Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
This is, I'm sad to say, rather self-serving and typical for europe where colonial history is deeply whitewashed. Visit the Rijkmuseum and see a small part of the proceeds of large scale looting. For an example of the "modesty" of Dutch  imperialism, consider the Banda Islands (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banda_Islands) where an entire nation was put to the sword for the crime of selling nutmeg to higher bidders.
by rootless2 on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 12:15:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ouch... Couldn't they do without that?

That is other fascinating instance of collonization clash.

Before the arrival of Europeans, [the] Bandanese had an active and independent role in trade throughout the archipelago. Banda was the world's only source of nutmeg and mace, spices used as flavourings, medicines, preserving agents, that were at the time highly valued in European markets; sold by Arab traders to the Venetians for exorbitant prices.

[In 1512, Portugese were the first Europeans to reach the Bandas.] Maintaining their independence, the Bandanese never allowed the Portuguese to build a fort or a permanent post in the islands. Ironically though, it was this lack of ports which brought the Dutch to trade at Banda instead of the clove islands of Ternate and Tidore.

[Dutch]-Bandanese relations were mutually resentful from the outset, with Holland's first merchants complaining of Bandanese reneging on agreed deliveries and price, and cheating on quantity and quality. For the Bandanese, on the other hand, although they welcomed another competitor purchaser for their spices, the items of trade offered by the Dutch--heavy woollens, and damasks, unwanted manufactured goods, for example--were usually unsuitable in comparison to traditional trade products. [As] much as the Dutch disliked dealing with the Bandanese, the trade was a highly profitable one with spices selling for 300 times the purchase price in Banda.

Until the early seventeenth century, [nutmeg] was one of the "fine spices" kept expensive in Europe by disciplined manipulation of the market, but a desirable commodity for Dutch traders in the ports of India as well; economic historian Fernand Braudel notes that India consumed twice as much as Europe.

[The] Bandanese soon grew tired of the Dutch actions; the low prices, the useless trade items, and the enforcement of Dutch sole rights to the purchase of the coveted spices. The end of the line for the Bandanese came in 1609 when the Dutch reinforced Fort Nassau on Bandanaira Island. The [leaders] called a meeting with the Dutch admiral and forty of his highest-ranking men, and ambushed and killed them all.

[The] English had built fortified trading posts on tiny Ai and Run islands, ten to twenty kilometres from the main Banda Islands. With the British paying higher prices, they were significantly undermining Dutch aims for a monopoly. [In] 1615, the Dutch invaded Ai with 900 men and the British retreated to Run where they regrouped. That same night, the British launched a surprise counter-attack on Ai retaking the island and killing 200 Dutchmen. A year later, a much stronger Dutch force attacked Ai; [after] a month of siege the defenders ran out of ammunition and were slaughtered. [European] control of the Bandas was still contested up until 1667 when, under the Treaty of Breda (1667), the British traded the small island of Run for Manhattan, giving the Dutch full control of the Banda archipelago.

Newly-appointed VOC governor-general Jan Pieterszoon Coen set about enforcing Dutch monopoly over the Banda's spice trade. In 1621 well-armed soldiers were landed on Bandaneira Island and within a few days they had also occupied neighbouring and larger Lontar. The [leaders] were forced at gunpoint to sign and unfeasibly arduous treaty, one that was in fact impossible to keep, thus providing Coen an excuse to use superior Dutch force against the Bandanese. The Dutch quickly noted a number of alleged violations of the new treaty, in response to which Coen launched a punitive massacre. Japanese mercenaries were hired to deal with the [leaders], forty of whom were beheaded with their heads impaled and displayed on bamboo spears for display.

The population of the Banda Islands prior to Dutch conquest is generally estimated to have been around 13-15,000 people. [The] actual numbers of Bandanese who were killed, forcibly expelled or fled the islands in 1621 remain uncertain. But readings of historical sources suggest around one thousand Bandanese likely survived in the islands, and were spread throughout the nutmeg groves as forced labourers. The Dutch subsequently re-settled the islands with imported slaves, convicts and indentured labourers (to work the nutmeg plantations), as well as immigrants from elsewhere in Indonesia. [Some 530 of enslaved surviving Bandanese]  were later returned to the islands because of their much-needed expertise in nutmeg cultivation (something sorely lacking among newly-arrived Dutch settlers).

