Cameroon: Official Restitution soon to be made on “Looted Bangwa Artefacts” at Brunswick Museum

By Boris Esono Nwenfor

Chief Charles Taku Taku with a ceremonial staff and sword of the former ruler Fontem Asonganyi (ca. 1870-1951). Pic by Dirk Scherer, Municipal Museum of Brunswick

Chief Charles Taku, representative of His Majesty, Fontem Asabaton, the King of the royal family of Fontem, and the Bangwa has said a future official request for restitution by the King Fontem as the rightful owners of the artefacts at the Municipal Museum of Brunswick.

HRH Chief Charles Taku, a high-ranking criminal and human rights lawyer at the International Criminal Court was speaking to Isabella Bozsa, a PhD student within PAESE at the Municipal Museum of Brunswick during a visit by the King’s representative to the Museum.

The visit by Chief Taku was intended to promote transparency of the collection and the joint reappraisal of colonial history, as well as to contribute to the development of a scientific basis for negotiations on restitution, a communique stated.

Isabella Bozsa (PAESE) and Chief Charles Taku with a ceremonial staff. Pic by Dirk Scherer, Municipal Museum of Brunswick

More than 700 objects from Cameroon that were appropriated by Kurt Strumpell, a colonial officer from Brunswick between 1901 and 1908 that are presently at the Municipal Museum of Brunswick (SMBS). Some of these artefacts through research by Isabella Bozsa have been traced to the Bangwa people.

The latest research results by Isabella Bozsa within the framework of PAESE (Provenance Research in Non-European Collections and Ethnology in Lower Saxony) have revealed that several objects can be traced back to Chief Charles Taku’s great-grandfather, the then ruler Fontem Asonganyi, as the previous owner.

Chief Taku has also acknowledged the “opening” of museums to persons from the countries of origins and the attempts of provenance researchers like Isabella Bozsa on behalf of PAESE and Rainer Hatoum at the SMBS as positive examples for new dynamics taking place in museums with ethnographic collections.

Speaking to Isabella Bozsa, chief Taku noted that the objects symbolize the ingenuity, skills, and beliefs of all black-positioned people, who should be respected and honoured.

Museum director Peter Joch, Chief Charles Taku, Isabella Bozsa (PAESE), Annika Hille (Public Relations) und Rainer Hatoum (Ethnology) in the storage of the Municipal Museum of Brunswick

He said: “It is a historical moment for me for the simple fact that I had the opportunity to talk to my ancestors. To talk to Fointem Asonganyi, my great-grandfather, talk to Fontem Defang, talk to Fontem Njifua, talk to my mother Helen Atabong Asaba Fontem, talk to my grandfather Asaba Fontem and other ancestors. But also, more important and linked to these are the ordinary men and women and children of my kingdom… that Strumpell and others took for forced labour and never came back.”

Chief Charles Taku continued: “Finally, we have hopes… This means we can now sleep in peace that we now are reconciling with this history and the reality of this history. And I think being here today to represent them is a very heavy responsibility, but it is a moment of extreme confidence and also for me to be able to serve his majesty and being a traditional ruler that concerns and to protect the interest of my people…”

“It is not just about the Bangwas as such or Fontem, it is about black civilization generally and the people who put effort to make these symbols, its spirituality and everything. It is all that humanity is about and black civilization that we pay homage to, He said”

Isabella Bozsa (PAESE) and Chief Charles Taku. Pic by Dirk Scherer, Municipal Museum of Brunswick

About PAESE research project

The Municipal Museum of Brunswick is a participant in the PAESE research project, which is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. Other participants are the State Museums of Hanover and Oldenburg, the Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum in Hildesheim and the Ethnological Collection of the University of Göttingen. PAESE aims to research the origins of objects in ethnographic collections in Lower Saxony and thus contribute to the reappraisal of colonial history in museums. A central question is under which circumstances objects were acquired during the German colonial period and how German museums should deal with their colonial heritage today.

Since October 2019, Isabella Bozsa has been working as a PhD student within PAESE at the Municipal Museum of Brunswick. She is examining the collection of Kurt Strümpell, who was an officer of the Kaiserliche Schutztruppe in the then German colony of Cameroon from 1900 to 1911 and was involved in many military “expeditions” against the local population. He brought back numerous objects from this time, which he gave to the Municipal Museum. How his collecting practice was related to German colonial rule and how Cameroonians view the objects and their origin is being researched at present.

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