Two supposed Benin Bronzes being “returned” to Africa by the woke Archbishop of Canterbury were actually made in the 1980s and have no link to colonialism, it has been admitted.
Top Church of England clergyman Justin Welby made the decision to “return” two bronze sculptures which were gifted to Archbishop Robert Runcie by Professor Ambrose F. Alli and the University of Nigeria almost four decades ago in 1982, long after decolonisation.
“We have offered for the two busts to be included in the Digital Benin project and eventually, returned to our friends in Edo, Nigeria, where they may remain,” said a statement from the Archibshops’ official residence of Lambeth Palace, in a statement reported by the Telegraph.
While the Palace described the move as a “gesture of goodwill” and “good faith”, it left some experts nonplussed, such as Professor Nigel Biggar of the University of Oxford.
“Quite what would be intended by such a returning of gifts is not clear,” Professor Biggar suggested.
“Given the present context, it would appear to be an act of penitent ’decolonisation’ [but the bronzes] were not seized during the colonial period, indeed, they were not seized at all,” he pointed out.
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The actual Benin Bronzes are sculptures taken from the former Benin Empire based in what is today a part of Nigeria — not the modern-day state of Benin — following the Benin Expedition of 1897.
This was a punitive response to the Benin Massacre of a handful of Europeans and some 250 African soldiers by the forces of the King — or Oda — of Benin.
This subjugation of what was one of the last remaining independent African polities by the British Empire is generally held to be a great crime by modern academics and commentators — but the fact that the Benin Empire was by no means a pacific and egalitarian enterprise itself is often overlooked.
Indeed, the controversial explorer Richard Burton had noted in My Wanderings in West Africa that “at times… the streets of the capital [of Benin] run red with human blood” and that he had seen the bodies of many slaves who had been killed with “gratuitous barbarity” in human sacrifices on those streets.
Britain’s expeditions against the Benin Empire were, according to those who advocated them, motivated by a desire to put on and to its slave raiding and human sacrifices.
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