Opening Statement by Njobati Sylvie – workshop on the restitution of Ngonnso

Good morning to everyone. Today marks an important day not just in my life as a young person on a journey to dismantle the multiple layers of identity crisis, but also for all Nso people as our many decades of struggle to initiate dialogue and restitution is making progress. I am very pleased to have Verena Rodutus – the curator for West and Central African collection at the Museum with whom we have worked tireless to ensure that this workshop comes to live. I am also very happy to be in the midst of all of you researchers, activists, resource persons and colleagues who are working tirelessly to do justice to the subject at hand. 

The relationship and encounter between Nso and Germany dates as far back as 1902, a harzadous courtship that will later on plunge Nso people into the biggest identity crisis in their history. For a century and more, the people of Nso have borne and are still bearing the burden of colonialism and absence of the sacred statue of Ngonnso.

 I also want to believe that even though some people have refused to take action to cleanse this barbaric colonial past, we are here today because the burden of memory is also weighing so hard on today’s daily German who even though did not loot, burn, kill or destroy, is expected to atone for the sins of their forefathers. Unfortunately, it is a collective burden. I recognize and commend the efforts of civil society, academic institutions, researchers, historians, other institutions and individuals who despite all the pressure from other social issues plaguing the world, have understood and are pushing for decolonization and restitution to be a part of the global agenda for change.

I strongly believe that restitution is an important aspect of rethinking the past, reshaping the present and redefining the relationship that once started as a series of terrifying murders, arson, and destruction. It mustn’t end this way. We have the power to fix every broken chord. The power lies in our good fate and ability to put humanity first before politics, before power, before Pride.  

This first step warrants us to have opened minds, to unlearn some of the twisted narratives we’ve believed in, to unearth the truth and to ensure inclusion. I must commend the efforts of the museum in ensuring that this workshop happens and for rethinking justice over legality.  May our deliberations be based on mutual respect and trust. To me restitution is not the end of our shared history together, but the beginning of a new relationship. A relationship built on mutual understanding, acceptance, and the desire to reconcile, heal and build together.

As we enter this dialogue phase, may we be guided by meaning and the spirit of humanity. 

Thank you 

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