Hoa Hakananai’a

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The Hoa Hakananai’a is on Level 0, in Room 24.

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Make sure you scan the front side of the Hoa Hakananai'a.


- Scan all artefacts at eye level, from 1 metre distance

- Connect to the British Museum’s WiFi

- Wear headphones

Rosetta Stone

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The Rosetta Stone is on Level 0, in Room 4.

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Make sure you scan the front side of the Rosetta Stone.


- Scan all artefacts at eye level, from 1 metre distance

- Connect to the British Museum’s WiFi

- Wear headphones

Benin Bronzes

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The Benin Bronzes are on Level -2, in Room 25, Object 186.

Can’t scan the artefact?

This collection has many artefacts. Make sure to scan the part separate from the mosaic, under the spotlight, as below.


- Scan all artefacts at eye level, from 1 metre distance

- Connect to the British Museum’s WiFi

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Akan Drum

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The Akan Drum is on Level 0, in Room 26, Object 3.

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Scanning the Akan Drum at eye level can be tricky. If you can, kneel or squat to trigger the filter.


- Connect to the British Museum’s WiFi

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Gweagal Shield

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The Gweagal Shield is on Level 0, in Room 1, Object 95.

Can’t scan the artefact?

Make sure you scan the front side of the Gweagal Shield.


- Scan all artefacts at eye level, from 1 metre distance

- Connect to the British Museum’s WiFi

- Wear headphones

Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal

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The Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal is on Level 0, in Room 10a, Panel 10. When entering from Room 7, the wall relief is on your immediate left.

Can’t scan the artefact?

This artefact consists of 3 horizontal panels.

Spot the image of Ashurbanipal piercing the lion in the mouth.

You’ll find it in the middle panel, as shown below.


- Scan all artefacts at eye level, from 1 metre distance

- Connect to the British Museum’s WiFi

- Wear headphones

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Episode 2
  • Episode 1

    A Vice World News Production © 2021



    The Hoa Hakananai’a is on Level 0, in Room 24.

    The people of Rapa Nui – also known as Easter Island – carved Hoa Hakananai’a centuries ago. This living ancestor was taken by British sailors and given to Queen Victoria.

    Sergio Mata'u Rapu: There's this really intense feeling when you are sitting under the Moai, watching the sunrise at this site called Tongariki, the largest site on Rapa Nui. It has 15 statues, they're standing on a platform. There are no lights out there, so you get this sort of majestic, starlit sky. The sun will rise kind of behind the statues in the darkness. And then the blue starts appearing and there's sort of these massive black shadows just right in front of you. It really just looks like you're this tiny little kid, amongst these adults; they're having a conversation. From this angle, you're looking up at them kind of up to their chest and up to their nose. And it's very similar to that perspective that you have like, holding your grandmother's hand or your grandfather's hand as you walk alongside them. When you look up and you're a tiny kid. Those are the parts of the faces that you see. And that's what the moai are.

    Soundbite: Stolen lives, get it back; stolen culture, give it back. VICE World News presents The Unfiltered History Tour – colonialism, as told through 10 objects.

    Mata'u Rapu: My name is Sergio Mata'u Rapu. I'm a filmmaker. I was born and am from a tiny little speck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Today it's known as Easter Island. We as a native people call it Rapa Nui. It is about a five hour plane flight from Santiago, Chile. It's five hours from Papeete in Tahiti. Growing up, I could always identify it because they would put the legend of a map. Sometimes right next to it, if not right on top of it. Like that's how insignificant we were to mapmakers, right? We as Rapa Nui descend from Polynesians. So a long, long time ago, between 1800 AD and 1200, my ancestors landed on this tiny little island and settled it. We are descendants of the ancient statue carvers that built all of these statues. You know, oftentimes, there's a narrative that it's a mystery of who built them and why and honestly, we know that stuff, my ancestors made them.

    Tarita Alarcón Rapu: What we found when we arrived to Rapa Nui, we found rocks, many rocks that are plenty till today. My name is Tarita Rapu, descendent of Hoa Hakananai'a. One day they start to develop – my ancestors start to develop, they start to increase and develop the construction of huge moai or “living faces”, as we call it here.

    Mata'u Rapu: The traditional name is aringa ora ata te puna which translates to the living face of our ancestors.

    Alarcón Rapu: And we have more than 900 moais. If you go out from this Room, you're going to find a moai, like 20 metres away from you [laughs].

    Mata'u Rapu: The moai are pretty massive...

    Alarcón Rapu: Three metres to ten metres to 21 metres...

    Mata'u Rapu: And they then sit on top of a platform. Go outside, look at a three-storey building and that's kind of how big they are. You know, the reverence of the moai continues to be an important part of Rapa Nui culture today. People spend time in front of them, people regard them as ancestors, we respect them. We get really pissed off when tourists climb up on the platforms or try and carve their names into them, which has happened unfortunately.

    Alarcón Rapu: For us, it's not just a well-carved rock. It is a living ancestor. Living.

    Mata'u Rapu: There are these two big stages to the history of our island. One is: We make giant statues. Two is: We have the Birdman competition.

    Alarcón Rapu: In the south side, you're gonna find one volcano, which name is Rano Raraku. In this volcano, we built an entire village. In that place, you have a house; inside you could find the moai Hoa Hakananai'a.

    Mata'u Rapu: So this moai was key to the Birdman ceremony. It was this yearly festival, essentially where each clan of the island sent one, I would say, champion or warrior. And it was this massive triathlon, which involved these warriors climbing down a huge cliff face – probably around 500 feet – down into deep dark waters, shark-infested waters. And then they have to swim out to these little islands that we have. They get to these islands and they're trying to find the egg of the manutara bird – the sooty tern. You swim out there, you find an egg, you swim back, climb back up the cliff face...

    Alarcón Rapu: The tribe to get the first egg; they get the power, the political power to rule the island for an entire year till the next competition.

    Mata'u Rapu: This whole triathlon was really a social, political way of trying to figure out how to share all our stuff, how to share all the food and the resources of the island. And it came – it started happening after moai construction stopped. What's unique about Hoa Hakananai'a is that this is a moai from this older time participating in the rituals and ceremonies of the modern time.

    Alarcón Rapu: Hoa Hakananai'a, the most perfect tupuna or “ancestor”, living tupuna with the power or mana, we call it mana. Hoa Hakanana, because of his power, his mana, we get reunite again in peace.

    Mata'u Rapu: And you can even see it on the back of the statue. There are these carvings that are emblematic of the Birdman competition; of a new way of thought...

    Alarcón Rapu: It’s the only moai that you found a complete alphabet of the Rapa Nui history. You can find the fertility; you can find the rainbow; you can found the rain; you can find the feminine and masculine together. There are an entire language in his back.

    Mata'u Rapu: The West made contact with Rapa Nui in 1722. Basically a Dutch explorer that was sailing around the Pacific and happened to like, bump into our island on Easter Sunday. And so hence, as things go, we became Easter Island. A few years later, in 1774, the British explorer James Cook actually arrives. But really, like the point of Hoa Hakananai'a is this statue was taken off of the island in 1868 by some other British explorers from the ceremonial site. And he wasn't just kind of like, out in the open. Like, the statue was buried somewhat underground within one of these ceremonial houses. So, in fact, the crew of the British vessel had to take apart the house in order to remove this statue. And now this very important statue is on display in a museum thousands of miles away from the people who actually used it and carved it. I would say the saddest part of it all, is that very few Rapa Nui have actually been able to see him.

