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Africa Spectrum

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Cultural property -- Repatriation -- Africa, Cultural property -- Protection -- Africa, Cultural property -- Africa -- Governmental aspects, Group identity -- Africa


As African nations search for means to establish viable and authentic cultural identities, an increasing number of demands have been made on European Governments to return art objects, archives and antiquities taken during the colonial era. In a sense these demands come as attempts to turn back history, the history which denuded Africa of its culture in order to impress the fact of colonial subjugation.

For centuries, the movement of African art and antiquities has been an outward flow and as thousands of military and political conquerors, administrators, missionaries and adventurers took home souvenirs of their African experiences, and with the growing awareness of the unique nature of African antiquities in Europe and America, large investment in African art commenced. In its contemporary form, this process continues as African and European art and antique dealers, attracted by huge profit margins, buy and sell African antiquities despite well publicised national laws against export of these. Thus the waves of colonial incursions which involved administrators, traders, missionaries and the like turned into almost complete depletion of the culture which was the force behind the African personality.


Originally appeared in Africa Spectrum, volume 12, issue 3, 1977. Published by the German Institute of Global and Area Studies.

Persistent Identifier


German Institute of Global and Area Studies