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Twenty-six objects soon to be returned to Benin by the Quai Branly Museum


On November 9, twenty-six historical pieces from the kingdom of Abomey, from the collections of the Musée du quai Branly must be transferred to Benin, where they originated: statues, palace doors, thrones, altars… A temporary presentation is planned after the return, probably in Cotonou, while waiting for the planned place in the city of Abomey, in the south of the country, to be ready to receive them. The history of these royal objects takes place in two stages, separated by more than a century.

The first moment is that of the colonial conquest. In the 1880s, the IIIe French Republic put increasing pressure on the Fon kingdom of Abomey, which was then ruled by King Glélé, to annex it. Glélé died in 1889; He was succeeded by his son Béhanzin, who refused as much as his father to give in to France. The war began in 1890 with the battle of Cotonou.

The resistance of the female and male troops of Béhanzin is such that the dispatch of an expeditionary force formed for the occasion is decided, in March 1892. Commanded by Colonel Alfred-Amédée Dodds (1842-1922), himself born in a mixed-race family from Saint-Louis of Senegal, the column, armed with Lebel rifles – the latest in the genre, at that date – and supported by artillery, broke the successive lines of defense of the Fon and S troops seized Abomey, the capital, on November 17, 1892. Dodds had already been promoted general a few days earlier for his “victory”.

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It was then, during the sacking of the royal palaces, that the three statues were taken bocio, which are the emblems of the last three kings, Ghézo, Glélé and Béhanzin, and are supposed to protect, as well as furniture and court objects. Dodds donated it to the Trocadéro Museum in Paris in two installments: eight pieces in 1893, eighteen in 1895.

Meanwhile, on January 25, 1894, Behanzin, who continued an armed resistance, was drawn into a trap. Dodds offers him a meeting, supposedly to negotiate. In reality, he captured him and had him exiled to Martinique, where he remained captive until March 1906. Finally authorized to leave the island, he died in Algiers on the following December 10, without having seen his country again.

Two episodes

These are the two Dodds donations that are returned. The main lot is that of 1893: the three half-man, half-animal statues, four palace doors decorated with polychrome bas-reliefs and a royal seat abundantly decorated with figures. The 1895 lot includes three recades – insignia of authority attributed to dignitaries -, six portable altars taken from the royal palace (including three incomplete), engraved calabashes, the thrones of kings Ghézo and Glélé, a footrest, a spindle, a loom and, finally, a soldier’s tunic and pants. From the Trocadéro, the ensemble joined the quai Branly collections in 2003.

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