Bronze head, human size, ancient African design, from photo of slave trade currency by Kamm Howard, cover page of lawsuit

Benin Bronze sculpture photo by Kamm Howard

Open letter to Vice President Kamala Harris, Chief Justice John Roberts and other members of the Smithsonian Board of Regents in opposition to Benin Bronze Transfer

I…descended from individuals enslaved by the kingdom of Benin in exchange for the metal manilas they melted and cast in the Benin bronzes…vote “no” to the divestiture of the 20 Benin bronzes ….”

— Deadria Farmer-Paellmann

WASHINGTON, DC, US, Oct. 21, 2022 / — The Restitution Study Group announces that they have sent the following letter regarding the Benin bronzes:

I represent the Restitution Study Group, a New York metro organization that focuses on slavery law. I am also one of the millions of American people descended from individuals who were enslaved by the Kingdom of Benin in exchange for the metal manilas they melted and cast in the bronze Benin.

We understand that a meeting of the Board of Regents is scheduled for next Monday, October 24, 2022. We will be in touch regarding the Benin Bronzes that may be on the agenda for divestiture for transfer to Nigeria.

We want you to vote ‘no’ to the divestiture of the 20 bronze Benin that the Smithsonian has announced you will vote on shortly. If you can reverse the previous vote on divestment 39, we ask that you do the same.

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We think you voted under misleading circumstances — deliberately made oblivious to the fact that most bronzes were cast with metal manilas. The kingdom of Benin was paid for people who sold them in the transatlantic slave trade from the 16th to the 19th century.

The director of the National Museum of African Art misled us about the slave history of the bronzes. We think they deliberately misled you as well. The origin of the slave trade is certain, she says not. But the Kingdom admits the truth in their 2018 book The Benin Monarchy on pages 205 and 103. Top scientists agree, too. Two of the world’s leading scientists have submitted letters of verification contained in a petition for an injunction that we have filed with the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC. A third scholar with a specialty in Black Studies also agrees. All of this evidence is in the warrant documentation.

The Benin Kingdom has enslaved us for 300 years by looting our villages, kidnapping our people, selling us into slavery and using us for human sacrifice. They have undergone one punitive expedition and gain the sympathy of the world. If they told the full story, they would have less support in the return of the Benin bronzes. Would anyone sympathize with Germany trying to repatriate soap and lampshades made with skin and bones from Holocaust victims to a Nazi museum?

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Today, Benin City, home to the Kingdom of Benin, is still the capital of the slave trade. Our US State Department warns against traveling to Nigeria because of the risk of kidnapping for sex slavery, organ harvesting and human sacrifice in money rituals. The kingdom’s centuries of slave trade left a deep and tragic imprint on the culture of their homeland. We must not reward this inheritance with the fruit of ill-gotten gains.

A lawsuit is pending against the Smithsonian because the transfers are illegal under US law. The law does not allow transfer outside of the Smithsonian system unless there is payment. This transfer is a gift to the heirs of slave traders, they do not pay for it as required by law. The cost of this would be an estimated $200 million and about that amount for the next set you’ll be voting on shortly. We can sue in this case, but if you hand over these bronzes before the case is heard, it will be too late.

There is no rush with divestment and transfer. Edo’s state museum, the Smithsonian thinks it won’t be built until 2025. Right now it’s just a huge hole in the ground being excavated by the state of Edo.

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I’ve been eagerly studying the bronzes since 1999, when I was doing a law degree on them. My child grew up visiting them in museums, studying them and drawing them with me. Like us, other descendants of enslaved humans linked to the bronzes by their ancestors will flock to museums once they learn the truth. We ask that you ensure that we continue to enjoy our cultural relics and grant all descendants of enslaved people and others this unique experience, by voting “No” to the transfer of the bronzes to heirs of Nigerian slave traders.

Thank you,
Deadria Farmer-Paellmann
Executive Director

Deadria Farmer-Paellmann
Study group Restitution
[email protected]
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THEY BELONG TO ALL OF US – The Story of the Bronze Slave Trade in Benin – Movie:


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