    Alarcón Rapu: I get to this position of governor of Rapa Nui. I was leading the cultural campaign to ask the British Museum authorities to have Hoa Hakananai'a back. We asked to the Chilean government to help us politically to be heard at the British Museum to make contact with the authorities. We arrived to the museum that 20 of November 2018 in the morning, they give us a special time to meet Hoa Hakananai'a. We get to the museum – we didn't want no other place, we don't want to go to visit no castle, no other monument. We get to England, we close our eyes and sleep, in the morning we just open it to see Hoa Hakananai'a – that’s the only thing we do there. The emotion we let it come out. In that moment, when I saw him, I could feel it. And I started to sing an old song, which is a song for tupunas who are away – to talk to him and say... [begins singing]

    Mata'u Rapu: In the most recent years, there's been kind of a resurgence culturally, for many groups of Rapa Nui to ask for artefacts back.

    Alarcón Rapu: We invite the authorities of the museum to come and visit Rapa Nui and see Rapa Nui people, Rapa Nui children, how the Rapa Nui children compose and made songs for Hoa Hakananai'a, how they draw in the school Hoa Hakananai'a, how they dream about Hoa Hakananai'a. We start to work in this memorandum of understanding, which includes three points. One point is we can send some young Rapa Nui students to be prepared in curatorial or things like that at the British Museum. The second point is we can exchange artistic activities from England to Rapa Nui and Rapa Nui to England. And the third, the Rapa Nui people can carve a special moai just for the people of London, to be the ambassador. That's the three main points of the memorandum of understanding that we are waiting to have. Nearly [laughs] so nearly.

    Rapa Nui people is Hoa Hakananai'a, and Hoa Hakananai'a is Rapa Nui people, together.

    Mata'u Rapu: Rapa Nui history isn't completely clear. And that has to do a lot with the fact that soon after contact with the West, a lot of our population experienced things that you know, really other native populations experience. That there were a bunch of introduced diseases that came in, there were slave raids that happened on our island. Our community was decimated. People who were either enslaved or died down to about 111 people. Traditionally, we would pass down our history orally, right, we were a oral culture. And then now all of a sudden, you have this short period of time when a massive amount of people either die or get taken. And that chain of information just gets cut off.

    I think of a cousin of mine, he was an amazing carver. He would make sort of wooden replicas of a lot of, you know, important objects of our culture. He learned that I lived in the US and kind of all of this stuff. And he said, “Hey, can you get me a copy of this book by [Norwegian ethnographer] Thor Heyerdahl – it has some photos of some of these objects? I'd really love to carve them.” Immediately, I said yes. But there was a sinking feeling of like, here's a master carver on Rapa Nui, who wants to learn about his past by physically creating these objects that his ancestors carved. It's not even that like, he can just go to a museum and see it. He needs to ask for a photo book that is out of print of some other white guy that took pictures of it in order to create the thing.

    Alarcón Rapu: In simple words, Rapa Nui have the body but you have the soul. We walk through this world without our soul. That's an empty body. [sings] When you get access to the museum, if you make him hear this song, please, it will be appreciated. So he can feel warm again. So make him listen this song, por favor. Please.

    Credits: This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. This episode features original singing from Tarita Rapu, and sounds from BP or not BP. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE UK production.

    This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. Sounds from BP or not BP. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE World News production.

    Description Transcript Credits
  • Episode 2

    A Vice World News Production © 2021



    The Rosetta Stone is on Level 0, in Room 4.

    Look closely at this ancient Egyptian artefact and you’ll see engravings made by British soldiers when they won this in battle from the French – the legacy of its fraught arrival to the UK.

    Heba Abd el Gawad: Given where Egypt is situated geographically, overlooking two major seas – the Mediterranean and the Red Sea – as well as the Nile; and having a long history of agriculture and prosperity, everyone was interested in having a piece of Egypt or in having Egypt under the rule.

    From the year 30 BC – before Christ – up till 1956 AD, Egypt was under foreign rulers. From 1800 until 1954, Egypt was under the French occupation as well as the British occupation – the British colonialism lasted the longest from 1882 up till the expulsion of the last British presence in Egypt in 1954, roughly. Egypt became only under totally native rulership from 1956 officially, up till today. Being a country that has been taken over or that has been thought of as interesting in terms of, not only economic exploitation, but equally culturally, meant that Egypt became very multi-layered in terms of multiculturalism. There are a lot of layers of other cultures and other ethnicities within Egypt. So for example our dialect today, what we call Egyptian Arabic, it has ancient Egyptian words, it has Coptic words, obviously Arabic words, but it equally has French words, English words, Italian words. So our dialect itself, it sums all of the cultures that make up what is Egypt.

    Soundbite: Stolen lives, get it back; stolen culture, give it back. VICE World News presents The Unfiltered History Tour – colonialism, as told through ten objects.

    Gawad: I'm Heba Abd el Gawad, an Egyptian Egyptologist who specialises in the history and archaeology of Egyptian heritage. How the Rosetta Stone came into being is, I think, it's far more exciting than the Rosetta Stone story that we know today. After Alexander the Great, his empire was divided between his army generals. One of his army generals, Ptolemy, he won Egypt and became the ruler of Egypt. And so he started a family line, we call them the Ptolemaic dynasty.

    The king for whom the stone was written was actually a teenager as well. He became king at a very young age, from 12 onwards, some say 15. He came at a time where Egypt was in a very difficult situation. Egypt was part of a lot of external wars. The other army generals from Alexander the Great onwards, or the rivals of the Ptolemaic dynasty, had an interest in taking parts of the possessions of the Ptolemaic Empire. So Egypt was in the middle of wars in the Mediterranean, but as well as [this], Egypt was in the middle of an internal revolution. When you are a foreign ruler, you have to be in good terms with the local priests or the local administration at the time. The king was located in the north of Egypt in Alexandria; the native priests in the south being as far from the court as possible meant that you can easily rebel, specifically if the country is weak if the king is weak, being very young and being in the middle of a lot of external and internal troubles.

    So there was a revolution in the middle. One way to ease the revolution or to calm it down was to sign a decree. Every now and then, the priests would write a decree, the king would give them a lot of benefits, economic benefits, and in return they would give the king all the support he needs to stay as the stable ruler of Egypt, as much as the dynasty needs. It's a friends with benefits type of relationship.

    Every year, all the priests from all over Egypt would come and have a big meeting in Alexandria, and they would agree on certain terms, economic terms. And after the meeting, the high priests of Memphis would write up this decree. By the order of the king, the decree would have to be written on stone. Being written on stone means that it's verified. That was their type of like, sealing. Sealing any agreement is having it written in stone, and there will be a copy of this decree distributed all over Egypt, so every single temple within Egypt would have a copy of this decree. The Rosetta Stone is one of those decrees that priests made a meeting during the time of the revolution in the south, and they've written down some of the economic benefits that would be given to the temples and this means that they would call down the revolution and Egypt can settle once again. And the copy of this decree was distributed all over the temples of Egypt. Every single temple had a copy.

