His Royal Highness, Fon Sehm Mbinglo I, ruler of the Nso tribe in Cameroon’s North West region is currently in Germany for activities in the build up to the return of their sacred statue, the Ngonnso’. The traditional ruler touched down in the European nation on Sunday November 13, five months after the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation announced it was going to return the deity looted over 100 years ago by German colonial masters.
Welcoming the decision, Sylvie Njobati of the #BringBackNgonnso restitution campaign had stated that it was a first step in a long process of restitution.
“It is within the period when we start having these meetings that we are going to create a timeline. We are going to create a framework for which the restitution is going to happen,” she had stated.
The Ngonnso statue was built in honour of the motherly figure credited for founding the Nso tribe. It was among artefacts carted away by German colonial administrator Kurt Von Pavel and placed in Berlin’s Ethnological Museum in 1903.
Like Sylvie, restitution activist, Bulami Edwards has argued that returning the statue alone, was futile and an attempt to make jest of the Nso people from whom it was taken alongside other artefacts. To him, “… Isolating an item for restitution is giving the indigenous people false hope. It will be a semblance of instituting a god in a place of worship but withholding the religious regalia and other [props involved in the ritual performance of rites to the god.”
The statue, he added, should be returned alongside the Royal Cap (ntara’), the Royal necklace (sarkinchiy), the throne, Ivory and more.
Beyond returning the artefacts, restitution activists have also expressed the desire for compensation to the Nso people from whom the artefact was taken. “… depending on how the negotiation goes, there might be [demands for] reparation. This would define what it is the Nso people are asking the Germans to give together with the statue,” Sylvie Njobati told Cultural Magazine, GIYO shortly after the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation’s decision to return the statue.
The skeleton in the cupboard
Despite the joy and optimism accompanying the impending return of the Ngonnso’ statue to Cameroon, the elephant in the room over the past years has been the difference in perspectives between the Nso people and their Fon. These differences in views, has been further highlighted by the armed conflict in the North West and South West regions. This was brought to the fore with his involvement in politics, which eventually led to him being abducted by separatist fighters.
Despite this unpleasant segment, BringBackNgonnso’s Sylvie Njobati believes the return of the deity would signify a clean sheet and continuous fruitful coexistence between the traditional ruler and his subjects.
“What I realised from working with the Fon is that the Fon is so much willing and is working hard for peace to return to the Nso land. This is one of his efforts. When I spoke to him, he said he wants us to be as before, he wants Nso land to be admired by other people. He wants Nso to be great again as it was before,” she opined.
The traditional ruler, she added, believes that when Ngonnso’ comes back, a lot too will change, a belief she shares too: “I think when Ngonnso comes back it is going to be a solution to the current crisis because it helps us to reflect on our origin, our history and who we are. We will not reflect the way we had been reflecting before, when Ngonnso comes back. It will be a reminder that we were a people before colonial boundaries, before the English and French systems of education and law. It is a reminder that we were a people before the divide and rule governance came in. it is a reminder of our culture, our history and who we are.”