|Secrets of the Benin Bronzes : The Truth revealed
Much has been written about the seizure of the Benin Bronzes by the ‘might’ of the British military in 1897. The many hundreds of local Nigerian inhabitants killed during this mission; the reasons as to ‘why’ the British authorised this action has been widely documented, but is it the truth?
The British museum today proudly displays 48 of the Benin Bronzes with many hundreds stored away from public view. I am of the opinion that the British Museum should be celebrating over a century, caring for Nigeria's precious bronzes, which incidentally are made from brass. Many thousands of people from all over the world have enjoyed viewing these stunning works of art, depicting courtiers of the Obas palace in cultural dress and dance pose.
This is a ‘new age’ and Nigeria has a growing young population which has an insatiable ‘thirst’ for their history and cultural background. I feel that people should learn about their history of both their Community and Country, which in turn promotes a sense of ‘belonging’, which in turn promotes ‘happiness’ and ‘well being’. The story of the Benin Bronzes is of considerable historical importance and there are so many variations of the story that any factual evidence is virtually non existence... until now!
Mark Walker a retired medical consultant living in the UK contacted me via my website www.richardlander.org.uk concerning two Benin Bronzes together with a diary , which has been in his family for over a century. Mark and I discussed at length the options in relation to the Bronzes and I felt the ‘gesture’ by Mark to donate the two bronzes back to the people of Nigeria, would be a truly remarkable one. Mark agreed and the repatriation of an IBIS bird bronze together with the diary will be conducted during 2014 and presented to the highest authority
The IBIS bird represents power and was once fixed on a wooden staff and carried by one of the Obas Chiefs; there would have been two such Ibis staff of office. The IBIS bird was once sacrificed in Northern Africa to stem off pestilence and plague; in Greek mythology the Ibis was associated with the God ‘Thor’ so generally represents power and a symbol of authority. So it is fitting that once this symbol of authority as removed/stolen by the British, it is now being returned over a century later.
The Diary was written in 1897 by an officer in the British Secret Service who left the UK shores on January 14th with a small task force whose objectives were to attack Benin City and kill the Oba.
The diary reveals the circumstances of how 9 British personnel on a peace mission to Benin City were ambushed, killed and beheaded on route to speak to the Oba. One individual Mr. Cambell survived the initial ambush and was captured and taken to the city; the Oba refused to allow him to be brought in, and he was carried to an adjacent village where he was put to death.
Acting Consul General Phillips may not have been acting strictly on British orders when he arranged the journey from Sapele to Benin. However, the massacre of these British Officers and civilians sent shockwaves around the world, especially into the heart of the British Government. An urgent armed response was required in retribution in which to teach the Oba a lesson and more importantly, in the watching eyes of the world, that Britain would not tolerate such a slight on their authority, without retaliation.
The diary reveals for the first time about this secret service operation; 6 maxim machine guns were utilised and believed for the first time in such ‘live’ conflict. Was this to be a timely ’test’ in combat of such a deadly weapon, which had such devastating results later on at Benin.
A rocket attack on the city of Benin resulted in two rockets landing in the Obas garden from some considerable distance would have a significant effect on the moral of the local Benin people, when they could see how accurate the British rockets were.
A sacrifice tree is photographed and displayed within the diary together with 84 other remarkably preserved images. The hundreds of corpses discovered by the British having been sacrificed is described within the diary revealing disturbing local practices.
Approx 400 British men were either killed, wounded or suffered sickness by the end of the mission, leaving just over 100 men still fit for duty.
I have included just a few facts, which actually happened during this event, the diary reveals many more historical facts which will clarify history and finally the true story can be revealed.
Yes, the British did ‘steal’ the Benin Bronzes despite their removal not being one of the objectives of the mission; the author of the diary and in his own hand writing describes the proceeds as ‘loot’!!
The Diary describes military tactics used as they approached Benin City together with the pursuit of the Oba as he fled the city with his Chiefs.
Once this diary is made public the true story will finally be revealed to the world. The story may have been suppressed by the British Government under the 70 year rule not to reveal any ’secret’ information or military operations by the security services.
It is my hope that the publication of a new book depicting the discovery of this remarkable document, will eventually help to ratify the myth surrounding the story of the Benin Bronzes. In turn, I hope the publication will help to promote awareness and discussion about the story and location of the Benin Bronzes today.
The Benin Bronzes belong to the people of Nigeria, where once their talented descendents crafted them, using somewhat ‘crude’ smelting conditions. These works of art will inspire the people of Nigeria as they have done people, from all over the world as they have gazed into the shapes and contours of the sculptures at the British Museum for over a century.
I am in direct contact with the British Government and continue to pursue the subject to return the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria, especially in this anniversary year. I hope to receive written authorisation from His Majesty The Oba of Benin himself to act on his behalf to pursue this matter.
A new publication revealing the secrets of the British military operation in 1897 will help enormously towards the repatriation of the Bronzes back to Nigeria.
As Nelson Mandela once said ‘’Education is the most powerful weapon in the world’’
Chief Steve Dunstone F.R.G.S 27TH January 2014