A sudden potential for huge profit makes people insane. You can have centuries of slowly building trading realtions, and then a kind of whooping globalization...

by das monde on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 04:25:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sorry, but there was no centuries of building relationships. The Dutch and Portugese arrived in South Asia as the owners of cannon and an irresistable greed. They were like locusts except locusts go away after eating everything.

The subtleties of colonialism were explained by the British poet:

They don't like us
But we have got
The Maxim Gun
And they have not.

by rootless2 on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 09:35:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
With "building relations", I was referring to the first paragraph of my citation.
by das monde on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 08:21:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, the British museum doesn't even bother to whitewash the looting: it's spelled out right there on the plaques next to the exhibits. A case in point:
British Museum: Stories of royalty in brass
There are over nine hundred plaques of this type in various museums in England, Europe and America. Many of the plaques now in The British Museum were collected during the British Punitive Expedition in 1897. They are thought to have been made in matching pairs and fixed to pillars in the Oba's palace in Benin City.
A 300-year-old heirloom of the Benin culture was "collected during the British Punitive Expedition". WTF? The plaque in the museum actually explains the context, which is one of petty revenge, and the value of the bronzes. From Wikipedia:
The Benin Bronzes are a collection of more than 1,000 brass plaques from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin. They were seized by a British force in the "Punitive Expedition" of 1897 and given to the British Foreign Office. Around 200 of these were then passed on to the British Museum in London, while the remainder were divided between a variety of collections.

The seizure of the Bronzes led to a greater appreciation in Europe for African culture. Bronzes are now believed to have been cast in Benin since the thirteenth century, and some in the collection date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Previously, all pre-European art from the continent, outside North Africa, was thought to be tribal art, using less complex techniques.

The Punitive Expedition of 1897 was a military excursion by a British force of 1,200 under Admiral Sir Harry Rawson that captured, burned, and looted the city of Benin, bringing to an end the highly sophisticated West African Kingdom of Benin. During the conquering and burning of the city, most of the country's treasured art, including the Benin Bronzes, was either destroyed, looted or dispersed.


In 1896 a small armed force led by a British officer, Lt James Phillips, British Acting Consul in the Niger-Delta, was sent to Benin under the authority of Ralph Moore, governor of Britain's West African Niger Coast Protectorate, to demand an end to the customs duties collected from British traders by Oba Ovonramwen, ruler of the then independent Kingdom of Benin. Oba Ovonramwen advised the British that the meeting would have to be postponed due to the annual yam planting and fertility festival taking place in the capital, but Phillips did not want to wait for an official invitation and decided to go anyway. Phillips entered the Kingdom of Benin without official escorts and was thus not met by representatives from the royal court as he advanced towards Benin, the capital. Just before entering the capital, the British delegation was ambushed by a group of warriors. Only two persons in Phillips' party survived. Shortly thereafter, a British force consisting of 1,200 men was formed to revenge the ambush.


War Booty

After the destruction of Benin, the British Admiralty confiscated and auctioned off the war booty of art to defray the costs of the Expedition. The expected revenue from the looted art was discussed already before Phillips set out on his ill-fated journey to the city of Benin in 1896.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 04:48:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess you have to credit them for being honest about it.

I have to say, after years of hearing how wonderful the British Museum is, I finally visited last year... and I just found it disturbing.  It was like wandering around in the mansion of some big-game hunter, filled with "trophies," stuffed lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

Partly, my discomfort was probably because most of my previous museum-going was when I was younger, before I'd lived in Africa and the Arab world, so now I know considerably more about the civilizations these artifacts came from and the British colonial history in them, and about how the artifacts were obtained.

But partly it was seeing, for the first time, artifacts from my own country displayed in a foreign museum, especially one in a country that colonized mine.  I know, it sounds weird, and I felt weird thinking that way, and I'm aware that my own government was far more brutal ane exploitative toward the indigenous population of the Americas than the British were.  So I don't know why, but seeing Native American items in the British Museum is very differet than seeing them here.  It was just... jarring.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 05:33:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
is the word. We went there some time two years ago, shortly after coming to London, and I don't feel like going again, even though it's a wonderful building, too.

