Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Repatriation: More Rosetta (Dr Kwame Okopu)

It is very strange how the minds of some Westerners seem to work when it comes to discussing repatriation of looted/stolen cultural objects or objects acquired under dubious circumstances or from a people under foreign domination. For example, we have a fairly senior member of the British cultural establishment, Roy Clare, head of Britain's Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, writing in an article, “The Rosetta Stone can be shared where it is” as if its removal by French soldiers and the subsequent transport to London were perfectly legitimate. (2) Who gave the French the right to remove objects from Egypt? Even the British Museum, in its publication, entitled The Rosetta Stone, by Richard Parkinson, noted the evil colonialist and imperialist aims of Napoleon's military expedition to Egypt in 1799: “…it colonized, in the name of the Enlightenment, a country that was supposedly the origin of all wisdom. The French justified this imperial enterprise by claiming that it would rescue the ancient country from a supposed state of modern barbarism, but the Egyptian historian Abd al-Rahman al Jabari (1754-1882) saw the start of the occupation in July 1798 from a very different perspective as the beginning of a period marked by great battles…miseries multiplied without end.” (3)

Since the British seized the Rosetta Stone, considered by scholars as having been very crucial to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphics, from the French on the defeat of Napoleon's army in 1801, they cannot claim any right greater than that of the French, except if you concede that the powerful can take whatever they like from any country. The Egyptians never consented to such a seizure or removal. The capitulation agreement, the Treaty of Alexandria (1801), was an agreement between the victorious British and the defeated French. The surrender, resulting in the seizure of Egyptian artefacts under the control of the French, some allowed to be taken to Paris and others, including the Rosetta Stone, taken to Britain, was an affair between two European imperialist powers at the cost of an African country, not recognized by either combatant State as equal partner at the International Law level.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lordy, Lordy. They've got it. They're gonna keep it. And I don't blame them. So enough already.