    The one that we see in the British Museum is the copy that existed in the temple of Sais, or what we call in Arabic, Sa el-Hagar. The Rosetta Stone was initially a huge stone, written in three scripts: hieroglyphs, the official language in the temple; and then the morphic, and this is the informal dialect; then the Greek. The temple where the stone was in Sa el-Hagar or in Sais, it got totally demolished, more or less. We have very, very few visible remains of it above the ground, the stone have got broken. It was even broken before the time of the Arab conquest.

    And then this piece, the one that we see in the British Museum, got used during the medieval time in building a fort around what we know today as the city of Rosetta, that they were building to protect Egypt against any naval invasion or any invasion that would occur to Egypt coming from the sea, from the Mediterranean. So the block became – or what we know today as the Rosetta Stone – became part of this big fort. That's the story of how the stone came into being, and how it ended from Sais, from Sa el-Hagar, to the city of Rosetta, from where it takes its name today.

    Then by the time the French occupation came, they have a big project – documenting all of the archaeological remains that exist within Egypt. In one of these inspections, one of the French soldiers noticed the stone. He understood that it was distinctive because of the Greek text on it. Having Greek text as well as the hieroglyphs meant that if we were able to match the Greek text with the Egyptian text, it can be a way of revealing the secrets of the hieroglyphic language, then we would be able to understand ancient Egyptian writings on the temple. So when this block was discovered, they immediately recognised that this was extremely important and it was added to the other properties or the other monuments that the French owned as part of its big scientific study.

    Then the British occupation came into Egypt. And what happens is that there was a huge war between them, huge battles; the British won. For the British forces at the time, the stone was seen as a symbolism of their victory over the French. They've written in English on both sides of the stone, something that you can still see at the British Museum, you will see from the left hand and right hand side, the sides of the stone, the English engravings of how it was submitted to at the time by the British colonial forces. This is the perfect symbolism of colonialism and the Empire, having the English engravings because it's still an artefact. If it was, let's say, inscribed by Egyptian Arabic at the time, it would have been perceived as a destruction of the artefact, but when the same engraving is done by the British colonial forces, this is legal, this is fine. This is not a destruction of the artefacts. And I think up till today, this is the symbolism of who owns the Rosetta Stone today. It's the British Museum. And the Rosetta Stone is not only the property of the British Museum, but it's part of British history, not just Egyptian history or not just the ancient Egyptian heritage. The superiority of the understanding of ancient Egypt became British property.

    It's not only that this engraving is the symbolism of the theft, but it's equally of how they stole the effort of all the previous Egyptian priests and the Arabic mediaeval scientists who are trying to decipher the hieroglyphs and who've made extremely important contributions in attempting to decipher the hieroglyphs. This got totally whitewashed. This is not the story that we narrate anymore. All what we narrate is how the British or the French, they gave Ancient Egypt to the world. They discovered Ancient Egypt.

    The Rosetta Stone was not the discovery, neither of the French, neither of the British. It was already discovered and reused in Egypt multiple times. Even the hieroglyphs itself was not neither a French Champollion discovery nor a Thomas Young, British discovery, nor is it the gift of the Rosetta Stone. There has been various attempts in trying to read and decipher the hieroglyphs by the Arab medieval writers and the Egyptian Coptic priests. All of this traditional knowledge is totally dismissed, not part of the story whatsoever.

    What is also problematic is that we tell the story from the British Museum perspective, the European colonialism perspective. There is that the stone became part of the national branding in Britain, people who travel to London just to see the Rosetta Stone, so it became part of the British national branding. It's part of the British brand. Colonialism has never gone away. Maybe there aren't British troops in Egypt, but there is still this influence, this knowledge; occupation. There is this colonialism of knowledge, we are not perceived as the successors of the ancient Egyptians. And we are not perceived as the ones who have the right of decision making of where our heritage should be, even how it should be interpreted, and how we can make use of it today in even understanding our present.

    The Rosetta Stone as it stands today, in the British Museum, it's a war spoil. That’s what it is in reality. It has never left Egypt legally. There were two foreign powers in rivalry over Egypt. One of them won over the other and they took the war spoil of the other. It's a war spoil. It's a trophy of empire. But one has to say that Egypt hasn't equally submitted any official requests of returning the stone. There has not been any official requests submitted to the British Museum, so we need to reflect on that as well.

    I would prefer that if it gets returned, it gets returned because the majority of the Egyptian community, the diversity of Egyptian communities, were involved in the discussions and in the decision making. No one even asks the diverse Egyptian communities here what do they think about the Rosetta Stone and if it gets returned, where we should put it. I'm more keen on changing the way that requests are made and finding a way that the voices from the countries that have been previously colonised, all of them can get included in such discussions.

    Credits: This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. Voice acting was from Antoine Morcos, Clement Geiger & Serena Salvadori, and sounds from Benboncan and BP or not BP. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE UK production.

    This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. Voice acting was from Antoine Morcos, Clement Geiger and Serena Salvadori, and sounds from BP or not BP and Benboncan from freesound.org. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE World News production.

    Description Transcript Credits
  • Episode 3

    A Vice World News Production © 2021



    The Benin Bronzes are on Level -2, in Room 25, Object 186.

    In 1897, British troops tried to negotiate with the Benin Kingdom and were turned away. They came back with an army and looted the city of its priceless artefacts.

    Victor Ehikhamenor: It is said that a certain king was going to war and he needed to consult a bird. So the bird can say, “your war is going to be successful” or “it’s going to be a failure”. The bird said that he was gonna be a failure, but the king said “No, I can’t rely on a bird to tell me what is going to happen.” So he caught the bird, tied its beak, and kind of did away with the bird.

    After that incident, the bronze casters now made an idiophone out of that situation. It became something that we use in announcing messages across the kingdom. If somebody just sees this now in the museum – ahianmwen-oro, which is the bird of prophecy by Oba Esigie – [it] is just a bird to these people. But here is a way of telling stories, is a way of carrying our history forward. Because there is always a story behind every object that was made in the kingdom, and that is how we taught our history. And a huge dent was made in our history making, in our cultural documentation, and it's like an entire library was burned down.

    Soundbite: Stolen lives, get it back; stolen culture, give it back. VICE World News presents The Unfiltered History Tour – colonialism, as told through ten objects.

    My name is Victor Ehikhamenor; I'm an artist and writer from the Kingdom of Benin. In Nigeria, the Kingdom of Benin, before its interaction with the British, is one of those civilizations that it's really like, hard to even explain these days. We had a huge boulevard; street lights that were lit by oil. We had a system; we had an army, we had a very strong monarchy that dates back to several centuries, you understand, that has gone through different iterations. It was a functional kingdom politically, economically, culturally until the British came and completely disrupted the whole affair.

    When British attacked the Benin Kingdom, which was in February of 1897, it was premeditated. The colonial masters back then came and said they wanted to meet with the oba [king] and of course, they said that you can’t meet with the oba this time around, because this is the way. He's not receiving any visitors at the moment.

