Editor’s Note: Don Miller was far more than a footnote on a repatriation case. You are urged to search this blog for the coverage we have given this story to date. Many supporters and friends of Don Miller would say that he too was a national treasure deserving a bit more from his government than he received. Is it about quotas and grand headlines? Is it probable that Don Miller failed to have clear title to any of the objects currently seized by the US government? You be the judge and know there is far more to this story than what you will read below. JB
US returns plundered artifacts to Colombia
WASHINGTON (AFP).- The United States returned to Colombia Wednesday 38 ancient artifacts plundered over decades by a private American collector described as a "modern-day Indiana Jones."
The FBI recovered the artifacts -- pre-Colombian ceramic pottery from the southern Narino highlands and the Caribbean -- after receiving a complaint about the museum-like collection at the home in Indiana of one Donald Miller, a businessman with an interest in archeology.
Investigators found thousands of pieces from China, Colombia, New Guinea and the United States.
"This collector was a modern-day Indiana Jones. Remember that what Indiana Jones did was to steal all manners of cultural patrimony from other countries," Colombia's Ambassador in Washington Francisco Santos told reporters during a ceremony at the Colombian Embassy.
"That's what this man was -- but he was a 90-year-old old man with a museum in his home. That was his hobby," Santos added.
Twenty-nine of the recovered pieces were returned during the ceremony, and 11 more will be delivered in Bogota.
"The items returned today are part of the largest collection of art and cultural property ever recovered by the FBI in the course of a single investigation," said FBI Special Agent Maxwell Marker.
No charges were brought against Miller, who died shortly after the collection was seized.
"His hobby was to travel around the world picking up these pieces and literally stealing the cultural heritage," Santos said.
The Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History is set to assess the pieces and try to identify them.
Trafficking in plundered artifacts is particularly destructive because of the loss of valuable knowledge that occurs as well as the physical objects.
"We lose the ability to physically appreciate our heritage," said Santos.
Jennifer Galt, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, said the objects were so small that they were easy to hide in luggage.
"Although we cannot return these items to their original context and recover that lost information, I am very pleased that the United States can return them to Colombia," she said.
© Agence France-Presse
Restitution of African art from France: "We need this memory"
LAGOS (AFP).- The debate over the restitution of thousands of African cultural artefacts from France has become heated, but in West Africa conservators prefer to call it "collaboration" and are preparing for their return.
The French presidency announced on Friday night that it was restoring "without delay" 26 works plundered by the French army in 1892 and claimed by the authorities in Benin.
The recommendations come with the delivery of a non-binding report that proposes a change in legislation and urges the return of museum artefacts to Africa from France.
Alain Godonou, a Beninese conservator responsible for heritage at the new national agency for tourism promotion in Benin, has been working on this issue for more than 30 years and says now is the time for reflection.
The small West African country of Benin, formerly Dahomey, was home to the kingdom of Abomey (1600-1894) and priceless wealth.
But instead of sitting in the capital of Porto-Novo, the throne of King Glele from 1858 is one of the centrepieces of the 70,000 African objects kept at the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris.
"To keep war booty in countries that are now friends and collaborate doesn't make sense," Godonou told AFP.
"It's a relief but it's only the beginning. There is still so much to be done so that our youth can access this heritage that will make them proud."
"We don't want them to have our objects just for the sake of it," Godonou continues.
"The cultural education of African youth is important and these objects will help to root them."
This includes a rehabilitation of museums. For years, Europeans have justified keeping the treasured artefacts by arguing that African countries didn't have the facilities to take care of their cultural heritage.
But in many countries -- including Senegal, Ivory Coast, Gabon and Benin -- plans are underway new museums have been built and plans are underway for yet more.
Beninese President Patrice Talon, whose goal is to make tourism one of the pillars of the national economy, has approved the sites for five museums that will open in 2020 to honour the kings of Abomey and the Amazons, the all-female military regiment in Dahomey.
The country's minister of foreign affairs Aurelien Agbenonci told AFP on Saturday the government is "delighted" with the decision, which he said was "an invitation to get to work quickly."
Ousmane Aledji, in charge of heritage for the Benin presidency, welcomed the "new form of cultural exchange" with France.
"We're not for a violent claim, but we want to put in place measures for progressive restitution," he says.
His sentiment was echoed in Abidjan, where the director of the museum of civilisation of Ivory Coast Silvie Memel Kassi said "it's not a bad thing in itself that they were preserved and indexed in France."
The national museum of Abidjan was renovated last year, but a larger museum is sill in the works.
In this case, said Kassi, "we could start talking about a definitive restitution."
She added that "the important thing is to work together, we want to have access to these objects, we need this memory, these objects are a memory."
In Dakar, the museum of black civilisation, whose inauguration is scheduled for December 6, will be ready one day to house the objects, pledges Kassi.
