that were returned include a throne, a statue of the war and iron god Gou and a sword that belonged to a West African military commander, but they represent a very small percentage of the thousands of Benin objects retained in France.

As such, Talon made a statement during the ceremony expressing the significance of the handover while also making it clear that there was a lot more work to be done. “This return is a testimony to what we have been, a testimony that we existed before, a testimony to what we have known,” Talon said. He also said that the return signified “a symbolic, moving and historic moment.” “This is our soul, Mr President,” Talon told French president Emmanuel Macron.

However, Talon also said that he hoped France would continue to restitute the objects it has in its possession, due to the fact that the country has retained so many artifacts from other countries. In October, Germany and Nigeria signed a letter of intent that states that the return of over 1,000 Benin bronzes to their country of origin is a process that’s currently underway. The Berlin Museum currently has approximately 400 Bronzes in its possession, while other museums in Germany, including the Linden Museum in Stuttgart and the Museum am Rothenbaum, also are going to return certain artifacts.

In Benin, meanwhile, residents were overcome with emotion at the prospect of the country’s artifacts returning home. “I get goosebumps at the prospect of being able to see these royal treasures up close, particularly our ancestors’ thrones,” a member of the Dah Adohouannon community told AFP. “At 72 years, I can die in peace, once I have seen them.”

Benin’s President Says Returned Artifacts Represent ‘Our Soul’