    They knocked on the door. He wasn't accepting visitors; every time he refused, and that pissed them off. Some of the emissaries that tried to force themselves into the kingdom got annihilated in the process. If you knock on my door and I say “don't come in”, and you still want to force yourself in, you are going to take what you get. They had to write back, and told the Home Office in London that they can attack the kingdom, that there is enough art and enough materials to pay for the war. This is all documented in historical books. Within one month of this, they got 1000 plus soldiers and war ships, and the new guns – the maxim gun – and they went to war with the kingdom. They took the king, Ovonramwen, and they sent him to exile. There was a lot of war crime.

    They were trying a new weaponry, which is the maxim gun, when there was clearly instructions, or human rights ways of saying “this, this kind of weapon, before you can use it in war, there has to be a certain way that you have to engage”, but that those who are clearly not followed. Women or children were killed recklessly, randomly because the British had the most superior weapon than we did. After the war, after all the embers of war have cooled down, that was when they raided and took all the bronzes, the ivories and every other artefacts that they could lay their hands on at the palace and shipped them out of the country.

    With all this, there are people that died, that defended the kingdom to their last. Some of them were caught and tried and they were hung, you know. So they came, they were the strangers; they were the one that attacked the kingdom. They were the one that also set up the courts to now say, oh, you found the people that own the land to be guilty of trying to defend the land and you hung them. So even after the war, a war continued. And if you ask me, that is the war that Britain is still fighting with the Benin Kingdom till tomorrow. Because if they are saying that they're not going to return the objects that were looted from the kingdom, that means the children and the grandchildren and the great great grandchildren of those that attacked my empire before are still very much in business of attacking the empire.

    Bronze making in my kingdom historically is about storytelling, is about archiving, and it's about documentation. We have a lot of mythologies; histories of how kings rule, our reign; from the oral narrative of women that we sing the praise of the king, to storytellers to griots, that it falls into the hands of the bronze casters that are part of the community. For instance, if there's a story of how a king was able to fight a wild animal and defeat it, a bronze caster would take the liberty of creating the oba, the crown that he wore, the sword that he used, and the animal that he killed. And this will be represented in plaques. This is how we document history. And a chunk, a large part of this history, was stolen from us when the British looted the kingdom's artefacts. That page in our history book was ripped off very violently.

    The first time I entered the British Museum to actually encounter these bronzes and other objects that came from my kingdom, I stopped in my track. To see them in that state, strung together, completely out of place, and out of space. You know, it made it quite lonely for that very important item to my people. It was really painful. Seeing them in the British Museum brought home more for me than any other museums that I've seen the Benin Bronzes – I mean, I mean, I've seen so many in other museums in Europe and in America – but to see that the epicentre of the whole thing is actually the British Museum, because it's the British that attacked the kingdom and these are the ones that they kept for themselves.

    I mean, there is no other way of putting it; that you can find your heirloom being worn by a thief in the street. And they are very proud to wear it and almost give you the middle finger and say, “There's nothing you can do about it. We are going to keep it, we're gonna wear it the way we are wearing it.” It is not just me. A lot of African artists, a lot of African writers, a lot of African curators, we have to go to museums in the West to be able to reference these things and they are not referenced in their natural state. So we are beginning to look at even our own stuff from a Western perspective. We begin to gaze through the Western eyes.

    The British Museum have mooted the idea of loaning the Benin Bronzes back to Benin. [laughs] How do you loan to me what is mine? “Oh, Nigeria cannot take care of it. Where will it go? And it works better for the world to see the Benin Empire’s creativity in British Museum” – where we cannot even get visas! The ordinary average man from Nigeria or Benin or woman or citizen cannot get a visa to UK to go and see these things. Does it make sense? I don't think so. It's an insult.

    Okay, they are hiding under the Heritage Act that “oh, it's a Heritage Act that protected –” What about our own heritage right? Where your heritage right stops, that's where our own starts. So a lot of people are saying, “Oh, can Africans take care of you when they brought it back” and all of those things. But my question also that I ask them is, “How did we keep it before the colonial masters came? Before the white people came to Africa?” Because I mean, when we look at it from that perspective, it’s a continuation of a new colonial narrative. That is only when the white people came, that was when Africans knew that their time has come. That is offensive.

    We have our personal rights as well. We own these things, we did them; our forefathers, our ancestors created these, these things for a specific purpose. You came with your big guns, with your white supremacy, and you took these things – not only just taking them, you didn't negotiate for them, you didn't beg for them; you killed people, you brought down an entire city and loaded your ship up with these things and you left. We are saying bring these things back. We are not even going to talk about the human rights yet. We are not going to talk about the women or children that you killed yet, right? We are just talking about artefacts and objects. We are talking about our history; we are saying that we need these things for our cultural references, because they belong to us.

    But you know I don't want to say that I feel all my people feel helpless about this. Because we are going to figure out a way to make sure that they are returned whether those that are holding on to them, like it or not. This conversation is not going to go anywhere. It's not going to go away until the right thing is done.

    Credits: This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. This episode features original singing from Julie Omoregie and Chief Omo-Osagie Utetenegiabi, the Obadolagbonyi of Benin Kingdom. Sounds from BP or not BP, and Klankbeeld & ERH from Freesound.org. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE UK production.

    This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. This episode featured sounds from BP or not BP, and Klankbeeld and ERH from freesound.org. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE World News production.

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  • Episode 4:

    A Vice World News Production © 2021



    The Akan Drum is on Level 0, in Room 26, Object 3.

    No one knows exactly how this apentemma – an Akan drum originally from Ghana – ended up in British hands, but many believe it was brought to Virginia on a slave ship.

    Ernest Domfeh: My great grandfather was a drummer. My mother's father was a drummer, and I'm a drummer.

    It's a special bond between a drummer and a drummer. So when you play, you get a little possessed. An Akan is the drum that I'm playing in the drum that we're talking about, which is found in the British Museum. It’s played with a bare fist. You don't use sticks to play, you use your bare hands whilst you play it, because you're using your bare palm, you should be in pain. But because of the kind of bondage, the kind of connection you have with a drum, you don't feel it, you get so charged, you get so spiritually attached, you get so overwhelmed that you don't feel the pain. That's what’s so special and so wonderful about the kind of connection a drummer has with his drum.

    Soundbite: Stolen lives (give it back) Stolen culture (give it back) Vice World News presents the Unfiltered History Tour of colonialism, as told through ten objects.

    Domfeh: My name is Ernest Domfeh. I work at the Kumasi Cultural Centre as a drummer and dancer. I've been playing since age four. So you can imagine how long I've been playing. The drum from the British Museum is called Apentemma. It is an Akan drum. It is from Ashanti, it is from Ghana. It is from my people. I think it is a drum that could be taken during the time of the King of Ashanti, Prempeh I, was exiled to the Seychelles. Back then the British were the overlords of the Ashantis because they were our colonial masters. They thought the Ashantis were powerful, so they needed to take hold of what is their source of power, so they could become powerless for them to rule them entirely.

    It became a war, and King Prempeh was captured. So during that time, there was a female that led Ashanti Kingdom into war against the British. Her name is Nana Yaa Asantewaa. She's the grandmother of Ejisu in the Ashanti region. She gathered some of the kings and invoked some courage into them that what the British are doing is unheard of and said that they should govern themselves and fight against the British, and they fought against the British for three years. But eventually the British emerged victorious and they were able to exile King Prempeh to the Seychelles islands.

