Thursday 5 December, 2019

Jamaica moves to repatriate artifacts from Britain

Boinayel the Rain Giver (Photo: British Museum)

Boinayel the Rain Giver (Photo: British Museum)

Jamaica has joined a growing list of countries, including from Africa, which are taking steps to have their national treasures repatriated from their former colonial masters, primarily in Europe.

The Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia Grange, has revealed that efforts are underway to have several artifacts taken from Jamaican soil repatriated.

Some pieces date back to the time of the Tainos.

Grange, who made the disclosure while making her contribution to the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, said some artifacts were removed from Jamaica’s shores during early archaeological digs when the country was still a colony of Britain.

“Among them was the Taíno piece called ‘Bird Man’ which was carved from a solid piece of heavy and dark wood. It stands upright and close to 35 inches. It has the head of a long-billed bird and the body of a human male,” Grange said.

The minister said efforts were also being made to have the ‘Boinayel the Rain Giver', an important god of the Taíno returned.

"The tears that stream from his eyes signify the magical tears that created rain. These pieces and many others that we have identified are with the British Museum.

“They are not even on display,” Grange remarked.

She added that “they are priceless, they are significant to the story of Jamaica, and they belong to the people of Jamaica.

“We are working, through the National Council on Reparations to have them returned”.

In the meantime, Grange said her ministry has located several films that tell the story of the development of the country, in databases overseas.

“They belong to us and I have put a team to work along with (Franklyn) ‘Chappy’ St Juste on repatriating them,” she said.

St Juste is a veteran filmmaker whose works include the iconic The Harder They Come with reggae legend, Jimmy Cliff.

In the meantime, Grange said the Jamaica National Heritage Trust will this year begin the process of commissioning monuments for former Governor General, Sir Howard Cooke and for the former Prime Minister, Edward Seaga at their burial sites inside the National Heroes Park.

Cooke died on July 14, 2015 at age 98 while Seaga died on May 28, 2019 on his 89th birthday.

Earlier this year, it was announced that two locks of hair belonging to widely revered Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros would be repatriated after a request from Addis Ababa.

Late last year, a study by French art historian Benedicte Savoy and Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr, commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron, recommended that French museums give back works that were taken without consent, if African countries request them.

Experts estimate that up to 90 per cent of African art is outside the continent, including statues, thrones and manuscripts.

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