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A Piece Of History: Stolen African Artefacts

By Beatrice Porbeni 17 July 2017   |   6:00 pm

Africa has always been known for its rich heritage and cultural value. While it was known as the land of “darkness” in the colonial times, the continent also had valuable cultural possessions, which were collected and have been placed in different museums around the world. The most common African artefacts reside in European and American museums with artefacts originating from predominantly the Belgian, French and British colonies which include West Africa, some parts of East Africa and the Middle belt. Here is a list of notable African art which has been removed from their homeland.

Chokwe mask in the National Museum of African Art, Washington

The Congolese Chokwe mask
The Tshokwe people (Chokwe) produced a great number of masks; the majority of them are painted in three basic colours and made from vegetable fibres, pieces of cloth and paper. The mask is located at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, carved by the Chokwe people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The most powerful and significant Chokwe mask is known as chikunga. The sacred mask is generally used during investiture ceremonies of a chief and sacrifices to the ancestors. The chief of the group can only wear the chikunga. The mukanda mask is another important mask used during male initiation in the mukanda institution, a process through which religion, art, and social organization are passed on from one generation to the next.

Queen Mother mask in the British Museum, London

Queen Mother mask in the Linden Museum, Stuttgart

Queen Mother mask in the Metroplitan Museum of Arts, New York

The Benin Iyoba Mask (Queen Mother)
Located in the British Museum, the Benin ivory mask is one of the most popular Nigerian cultural artefacts. The mask can be described as a miniature sculptural portrait in ivory of the powerful Queen Mother Idia of the 16th century Benin Empire. The mask was worn as a pendant by her son Esigie, who owed his kingship as Oba of Benin to the Queen Mother's military aid.
There are other masks almost identical located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Linden Museum in Germany, all taken during the British Benin Expedition of 1897. The masks may have been used in various ceremonies including the Ugie Iyoba commemoration of the Oba's mother, as well the Emobo purification ceremony to expel bad spirits from the land.

Side blown trumpet in the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York

The Sideblown horn of Congo
This intricate piece is an Animal horn or tusk trumpets with mouthpieces drilled into the side. Ivory is a precious material reserved for royalty in most traditions. Ivory trumpets often symbolize kingly power, and those associated with royal ensembles are decorated with skins, wooden extensions, and beautiful carving. The trumpet is located at the Metropolitan Museum and it belongs to the Mangbetu people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Once acquired, the ivory is given to carvers who may take over two months to re-form the tusk and make it playable. Royal instruments are carved in deep relief with ridges and a projecting mouthpiece. Another conspicuous royal motif, appearing at the left, is a canoe-shaped design. Elegant trumpets like this one are used in pairs to accompany dances or signal the entrance and departure of the king.

Nok Terracotta (chin to knee position) in the Louvre Museum, Paris

The Nok Terracotta
The Nok Terracottas are famous Northern sculptures popularly known to have been looted from African soil and currently located in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The people of the Nok culture occupied the Bauchi plateau of Nigeria from approximately 1000 BC to 500 AD and were known to be inventive iron smelters. The Nok culture is best known today for its Nok terracotta which is also connected to Katsina and Sokoto terracotta figures. The figures depict both animals and humans in various postures. The human figures often have elaborate hair, modelled jewellery, and sometimes show physical ailments. Because the clear majority of Nok terracottas have been looted from their archaeological contexts, their purpose in Nok society is unknown.

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Stolen African Artefacts


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