    Drums – when we were getting ready to go to war, that is a meshed chanting, and singing and drumming. When we about to go to war, we prepare ourselves for the war. There was something we say in our local parlance, we call it asakra. Asakra means to change. So even if you're not in the mood for war, you are seeing these chanting songs, and it will gradually change your mood. These songs will heat your spirit up when that ritual is going on. Before King Prempeh was finally sent to the Seychelles, he was taken to Virginia.

    Haki Kweli Shakur: From the late 1500s, into like the early 1600s, slavery began on the continent of Africa – which we know as the transatlantic slave trade. The British, the Portuguese, the Spanish were the main colonialists that went into Africa to initiate the slave trade with other African nations. The most prominent facilitators of the slave trade were the British. When the British went into Africa, the first place that they set up their other end of the slave trade was in the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1619. That's when some of the first enslaved peoples were bought to Virginia, that's when the colonists set up, you know, what we know today as Jamestown. I am Haki Kweli Shakur. I'm a historian from Virginia and I've been doing extensive research on the Akan drum over the last 10 years. The Akan drum, it travelled to Virginia on a slave ship. They say that the drum was bought on the ship by a son of a African chief. Others said that the drum was brought on the ship by the European settlers who brought these enslaved peoples on the ship.

    Domfeh: When I first saw the drum, I was a little emotional. Because it reminded me of over 400 years ago when my forefathers, through the transatlantic slave trade, [were] taken to Virginia and later to elsewhere in the world. It took my mind back to the kind of scenes that I was picturing in my eyes when my grannies were telling me the story of our forefathers being enslaved and the way they were enslaved and how they were treated on the ship and how they were killed, slaughtered anyhow. It gave me that thought, and it was going through my head and I could imagine the pictures of how it all happened.

    Now we have so many Black communities in America, in the West Indies, in Virginia, South America, and all these places.

    Shakur: When the drum was brought to the colony of Virginia, it was obtained by this reverend by the name Reverend Clerk. He did that on behalf of one of the most notorious British collectors by the name of Sir Hans Sloane. He wanted to take that type of artefact back to the British empire as a collection item. We don't know the deep, extensive history of how Reverend Clerk got the drum, but he got the drum and he handed over the drum to Sir Hans Sloane and he took it back to the British Empire.

    Domfeh: If a drum is from Africa, the drum is from Ghana, if a drum is from Ashanti, and it's found in Virginia, everything points to the fact that it was taken on a slave ship, and brought there.

    Shakur: They stole our ancestors. So I just find it very disrespectful to our ancestors, that you will take that and try to take you back to Britain and put it on display, it's a symbolism of mockery.

    If it was returned to Virginia, it would mean to African-Americans of African descent, is a sense of what I say identity and reestablishing our ties to our identity and our ancestry. I think it would bring a sense of starting to repair.

    Domfeh: I work at the Kumasi Cultural Centre. My duty is to preserve, protect and propagate the culture of my motherland, the culture of my homeland. So, we are trying to teach the little ones. This is what we are made of and this is what we should keep and maintain. And not to go to Western, but also keep ourselves as true Africans, true Ghanaians, true Ashantis and true Akans, so that we can not forget our identity as a people.

    Shakur: So many of us are starting to reconnect with our ancestry back in Africa. A couple of years ago, Ghana had this thing called “The Return” to Ghana for African-Americans who are descendants of Akan people, of African people, of Ghana. You know, bringing that drum back to Virginia will also reestablish that powerful connection that they have already sparked.

    Domfeh: I think the drum is our drum – Ghanaian Ashanti people – the drum is Akan, that drum is our nationality, so the drum should be brought back to Ashanti land.

    Shakur: They have a rightful heir to that drum. So it's theirs. It was created there, you know, in the 1700s in Ghana. So for them to want the drum to come back to Ghana, I think it still would be a powerful symbolism also for African-Americans as well. Because at the same time, like I said, if they take it back to where it came from, we still can feel great about that because we can still go to Ghana. They don't have no argument to keep something that came from people that you enslave.

    Domfeh: I don't think it is right. Why should an Akan drum be [in] a British museum?

    Shakur: You didn't create that drum. You didn't make the drum. You enslaved them, you murdered them. Why would you want to keep something that your people did to another people horrifically and dehumanised and violated their human rights?

    Domfeh: If the British want to show or keep drums or artefacts, they should keep artefacts of their own, why should they take an Akan drum and keep it in the museum?

    Shakur: The longer that you hold on to that drum means that you cosign what you did to our ancestors.

    Domfeh: So I think it is prudent that you bring it back to its roots.

    Credits: This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. This episode features original drumming from Ernest Domfe and sounds from BP or not BP. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE UK production.

    This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. This episode featured sounds from BP or not BP, and original drumming from Ernest Domfe. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE World News production.

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  • Episode 5

    A Vice World News Production © 2021



    The Amaravati Marbles are usually found in Room 33. They are currently not on display.

    The Amaravati Marbles were once part of a holy Buddhist stupa in India. They were ripped down and sent to the UK during British rule.

    Anuraag Saxena: Unlike most of the prophets, or whatever you see in the West, Buddha was actually born a prince. Siddhartha, who's the warrior prince, grew up in luxury, learned sword fighting, so you know, he learned to be aggressive, he learned to be a protector of his people, he learned to lead an army. Now, Siddhartha, who later became Buddha, he goes into war. He’s sitting on an elephant and looking at all the death and destruction around him. And that's the moment he says: “Enough. I cannot be the enabler for this kind of destruction.” And that's when he decides to become something. He didn't decide to become a Buddhist because there wasn't any Buddhism back then, because he wasn't the Buddha yet. So we're talking of the pre-Buddha Buddha, the moment where he decided to become Buddha and come up with a new set of learnings that we all know about today.

    Now, that very moment of him sitting on his elephant, looking at people dying; the moment where it hit him, so to speak – that moment is captured on this huge stone relief. The piece of art that captures this moment, you can find this in Hall 33A of the British Museum today. Just think about the paradox of Buddha who preached non-violence, collectivism, friendship, camaraderie; something commemorating all of that was forcibly taken away.

    Soundbite: Stolen lives, get it back; stolen culture, give it back. VICE World News presents The Unfiltered History Tour – colonialism, as told through ten objects.

    Saxena: Hi, this is Anuraag Saxena. I grew up in the state of Andhra Pradesh where Amaravati is located. In fact, Amaravati is now the capital of Andhra Pradesh. So growing up as a child, we heard stories of a whole bunch of our heritage that got stolen away.

    The idea of Buddhism; it is about the discovery and understanding of self. Like you have churches or mosques or temples or synagogues or whatever, a stūpa is where you went to meditate. So the closest example would be a church, but it really isn't – it isn't really a place of congregation. It is a place where you sit down with yourself and understand yourself and study yourself. The stūpa, where these Marbles come from, is from 200, 250 BC. Different cultures had very different ways of recording their history, their fables, their stories. The primary medium in India was sculptures. They are the walls, the pillars, the gateways, the arches of the stūpa.

