Stolen Nok artefacts returned to Nigeria

By The Ligali Organisation | Wed 30 January 2013

The French government has returned five ancient terracotta sculptures to Nigeria after they were discovered being smuggled out of the country.

The priceless 3,000 year old Nok artefacts that were stolen from Nigeria were discovered at a Paris airport in the luggage of French citizen during 2010. The five sculptures which were artistic representations of human heads belong to an ancient culture that was one of the earliest developers of iron smelting techniques in pre-colonial Africa.

The French government returned the artefacts through its embassy officials during a ceremony in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.

France’s ambassador to Nigeria, Jacques Champagne de Labriolle, told the BBC the artefacts’ return was part of a global attempt to fight the “illegal trafficking of cultural goods”.

However whilst he proclaimed it as “both a decision by the French government and an obligation by all those countries that have signed the Unesco convention on the matter”, France still seems unwilling to return the other stolen African artefacts in its possession.

An exhibition that recently took place at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, France showcased some 150 wood, terracotta and metal sculptures, many which are believed to be illegally sourced.

Toyin Agbetu from the Ligali Organisations said;

“There is still much work to be done in challenging museums and private collectors that refuse to honour their legal and moral obligations to return looted African artefacts”

Nok terracotta artefact (Musée du Louvre)

Advanced civilisations

The Nok Empire is believed to be linked to the origin of the Yoruba and is named after the village in Jos, Plateau State where some of the first archaeological artefacts of the civilization were found.

Since 1943, their art has been discovered in a large area of north-central Nigeria from Jos to Kaduna. These finds have characterised them as the creators of many iconic terracotta figurines demonstrating expert craftsmanship and output rivalling and in many instances surpassing the quality of the best work being produced out of Europe at the time (around 900 BCE to about 200 CE).

These finds which contradict western thought about a ‘barbaric’ African pre-colonial Africa offers evidence of an advanced African society autonomously moving from stone to iron age technology without an intervening copper age.

Agbetu continues;

“Western academics have long denied the intellectual and creative ability of African people in pre-enslavement/colonial societies to create art and organise complex civil structures that reflect their spiritual and political beliefs. What such intricate works as these artefacts demonstrate as fact, is that advanced cultures and civilisations existed in Africa prior to Maafa. These priceless cultural works need to be returned to their rightful home for all Africans to be able to learn from and build upon their own cultural heritage”

In May 2012, Dr Kwame Opoku, a leading figure in the campaign for the rteun of looted artefacts, reported on the case of French artist Arman, who sued an art magazine for damage to a Nok sculpture caused during a photo shooting session. Commenting on the issue Dr Opoku wrote “The fate of the broken Nok has given lie to the argument that African sculptures are better protected in the West. An African sculpture that is some 2,630 years old has thus been destroyed in a Manhattan home in the United States of America.

The Nigerian government continues to campaign for the return of looted artefacts held in places like the British Museum and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts following the illegal British invasion and subsequent massacre of Africans in Benin,1897.

Nok Jemma Head

External Links
France returns smuggled Nok artefacts to Nigeria
The Nok of Nigeria
Nok Once More
Germans Loot Nigerian Artefacts
The Age of Iron in West Africa

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These priceless cultural works need to be returned to their rightful home for all Africans to be able to learn from and build upon their own cultural heritage.

Toyin Agbetu, Ligali Organisation

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