"We have operational reserves that can accommodate such objects," said the Senegalese museum director Hamady Bocoum, stressing the works may not necessarily end up in museums and could go back to communities who may "decide to put them in the altars of the ancestors."
"These works came from our ancestors," said Taho Toubo, a traditional leader from Ivory Coast.
"I pray for the ancestors that their pieces are returned."
© Agence France-Presse
British Museum to return Benin bronzes to Nigeria
By Kieron Monks, CNN
Updated 11:07 AM ET, Mon November 26, 2018
London (CNN)More than a century after British soldiers looted a collection of priceless artifacts from the Kingdom of Benin, some of the Benin bronzes are heading back to Nigeria - with strings attached.
A deal was struck last month by the Benin Dialogue Group (BDG) that would see "some of the most iconic pieces" in the historic collection returned on a temporary basis to form an exhibition at the new Benin Royal Museum in Edo State within three years.
More than 1,000 of the bronzes are held at museums across Europe, with the most valuable collection at the British Museum in London.
Nigerian governments have sought their return since the country gained independence in 1960.
The agreement represents a breakthrough for the BDG, which was formed in 2007 to address restitution claims.
The group comprises of representatives of several European museums, the Royal Court of Benin, Edo State Government, and Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments.
The returns are contingent on the timely completion of a new Royal Museum, adjacent to the Royal Palace that once housed many of the bronzes. Nigerian officials presented plans for the Museum at a BDG meeting in October. A spokesman for the Governor of Edo said that designs are being finalized in collaboration with the Royal Court of Benin.
A spokesman for the British Museum said European museums would play an active role in developing an elite institution suitable for housing exhibits that are considered to be among the greatest ever African artworks.
"The key agenda item (at the October meeting) was how partners can work together to establish a museum in Benin City with a rotation of Benin works of art from a consortium of European museums," the spokesman said.
"The museums in attendance have all agreed to lend artifacts to the Benin Royal Museum on a rotating basis, to provide advice as requested on building and exhibition design, and to cooperate with the Nigerian partners in developing training, funding, and a legal framework for the display in a new planned museum."
Details about which pieces will be returned and how many are yet to be established. Dialogue is ongoing between the parties of the BDG, and the group is scheduled to meet again in Benin City next year. The present agreement notes that Nigerian partners have not ceded claims for permanent restitution, and officials remain determined to secure the bronzes on a permanent basis.
"We are grateful these steps are being taken but we hope they are only the first steps," Crusoe Osagie, spokesman for the Governor of Edo, told CNN. "If you have stolen property, you have to give it back."
Osagie called for greater pressure on European governments to return the bronzes.
Breaking the deadlock
Nigerian claims received a boost with the release of a new report commissioned by the French government that calls for wholesale restitution of artifacts seized during the colonial era.
The report from academics Felwine Sarr and Benedicte Savoy, prompted by President Emmanuel Macron's 2017 commitment to return African heritage, recommended that items taken without consent should be liable to restitution claims.
Many of the estimated 90,000 artifacts of sub-Saharan African origin held at French institutions could be contested under the report's criteria.
Sarr and Savoy further recommended that key, symbolic pieces long sought by claimant nations should be immediately returned - including several French-held Benin bronzes.
The report also proposed a series of bilateral agreements between the French government and African states to bypass French laws barring museums from releasing their collections, which have proved a longstanding barrier to restitution. Such agreements would allow for permanent restitution rather than loans.
The French government has responded to the report by announcing an initial 26 artworks will be returned to the state of Benin, with further restitution to follow.
France's example will increase the pressure on museums across Europe, which has been building on several fronts.
Grassroots campaign groups within European countries are demanding restitution, such as in Germany, where 40 organizations recently signed an open
letter calling for the return of historical artifacts.
The letter prompted German institutions to conduct inventories of their collections to determine which items were acquired illicitly.
There is also growing recognition of the validity of restitution claims from a new generation of political leaders. Leader of the UK Labour party Jeremy Corbyn has said that if elected, his government would be willing to discuss the return of "anything stolen or taken from occupied or colonial possession."
Several influential private collectors have also taken the side of African claimants, such as British citizen Mark Walker, who voluntarily returned a set of Benin bronzes captured by his grandfather.
Museums are also facing a raft of increasingly determined claims from the governments of dispossessed nations across the world, from sub-Saharan Africa to Greece's claims for the Elgin Marbles, to Chile's appeal for Easter Island statues.
Few longstanding observers of a saga that has been taking place since the end of the colonial era expect these matters to be resolved quickly. President Macron's initial commitment to return just 26 pieces suggests a long term process.
Museums and national governments are likely to resist wholesale restitution, and national laws preventing museums from disbursing their collections will continue to present a formidable barrier.
But if the wheels are turning slowly, they do at least appear to be shifting.