    Amaravati Marbles, that are now in London, have reliefs or stories of the Jataka Tales. These are stories made for children. The closest would be Aesop's Fables for you guys. A whole lot of Jataka Tales and Panchatantra, which are two original texts for children, so to speak, are about the relationship of human beings with nature, with animals and with each other. This is the kind of stuff that Greta Thunberg talks about today. The whole idea of vasudhaiva kutumbakam, which is “the world is one family”, and you don't look at yourself from an individualistic perspective, but a collective. You're a part of something bigger than you. And that's what the Jataka Tales were about. So we're really talking about ages of history, ages of culture, ages of documentation, in the only format that we knew how that were forcefully taken away and moved without consent.

    This is very important because when we talk about art theft, people generally imagine a painting of Picasso, or a vase of the Ming Dynasty being taken away or being moved. Here we are talking about acres of walls, of ceilings, of pillars, of beams, of gateways, of arches being taken away. Imagine a building that is there. And a few years later, the building is not there.

    Back in the late 1800s, Amaravati was a small sleepy village. You had [British civil servant] Walter Elliot that reached there and he was fascinated by these carvings. He wrote back to the Queen saying that, “Hey, these Marbles are so beautiful. I'm having sketches sent to you.” Because the sketches couldn't capture the beauty. They actually boated somebody down to actually take pictures. They were moved first to Madras, where you had, you know, Edward Balfort, the curator of the museum who said, “Listen, we can't take care of these Marbles. They're getting damaged here.” So they were then moved to the UK.

    In the UK, they were in Fife Hall in Whitehall. And after a long time there, you had [antiquities expert] James Ferguson, who said that, “Listen, we can't take care of this amazing stuff, it’s getting damaged, what do we do with it?” So they were then sent to the British Museum. Then the world war happened. And the British Museum said, “Hey, we can't take care of it. This is too amazing for us.” So back in 1958, I think they took them off display – till the UK had temperature control facility where they could actually showcase these Marbles. What you see today in the British Museum is only a small fraction of what was originally taken, a lot got lost, stolen or destroyed in the process of getting all the way to the UK. There's much else which is actually in the UK, but totally off display.

    You know, it's painful and shocking that somebody could take something that meant so much to you, your community, your faith, and use it as a showpiece, push it around from one person to other, one place to other, without bothering about somebody taking care of it, or the rituals being conducted as they should. Are they being seen, observed, read, revered as much as they should? You know, it's so offensive, that we continue to normalise this kind of behaviour today. Yeah, I mean, it's painful.

    The argument we often hear is that the stūpa was abandoned and disrepaired. “Indians were so poor, they couldn't take care of their own heritage – so that is why we had to come in as knights in shining armour to save it” kind of nonsense. This is something we really need to debunk. I mean, this is a terrible, terrible misinformation narrative. It's so crazy. I mean, these objects were taken care of so beautifully. So I don't want you sitting here telling me that hey, you can take care of it.

    You see, the history of colonisation is very interesting. When Christopher Columbus sailed to look for India in the original letter of intent, which he sent to the king and queen, the word “Lord” and “God” is mentioned just once. Right, and the narrative today is that it was supposed to be a conquest to spread the Gospel, etc. The word “gold” is mentioned 17 times. So anyone that tells you that this was a noble act, etc, etc, it wasn't – a whole bunch of people were looking for India because they knew it was the land of riches. Now there are historical records of what about $45 trillion that was taken away from India, in terms of steel and copper and gold and cotton and what have you. So we're talking of a commercial venture, which was premised on the idea of discovering and looting India's resources away, which was then legitimised or blessed by the Queen. When the British Empire started progressing through India, they took away lives. They took away resources, and they took away our heritage, at a mass scale, people getting killed or getting taken hostage, you know, women getting raped, children being made into slaves. It's really very bloody, gory history. A lot of my friends and colleagues that grew up in the West, didn't even know that Winston Churchill, personally, you know, personally ordered the starvation of millions of Indians and took food away from India to the UK, just as buffer stock. I mean, Britishers didn't even need it. And also, in your perspective, Churchill could have been a hero, but in ours, he's a mass murderer. I mean, he took more lives than Hitler did.

    Close your eyes, then think of a person who's always out to get you. Imagine ten years of living in that relationship going through microaggression, going through trauma, each and every day. In the end, you realise that, hey, listen, I am now a much whittled down version of the person I used to be before this trauma started. How much would it mean to you if that person came to you, and acknowledge the pain they've inflicted on you and apologise for it?

    That is why UK needs to give back heritage that it took from India because it is an acknowledgement of the pain, the oppression, the trauma that was inflicted. India is coming out of centuries of abuse. We as a nation are literally suffering from PTSD. I'm just being very blunt, right? We were plundered by the Middle East, Portuguese, the French, then the UK. So it's centuries of deprivation, centuries of oppression. It's only now that we are learning to deal with whatever trauma we collectively went through.

    I now run the India Pride Project, which is a global group of volunteers, which spans across a dozen plus countries who are trying to get these Marbles back home. And in fact, thousands of objects that are now in various museums and private collections. The idea is premised on a very simple line of morality, which is that history belongs to its geography. Ten years back, none of the heritage was coming home. Ten years back, governments didn't want to have a conversation around this. Ten years back, museums were skirting the issue. Ten years back, this wasn't even a topic. And I think what's happened and, you know, honestly, we've only been a very small part of it. There are a whole bunch of activist groups – later museums, later nations – you know, you have France and Germany and Canada, and Australia and the US, who are now saying that history belongs to its geography. So let's kind of start. So I think we are at a very fascinating inflection point where within our lifetime, we will see it is absolutely immoral to sit on anything that is taken forcibly from the other. So when it comes to former colonies sitting on forcefully looted heritage… The conversation, it's already changing, you know?

    Credits: This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. This episode features sounds from BP or not BP. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE UK production.

    This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. This episode featured sounds from BP or not BP. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE World News production.

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  • Episode 6

    A Vice World News Production © 2021


    & Boinayel

    Birdman and Boinayel are not currently on display at the British Museum.

    Only one percent of the British Museum’s collection is on display at any one time. These two pieces – one of which, Birdman, is pictured here – are some of those objects. They originally belonged to the indigenous Taíno people of Jamaica.

    Darrel Blake: Boinayel is a small figurine, it's a massive head with a small body with two legs that are apart.

    Sharifa Balfour: He has a serious, almost painful expression on his face.

    Blake: So the eyes are very big. The lips are very big.

    Balfour: His arms crossed on his torso and his legs are outstretched.

    Blake: The V-shape. The upside down V-shape, or pyramid shape, was divinity.

    Balfour: Birdman has the face or head of a bird or avian figure. His arms are outstretched. The bottom half of him is semi-human, but not so much human. I guess we call it an anthropomorphic figure.

    Blake: What they did for the figurines was that they buried them in the soil. If Boinayel is the one who gives life, they felt that by putting him inside the soil, he would nurture, fertilise the soil and then they can grow the crops.

    Balfour: There are no records to show how they actually ended up in the British Museum officially.

    Blake: For them to get the figurines, they've had to have dug them up, known where they were, dug them up and taken them.

    Soundbite: Stolen lives, get it back; stolen culture, give it back. VICE World News presents The Unfiltered History Tour – colonialism, as told through 10 objects.

