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Fifteen Colonial Thefts

Fifteen Colonial Thefts

A Guide to Looted African Heritage in Museums

Edited by Sela K. Adjei and Yann LeGall

Foreword by Peju Layiwola

Contributions by Fergus Nicholl, Osman Nusairi, Mwelela Cele, Jan König, Julia Kennedy, Christopher J. Philipp, Foreman Bandama, Kokou Azamede and Gabriel Mzei Orio

A timely and compelling contribution to the debate around repatriation of looted African artefacts, illustrated and contributed to by African artists and writers

'Eloquent and powerful' - Françoise Vergès

Debates around restitution and decolonising museums continue to rage across the world. Artefacts, effigies and ancestral remains are finally being accurately contextualised and repatriated to their homelands.

Fifteen Colonial Thefts amplifies these discussions, exploring the history of colonial violence in Africa through the prism of fifteen African belongings - all looted at the height of the imperial era and brought to European museums.

Structured around three arenas - the battlefield, the royal palace, and the realm of the sacred - the book displays how colonial officers violently plundered Africa. It explores the meaning of those cultural artefacts at the time of their appropriation and today in an era of restitution.

With writers from Europe and Africa, including scientists, museum professionals, artists and activists, the book illuminates the collective trauma and loss of cultural, historical and spiritual knowledge that colonial theft engendered.

Sela K. Adjei is a multidisciplinary artist with degrees in Communication Design, and African Art and Culture from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana. He received his PhD in African Studies from the University of Ghana, Legon. He is a lecturer at the University of Media, Arts and Communication (NAFTI).

Yann LeGall is a postdoctoral researcher on the project 'The Restitution of Knowledge: Artefacts as Archives in the (Post)Colonial Museum' at the Institute for Art History of the Technical University in Berlin. He was previously a fellow at the Research Training Group Minor Cosmopolitanisms at the University of Potsdam. As a member of the initiatives Berlin Postkolonial and Postcolonial Potsdam, he leads guided tours for university seminars and conferences in both cities and developed a digital audio guide on traces of colonial history in Potsdam.

Peju Layiwola is an art historian and visual artist from Nigeria. She is Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Lagos. Her works can be found in Yemisi Shyllon Museum, Lagos, and in the homes of many private collectors. Her maternal grandfather was Oba Akenzua II, King of Benin, who reigned from 1933 until 1978. Layiwola has led public advocacy for the return of art works stolen from Benin during the Punitive Expedition of 1897.

'An eloquent and powerful book! The editors, Sela K. Adjei and Yann LeGall, have brought together an invaluable collection of forgotten histories around fifteen colonial thefts. The authors show with rigour and depth that colonial conquest was not only about erasing, expropriating, dispossessing, extracting, exploiting, but also looting and trafficking. They make the case for unconditional restitutions and returns.'

- Françoise Vergès, author of A Programme of Absolute Disorder: Decolonizing the Museum

'This book brings much needed diversity to a debate that has for too long focused on a very few cases often mainly seen from a European perspective. It is a great introduction to the history behind the restitution process and the confrontation of different perspectives that it engenders.'

- Felicity Bodenstein, lecturer in Contemporary Art History and Heritage, Sorbonne Université

'By focussing on colonial violence in such a straightforward way, this volume not only reminds us of the nature of colonialism itself, but also of the unabated necessity to continue scrutinising museum collections and work towards restitution.'

- Larissa Förster, Department of European Ethnology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Foreword by Peju Layiwola
Introduction: Fifteen in a Thousand: How to Tell the History of Colonial Conquest, Anti-Colonial Resistance, and Looted African Heritage by Sela K. Adjei and Yann LeGall

Part I: The Battlefield
1. The Treasure of Samori Touré - by Felwine Sarr & Bénédicte Savoy
2. The Manifesto of the Sudanese Mahdī: Banners as Artefacts of Empire - by Fergus Nicoll & Osman Nusairi
3. Conversation: IsiHlangu from the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879: 'We need to infuse African-ness in museum' - by Mwelela Cele & Yann LeGall
4. The Plunder from 'Adibo Dali', and Why Looted Cultural Goods Need to Return to Dagbon - by Alhaji Sulemana Alhassan Iddi, Elias Aguigah, Marlena Barnstorf-Brandes, Michael A. Gyimah, Jan König & Ricarda Rivoir
5. A War Coat of the Anufo/Tchokossi: From Northern Togo to the Field Museum in Chicago -
by Julia Kennedy, Foreman Bandama, Christopher J. Philipp, and Kokou Azamede

Part II: The Royal Palace
6. Hiding and Returning Asante Regalia (1970–2024): The Journey of an Ancestral Messenger - by Nii Kwate Owoo
7. A Plaque from an Ngolo etana: The Looting of Architectural Heritage as a Token of Colonial Violence - by Richard Tsogang Fossi & Jeanne-Ange Wagne
8. Conversation: Subverting Firepower: A German Cartridge Upcycled as Snuffbox, a Symbol of Chagga Resistance - by Konradin Kunze, Sarita Lydia Mamseri, Gabriel Mzei Orio & Mnyaka Sururu Mboro
9. In Defence of Theft? On the Theft and Restitution of Ngonsso' and Punitive Exhibitions - by Godfrey B. Tangwa and Fogha MC Cornilius Refem, alias Wan wo Layir
10. The Long Journey of the bocio of Three Danxomè Kings - by Didier Houénoudé & Gaëlle Beaujean

Part III: The Sacred 
10. The Tabots from Maqdala - by Emanuel Admassu & Eyob Derillo
11. Nkisi nkonde of Chief Ne Kuko of Boma: The Tragic Spoliation of an Object of Power - by Placide Mumbembele Sanger
12. Conversation: The Ngadji of the Pokomo: On Revolutionary Responses, Release and Relationships - by Njoki Ngumi & Adé lá Naomi Adérè mí
13. Where are Mbuya Nehanda's Remains? A Zimbabwean Search in the Context of Shifting Museum Politics - by Njabulo Chipangura, Farai Chabata & Lennon Mhishi 
14. Byéri: Ancestor Guardian Figures of the Kwasio people in Southern Cameroon - by Yrine Matchinda & Sebastian-Manès Sprute
Appendix: List of Museums and Collections

Published by Pluto Press in Aug 2024
Hardcover ISBN: 9780745349527
eBook ISBN: 9780745349534

170mm x 220mm