Press Release: Work of art looted during colonialism should be returned to Cameroon – Wide alliance within civil society demands Bavaria return the looted ship’s ornament – the Tangué
Berlin, 23 February 2010. The campaign alliance “125th Anniversary of the Berlin Africa Conference: commemoration, reappraisal, reparation”, consisting of more than 75 German organisations, is strongly supporting the demand of the Cameroonian Prince Kum’a Ndumbe III of the government of the Free State of Bavaria to return one of the most important ritual objects of the coastal peoples of Cameroon – the Tangué – to the descendent of the rightful owner and to pay compensation for the time during which it has been appropriated. The Tangué of Lock Priso is the distinctive insignia of the Bele Bele people, who up until today are the custodians of the annual water ritual held during the gathering of the “NGONDO”, which is the highest authority of the coastal peoples. It does not belong in the permanent exhibition of the Munich Museum of Ethnology.
The ship’s ornament can be proven to have been looted by the then (provisional) Governor Dr Maximilian Buchner in 1884 during an attack on Hickory Town (today Bonabéri) on the Cameroonian coast. In Aurora Colonialis. Bruchstücke eines Tagebuches aus dem ersten Beginn unserer Kolonialpolitik, 1884-1885 Munich 1914 (Aurora Colonialis. Fragments of a diary from the very beginning of our colonial politics 1884-1885), Buchner himself writes explicitly of the violent acquisition of the ritual object:
“The house of Lock Priso is being torn down, a stirring, picturesque scene. We are setting everything on fire. Beforehand, however, I asked to be allowed to search through each of the houses for ethnological curiosities. My main prize is a large wood carving, an aristocratic boat ornament of Lock Priso, which should come to Munich.”
Prince Kum’a Ndumbe III, university professor, writer and grandson of Lock Priso, from whom the Tangué was stolen, has been striving vigorously for decades for the return of the Tangué. At the end of last year he publically issued the following statement:
“I, Prince Bele Bele, Kum, son of Ndumbe III, himself son of Kum’a Mbape (Lock Priso), on this day 22 December 2009, 125 years after colonial and neo-colonial politics destroyed the structure of our society forever, ceremoniously announce: I demand that the German government return to me, my family and our people, the Tangué of my grandfather, Kum’a Mbape, which was appropriated as spoils of war, and that in addition we are given appropriate compensation, as envisaged by the current international conventions. Long-lasting peace and reconciliation between nations and cultures can only be realised when fundamental injustices are righted through reparations.”
In view of the criminal circumstances of its “acquisition” 125 years ago and the official demands of Prince Kum’a Ndumbe III for its return and compensation, it cannot be justified by any means to allow the Tangué to remain any longer in Munich. Our campaign alliance has written to the Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer, urging him to immediately start proceedings to return the ritual object and to pay compensation to the heir of Lock Priso.
Christian Kopp, Berlin Postkolonial (Campaign spokesperson)
Tel.: 030 231 321 54