    Balfour: My name is Sharifa Balfour. I am currently a curator at National Museum West which is a museum that is located in Montego Bay, Jamaica. I am not a fine art curator, but I'm actually an historic and ethnographic curator, which means that I deal with any and all objects related to the history and culture of Jamaica.

    Blake: My name is Darrel Blake. I am a historian, educator, social activist. Born in Britain, of Jamaican heritage and ancestry.

    Balfour: Boinayel and Birdman are zemis or semis. It just depends on your location.

    Blake: A semi or zemi is a spirit or ancestor that the Taíno people put their energy and concepts into a figurine and housed it with them.

    Balfour: And the Taíno are the indigenous people of Jamaica. So they were a very peaceful people, they were not war-like.

    Blake: They loved life. These were a certain set of people who every single day looked at life as it's meant to be lived and not survived.

    Balfour: The Taíno are very, very, very spiritual people.

    Blake: They weren't a part of the monotheistic religions. They sort of embrace the natures of the world and connected the outer world into the inner world.

    Balfour: They would always consult spiritually before any big decision was made. So they had many different zemis that represented Mother Earth. They had a zemi accompanying people to the afterlife. They would have a zemi to represent birds and harvests and good health and anything that you can really think about. Boinayel is said to be the zemi that represents rain, he is said to be the rain bringer or the rain giver. On the other hand, there has not been any very clear indication what Birdman represents. But the most accepted explanation of what he represents is that he may have been a deity that represented some part or type of agricultural landscape.

    Blake: Now, in the late 1400s, the Western world or the Eurocentric way of living, is now going to emerge and develop and spread across the globe. What that meant was conquer. Pope Innocent – which is quite funny because his name is Pope Innocent, even though he wasn't innocent at all – what he did was commissioned Cristóbal Colón or Christopher Columbus, to set sail and travel and find new land, set up a base to encourage slavery.

    When he ended up in the Americas, he bumped into the Taínos. The Taíno, being friendly individuals, welcomed him, his crew, showed them how to dock their ships in the Caribbean because of the rocky shores – so the three ships that he travelled on were docked. They bought around a few things that they could trade. The Taíno gave them gold. The Christopher Columbus crew gave them tobacco, they set off and when they came back, and I mean Cristóbal Colón, came back with 17 warships. And when he's coming back with warships, he's coming to conquer. He went from island to island.

    Balfour: You know, basically decimated most of the Taíno population. There is this misconception that the Taíno were completely decimated and, you know, none of them survived, which is not true. The geography of Jamaica is a very hilly country.

    Blake: So a lot of the Taíno people that did survive, stayed in the hills.

    Balfour: Away from the purview of the Spaniards.

    Blake: As we enter into the 16th century, you have Queen Elizabeth I, Britain's favourite queen. Queen Elizabeth I, in the mid 1500s, actually decided to fund Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake, to travel to the Caribbean, and within that space, Spain are defeated by the British, in what we call the Spanish Armada. And Jamaica becomes the number one hub for the British economy in the transatlantic slave trade.

    Balfour: That would have been the initial start of the trade in enslaved persons in Jamaica. So that would have lasted until 1838. And during that time, you know, all of the atrocities of slavery happen in Jamaica. This would have also been the start of Maroon communities. It's important to note here that many of the Africans who ran away from the plantations, they would have found these types of communities and they would have intermarried and interbred. So many Jamaicans still have Taíno DNA within them. So after slavery has ended, indentured labourers from India and China were brought, and then moving along throughout history, you would have had other smaller groups that would have came. You would have had Germans, you would have had Welsh coming in, you would have had Syrian-Lebanese coming in, then you get to 1962, where you have independence.

    And Jamaica is in some sense, still a very colonially minded space. But after 1962, we are what you would call an independent nation. I wouldn't necessarily say that the British stole Jamaican culture; it's more along the lines that they impose a great deal of their culture on Jamaica. Hence the reason Jamaica has so many social challenges today. Through colonialism, a lot of people's original culture was lost and diluted. And I think that's really where the issue is.

    Blake: In the British Museum, they have stolen artefacts that are synonymous with the Taíno people. Birdman being one, Boinayel being two.

    Boinayel and Birdman were found by a land surveyor in June of 1792. So then, records indicate that on the evening of April 11, 1799, these sculptures were displayed at the Society for Antiquaries in London. And it is said that they were put on display by a member of the Society of antiquaries – Isaac Alves Rebello. There are no records to show how they actually ended up in the British Museum officially.

    Balfour: Okay, so these objects were found in 1792. So in Jamaica, they were found in 1792, then they show up in London in 1799. Maybe seven years had passed between being found in Jamaica, showing up in London, and then they were only accessioned to the British Museum in 1977. So that’s a great deal of time that has to be accounted for.

    The Jamaican government, I think the first time that they did ask for these objects to be repatriated, was in 1959. And the response of the trustees at the British Museum was to do plaster cast and send them back to Jamaica while they kept the original. So what we have on display in Jamaica currently, are two plaster casts. And the original versions have been kept in the British Museum. It is highly disrespectful.

    Blake: Having a Jamaican background, there's a part of me that – it sort of like disrupts my spirit a little bit because it's like, it's that lingering memory of what Britain's done; taking something from Jamaica, not giving it back. It's just like, it's a slap in the face to say: “By the way, even though, you know, it's nearly 60 years, since you’ve had your independence, we can still do stuff we can still take from you. And you ain't gonna do nothing about it, la la lala la”, sort of thing.

    Balfour: I do know that the British Museum, they're saying that, you know, having all these objects from around the world, Jamaica included, is important to humanity, because so many people come to their museums, and they are able to teach humanity about so many different types of cultures. What my question is, what about the people that the objects belong to? You know, what about their history? What about their culture? People travel, so it’s not that Jamaica is just this isolated place that other people can't come to. We also have a museum, we also have galleries, we have spaces that these objects can be shown.

    And I would like to add at this juncture, that these objects are currently not on display. They are locked away in a storage space. So how are you really, how valid is that argument? It's like a parent saying to a child, “because I said so”. Keeping the objects because “I'm older, I am better, I've been caring for the leaf, we’ve put so many resources into it.” The reason why you have it is because most likely you stole it. We were enslaved. We were in a very poor economic situation for a very long time, because of you.

    Blake: The national curriculum hasn't changed much over the past 60 to 70 years. So when I went to school in Jamaica, we learned the national curriculum, but we was taught a different way. Colonialism isn't discussed in the history books in Jamaica, it’s only taught through art, media and creation of music, like different things, but actually for the national curriculum, the story of the relationship between Jamaica and Britain isn't touched on. And here, in terms of British society, the government are not convinced that systematic oppression exists. What's funny is that Britain invented racism in the state that it’s in now, but then when it’s presented to them, they are baffled by the whole concept of racism. Britain is known for being blind to actually the damages of what they've done, and they're not going to change, because for them to change, they’d have to get rid of their history. And for them to get rid of their history, that means that Britain doesn’t exist.

    Credits: This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. This episode features music from TainoAge.com and sounds from BP or not BP. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE UK production.

    This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. This episode features music from TainoAge.com, and sounds from BP or not BP. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE World News production.

    Description Transcript Credits
  • Episode 7

    A Vice World News Production © 2021



    The Gweagal Shield is on Level 0, in Room 1, Object 95.

