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A group of African Americans have filed a lawsuit to stop the return of select Benin Bronzes from the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC to Nigeria.

According to the BBC, the suit claims that the bronzes – looted by British colonialists in the 19th Century from the kingdom of Benin in what is now Nigeria – are also part of the heritage of descendants of slaves in America, and that returning them would deny them the opportunity to experience their culture and history.

Photo courtesy of BBC

The lawsuit was filed by Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, 56, founder and executive director of the non-profit Restitution Study Group (RSG), which seeks to “to examine and execute innovative approaches to healing the injuries of exploited and oppressed people.”

About 100,000 slaves brought to the US were from ports once controlled by traders from the kingdom of Benin, such as Lagos, says Ms Farmer-Paellmann.

She is quoting records from the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database hosted by Rice University in Texas – and recent testing showed that 23% of her DNA is linked to these people.

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This, she believes, gives her and the millions of others with similar ancestry the right to lay a claim to the bronzes.

Her argument hinges on manillas, brass bracelets introduced as a form of currency by Portuguese traders, who from the 16th to the 19th Centuries purchased from Africans a variety of agricultural produce and local goods – and also human beings.

Around 50 manillas would be paid to buy a slave – the bracelets would often then be melted down to make works of art
Around 50 manillas would be paid to buy a slave – the bracelets would often then be melted down to make works of art

The thousands of sculptures known collectively as the Benin Bronzes that were looted after the infamous punitive attack on the palace of Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi in 1897 were made with a combination of metals, such as brass and copper.

Acknowledging Nigeria’s part in sharing the Benin Bronzes, Deadria Farmer-Paellmann of Restitution Study Group says, “There’s a lot of shame [for them]. It’s almost like a child reporting their mother for child abuse. That’s a hard thing to do.”

The executive director continued, “But we are suffering from the shame while the slave trader heirs are walking off with the treasures. This is an opportunity for Nigeria to take a stand, one of the biggest places where descendants of enslaved people come from – about 3.6 million of us – and say that the honorable thing to do today is to share these bronzes.”

The Smithsonian Museum of African Art, in a ceremony on October 11, transferred ownership of 20 of them to Nigeria, while nine more will remain on loan to the museum.

Another 20 are with the Smithsonian’s Museum of National History, and the process that could lead to their transfer has begun. The Restitution Study Group’s lawsuit hopes to stop that.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: Discrepancies have been reported regarding the exact quotes, figures, and reporting offered by the BBC. The Black Wall Street Times will report updated findings and information once provided to ensure accuracy.

Hailing from Charlotte North Carolina, born litterateur Ezekiel J. Walker earned a B.A. in Psychology at Winston Salem State University. Walker later published his first creative nonfiction book and has...