What realy shocks me is how matter-of-fact they are about looting. Yes, "honest", but still...

The African exhibition has some nicer artifacts, such as the Tree of Guns and the Throne of Weapons:

The throne was made by the Mozambican artist Cristovao Canhavato (Kester) from decommissioned weapons collected since the end of the civil war in 1992. Since the overthrow of Portuguese colonial rule in 1975, Mozambique offered both inspiration and a safe haven for activists opposing apartheid in South Africa and white minority Rhodesia. The civil war in Mozambique was fuelled by those regimes in their ultimately unsuccessful efforts to destabilize the country.

The throne is a product of the TAE project - Transformaçaõ de Armas em Enxadas (Transforming Arms into Tools) - whereby weapons previously used by combatants on both sides are voluntarily exchanged for agricultural, domestic and construction tools. The project was established in 1995 in Maputo by Bishop Dinis Sengulane of the Christian Council of Mozambique with the support of Christian Aid.

But if I remember correctly the Tree of Guns is very near the Benin Bronzes, which made the cognitive dissonance unbearable.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 05:39:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, I actually really enjoyed seeing the Tree of Guns, mainly because I'd met a number of the artists who worked on it in Mozambique.  The guns-to-sculptures program there is really very impressive.  The sculptors work out of a studio/gallery/workshop in a converted old house on a side street, near downtown Maputo, and on weekend evenings all the young arists in town hang out, drink beer, listen to music.  It's great.  And they were just thrilled when the British Museum commissioned the Tree.

At any rate, that's not really an artifact, it's a commissioned work of art, and the people who made it were compensated as any artist would be.  I don't have such a problem with that.

But yes, the bitter irony of a Tree of Guns, with everything it symbolizes, being displayed alongside historical artifacts obtained through centuries of looting a continent at gunpoint....

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 06:01:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Rijksmuseum when I visited many years ago had all sorts of amazing Indonesian Budda heads that had clearly been torn off the rest of the statue - with big jagged metal fragments at the neck.

I've never seen it, but according to Adam Hoschild, the ultimate is the Congo museum in Belgium which innocently contains no mention of the unsavory aspects of King Leopold's little venture.

by rootless2 on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 09:01:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hum. I sort of share your discomfort, on one hand.

On the other, to pick a random example, why does the current Egyptian state have a right to those treasures which are the results of oppression and slavery by its predecessor states? There's a whole set of assumptions about nations, national myths, rights of succession and such things that I'm not comfortable making and haven't thought through. Should the Egyptians apologise for their colonial days first? When does the statute of limitations run out on these things?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 06:25:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The looting of Iraq's archaeological heritage is a much more present concern.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 06:39:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely, and a completely different issue: that stuff isn't going to public museums but very private collections, if we're lucky. If we're not lucky it's just being destroyed or lost.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 06:41:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Apologize to whom?  The ancient Israelites?  Moses?  Themselves?  (Because many of the ancient Egyptians' slaves were... Egyptian.)

If I had to make a judgment call, yes, I'd say the modern Egyptian state has more "right" to them than the modern British state.  They are Egyptian, and a part of Egypt's cultural heritage, the bad with the good.  That said, they are also clearly parts of British history, at least in the obtaining of them, although they are not generally displayed as such.

I wonder... if the Beowulf manuscript were housed in the Louvre, do you think the British government would be asking for it back?

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 07:22:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, they would be launching a punitive expedition.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 07:23:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also see here...
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 07:39:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The statute of limitations is always the hidden reef in the sea of indignant moral posturing. After one has decided not to strip the Belgians of every penny to make up for some of what they did in Congo and return most of Norway (and the oil) to the Lapps, because of the deep moral principles of (a) it was a long time ago and (b) you and whose army?, catching the wind of righteousness becomes more complicated.
by rootless2 on Fri May 11th, 2007 at 11:24:12 AM EST
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