Twenty-seven cultural objects of Benin, looted from the Kingdom of Dahomey during the period of French colonization, have been repatriated to the Petit Musée de la Récade in the Beninese city of Cotonou. The objects were rescued from an auction of African objects held in Nantes, France, last year, following the intervention of Pan-African activists who held an hour-long debate in the salesroom on the merits of restituting, rather than selling, the cultural patrimony of Africans.
Following this interruption, the 27 objects in question were bought by a group of French dealers headed by gallerist Robert Vallois, who helped found the Petit Musée de la Récade. This transaction demonstrates the role that private individuals can play in returning artifacts looted during the colonial era to their rightful homes, but also shows how private sales contribute to the continuing separation of former colonies from their physical heritage. A report commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron in 2018 found that 90 to 95 percent of Africa’s cultural heritage is displayed outside of the continent, mostly in large museums.