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Imminent return of Nso Kingdom goddess, Ngonnso, Bangwa Queen, and need to reclaim African roots
Pulaaku may be the minority Fulani community code of conduct, (and although still little known to the sometimes imposing surrounding natives), it’s a perfect fit in explaining postcolonial relations between Africans and the West.
Being an embodiment of the do’s and don’ts of a true fulani person, pulaaku comes along with inate characteristics like being patient when faced with oppression; being truthful even if that barrs one from benefiting from certain advantages; giving out to others without expecting reward in return; respecting elders and fear of Allah in all circumstances.
More importantly, pulaaku is that inate quality that makes the fulani person not frequently speak out when oppressed. This ability to withstand oppression uncomplainingly gives a mistaken impression to the local inhabitants who may continue to trample on their rights. The moment the fulani people feel they can no longer bare the oppression and decide to take revenge; many indigenes would not understand that they have borne the suffering and humiliation for long. They would rather be considered aggressors, especially as they did not make known their grievances before retaliating. That is why popular opinion is always likely to support the oppressors after the retaliation. But then, the beautiful thing about the fulani community and the pulaaku code is that once an agreement is reached in settlement of the matter, they can never be the first to break it.
If there’s anything that can begin to explain the relationship between the colonial masters and individual African countries that are demanding the return of their looted artefacts to European museums, it’s pulaaku. With African ethnographers, civil rights movements and other categories of campaigners demanding immediate return to their natural habitats of looted African objects, European museum owners and governments are wondering what guts long-defeated African kingdoms are having to be requesting a return of what since became theirs.
Seeing the wave of agitation across African capitals against the continuous trauma of colonialism through the detention of Africa’s artefacts in European museums, French President, Emmanuel Macron, was forced to promise students in Burkina Faso in 2017, that he was favourable to seeing a temporal or permanent restitution of African artefacts back to Africa. This declaration opened the door to what became the first-ever shake-up of European museums with objects acquired during the colonial era.
It was therefore within the context of agitation that the #BringBackNgonnso and Bangwa queen campaigns gained fruition and German authorities became favourable to negotiating the return of ngonnso and bangwa queen to Nso and Bangwa Kingdoms.
And there was compelling reason for Nso, Bangwa and other African activists to militate for the immediate return of the stolen deities. The Nso Kingdom goddess, ngonnso, like the Bangwa doddess, and other African arts, played a central role in their communities, whether to communicate royalty, sacrality, inner virtues, aesthetic interests, genealogy, or other concerns. They were efficacious and necessary for events like rituals, masquerades, and life cycle transitions to successfully occur.
And by looting the artefacts, European missionaries and colonizers claimed they were on a civilizing mission to Africa.
David Livingston, the 19th century most popular explorer-missionary, summed up the more benign representation of this civilizing mission: ‘We came upon them as members of a superior race and servants of God that desire to elevate the more degrading portions of the human family’.
Come to think of the fact that eventhough the Bangwa Queen was the goddess of authority and health, while the ngonnso goddess represented peace and hope; colonialists and missionaries still carted them away under the pretext they were barbaric deities.
Although we live in a world that was supposed to be appreciative of the original beauty and majesty of African culture, there are still those whose knowledge of Africa is grounded in the perceptions of the missionaries, merchants, and marines who have occupied the continent through foriegn religions, trade and guns. The enormity of African contributions to ideas of religion, spirituality and ethics, have gone unappreciated by Westerners, eventhough at the beginning of human history, Africa makes its case for the origin of religion in an official and formal manner.
Through the return of ngonnso, Bangwa queen, and other African artefacts, many would truly begin to grasp the enormity of Africa’s contribution to religious ideas. This could include new theological categories, cosmological narratives and other ways to conceptualize ethical behaviours.
Failing to view classical African religious ideas (from the beginning of kemet to the arrival of christianity and later Islam in Africa), as corresponding to the same search for eternal life- found in living a life where good outweighs evil, this would be doing injustice to the African race and people.
The widespread looting of African artefacts by European colonizers at the time was giving to understanding that the White saviour wanted to eradicate barbarism in order to bring civilisation to Africa. That’s how ngonnso, Bangwa queen and other artefacts were stolen from Africa.
The carting away of Africa’s most inspired artefacts after suppressing African chiefs and warriors, was not only intended to suppress the inventiveness or creativity of African blacksmiths and woodcarvers but also to deconstruct the self-constructed identity of the African and fabricate theirs for us. The Bangwa queen is said to be one of the world’s most famous African arts and has huge sacred significance for Bangwa people. Looted by the German colonial agent, Gustav Conrau, in 1899, it finally ended up in a museum in France.
Since the impact of colonialism was the undergoing of major changes in the African cultural script, their return should enable Africa reclaim its African roots, culture and traditions.
It must be the beginning of the renegotiation of relations between Africa and the West, not simply the returning of artefacts.
If European national art collections are central to each of their country’s education, then same must begin to hold true for Africa with the mass return of its stolen artefacts. This must be the beginning of reimagining Africa.
As the stolen objects begin to escape the trauma of colonialism, their return should begin to ignite in African youth a new thinking spirit. What new languages and technology, new art, new cosmo vision, new religion, and new understanding, can form when an African child looks at a returned object.
A key question Nso and African people must begin to ponder on, is whether this restitution means the artefacts should be returned to the original environments or communities in which they were stolen from. Does the return of ngonnso mean it would be ‘resocialized’ and placed back where it was and purposely for the rituals they were part of? Was it not Malraux who said that the art starts when the gods have departed?
What other creative ways can the kom Kingdom benefit from the Afoakom that was returned to them in the 80s. If the Afoakom and the ngonnso were bringing in the much-needed dollars to the economies of the western local councils that hosted them throughout the years of the loot, what would these sort-after artefacts benefit the economies of these local communities upon return?
These questions and more, are central to Africa’s retaliatory cultural strike against European and western museums, especially as up to 90% of Sub-Sahara Africa’s material cultural legacy is outside of the continent. With over 500 000 artefacts of African descent found in European museums and close to 8000 Cameroonian artefacts in French museums alone, one could only state that the era of pulaaku from African countries towards colonial masters is over.
*Colbert Gwain is digital rights advocate, author, radio host and content creator @TheColbertFactor
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