Editorial. Welcome back home, “bochio”!

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These are gems that will finally find their original setting. On November 9, twenty-six works, including the magnificent “bochio” statue of King Béhanzin, will leave the Quai Branly museum to return to Benin. As we know, the route of these treasures is a matter of spoliation. In 1892, in the midst of the colonial war, the French general Dodds had set fire to the former kingdom of Dahomey, in present-day Benin, and looted these works belonging to Béhanzin, captured and sentenced to exile in the West Indies, then in Algeria.

As always, official history is responsible for twisting the facts, rewriting them, in order to repaint the African monarch as a terrible bloodthirsty. As for Dodds, he had hitherto passed for a hero; the fact that these artefacts belonged to the national heritage was presented as the fruit of a generous “donation” from the military.

Since the official request for restitution formulated by the Beninese authorities five years ago, how many sly dithering on the alleged poor conditions of conservation of these objects in their country of origin! By derogating from the inviolability of the collections of French national museums, the exceptional law of 2020 made it possible to give a favorable response to Porto-Novo. But the absence of a lasting legal framework is slowing down the procedures initiated by other former colonies.

There will be no peaceful, refounded relations with Africa as long as the sequestration of a whole heritage resulting from colonial dispossession continues. In this regard, we salute the remarkable work of Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy, authors in 2018 of an important report on the restitution of these masterpieces, and without whom this act of reparation would not have been possible. They have helped to break down political, ideological, but also financial barriers, private collectors seeing this as an attack on their booty. The time of the raids is over: the return of these objects to their native land is part of the meaning of history.

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