    In 1770, Captain James Cook approached Australia for the first time. Before even setting foot on land, he shot and wounded two Gweagal warriors and stole their belongings – including this shield.

    Rodney Kelly: Before Europeans arrived, before colonialism, my ancestors lived a very happy and rich life.

    Claire G Coleman: Aboriginal people lived in small tribal areas.

    Kelly: They had everything; they had the sea...

    Coleman: Each family was associated with a certain area, a beach, or a bay, or a river...

    Kelly: The ocean – they had the land, you know.

    Coleman: Non-Aboriginal people from around the world think of us as nomads, but we were not. We moved around the same way that wealthy European people would move between their summer house and their winter house.

    Kelly: My family would go down the sea, when it's time to do their fishing...

    Coleman: We were living, maybe on the beach in summer, and then move up into the hills in winter.

    Kelly: Now the weather's right, they'd go down there, and when the weather's colder, they head away from the sea.

    Coleman: And everybody had their summer house and their winter house, and their spring house and their autumn house. And your camps were that regular.

    Soundbite: Stolen lives, get it back; stolen culture, give it back. VICE World News presents The Unfiltered History Tour – colonialism, as told through 10 objects.

    Kelly: I'm Rodney Kelly, a Gweagal Yuin man, and the Gweagal shield in the British Museum was stolen from my people.

    Coleman: My name is Claire G Coleman. I'm an Aboriginal person of the Noongar people. I am not of the Gweagal people. But the theft of that shield was to me a symbolic act that says a lot about Australia.

    Kelly: In 1770, Captain Cook arrived on his ship. You know, the Endeavour sailed up the east coast of Australia and he found a special spot. It was called Kamay, and now it's called Botany Bay. He anchored his ship. You know, even before he came ashore, there were two warriors. They were waving their spears around. He was trying to come ashore and the two warriors gave him that signal that he wasn't welcome.

    Coleman: It's the first time that he came in contact with Aboriginal people. And his own journal says that he shot at them and shot one of them. And Cook hadn't even got off the boat yet. So he wasn't even in danger. Aboriginal people had procedures to greet people who come from somewhere else. One of the procedures was to threaten people so they know that your country’s defended – your wave your spears at them and say “back off” and they back off. And then you talk.

    The way that Cook wrote about his landing in Gweagal Country in his shooting of that ancestor, he was acting like he had the right to be there. And nothing could be further from the truth. There’s this kind of attitude the English explorers had; this weird attitude that wherever they went, they were allowed to be there. When in reality, if explorers landed in England back in 1770, people would have had a lot to say about it. They act like they have this fundamental right to be whatever they want, when in reality they don't.

    Kelly: The two warriors, you know, they were just forced to retreat and run away, leaving the shield on the shore and along with spears. Cook had the beach to himself; that’s when he went up to the huts, picked up shields, spears. Just anything they could find from the huts that were there. Cook sailed away, went back to England, and all artefacts got distributed between museums, private collections and stuff like that.

    Coleman: Captain Cook has a high cultural significance to white Australia.

    Kelly: Cook’s sort of idolised as this great navigator, great explorer.

    Coleman: There’s plaques all over statues there saying Captain Cook discovered Australia.

    Kelly: When you look at the events of that day, he ordered shots be fired before setting foot on the shore. He wounded a man, then anything they could find they stole. People who were there that day and experienced what happened; to them Cook would’ve been such an awful, horrible person.

    Coleman: It was Cook’s landing in Botany Bay that was used to justify the formation of a colony in Sydney by the British. But his first landing in Sydney was also the first act of colonial violence because he shot somebody. And then he stole that man's shield. So you've got the first act of colonial violence and shooting someone; and the first act in stealing from that person, and then that landing was used to justify the theft of the land. From the broader context of Australia, the theft of the Gweagal shield and the bullet hole in it are intensely symbolic of the entire act of colonisation and what colonisation is; which is a theft of land; a theft of culture – theft of everything – is symbolised by that shield, which is not even in this country. So it's continued to be stolen.

    Kelly: And then we look at everything that's happened since 1770. So much has happened.

    Coleman: 1788; Arthur Philip landed in Sydney Cove and started a colony. And then we had the death of Pemulwuy in Sydney, who was shot and his head removed to take to England. From the first shooting in 1770, this shot that rang out through history, the colonial violence has gone on and on and on and on without stopping. They stole our land, they harmed children, they destroyed our culture, they banned our language. Until the 70s or just before I was born, all mixed race Aboriginal children were wards of the state, automatically at birth. And now in 2021, the Western Australian government is still resisting giving my people our land back. There's been no forgiveness or reparation for the Western Australians’ stolen generations. There's all these horrible things in the law that profoundly affected my family; that started with the colonisation of Gweagal Country, what is now Sydney, in 1788.

    Kelly: The first time I went to London, and I walked into the British Museum, and I saw the shield, where it lives, where it's been for many years. It was just so empty and it was just so cluttered with thousands of other items. It was really sad. I really hated seeing how the shield is displayed. Even though it was a really hard moment, an emotional moment, it gave me that sense of pride and power and drive to want to do more.

    Coleman: The government doesn't care about returning our land, or protecting Aboriginal sacred sites. So I don't think they're gonna care about getting a shield back because we want it. Every time we get artefacts or remains back from places like the British Museum, it's Aboriginal activists from the families who were stolen from that get it back.

    Kelly: Ever since then, I have been fighting for its return.

    Kelly in an archive recording: We call on the British Museum to think about indigenous Australia and give back any artefacts you have that were wrongfully taken.

    Kelly: Now I go and do lectures, talk to uni students, talk to teachers, talk to the general public, just try and convince people, you know these items need to be returned, you know, just trying to make people see how much they mean to me, and to my people.

    Kelly in an archive recording: It tells me and my people who we are, and where we come from.

    Kelly: It tells the true history of 1770, and what's happened after, and that history has always been kept silent and shied away from all the time. I want all schoolchildren to be able to view the shield and other items that were taken in 1770; hear the stories and start learning that, “Wow, since our first day, you know, Aboriginal people have been treated bad, you know.”

    Kelly in an archive recording: Now the people, the public way can put an end to museums, hoarding indigenous artefacts.

    Coleman: Our land was stolen, and our children were stolen and artefacts were stolen and put in museums. There were things in the museums, and in fact, the Gweagal shield is one of those things, that have on them no identifier of who they were stolen from, basically which person. So all these artefacts are disconnected from the culture they come from, disconnected from the name of their maker, dumped in places they don't belong.

    Kelly: We learn people through history, then I know Australia is not going to be such a racist place and my people won't have to deal with daily racial abuse. Now my people won't be treated as non-human anymore.

    Coleman: All looted artefacts and art should be returned. When you say to people that any gold or art looted by the Nazis should be returned to the people they're stolen from, no one has a problem with that. When I say things like everything looted by colonial England should be returned to who they stole them from, people go, “Why should they have to, it’s in a museum?” Essentially, those artefacts being in another country dehumanises the makers of those artefacts. It's not actually that difficult a thing to repatriate, the family who claim custodianship of that shield is known.

    Kelly: I really want to return them just for my ancestors, you know. The stuff what happened on that day was so wrong, you know, a man being shot at, then they retreated and then everything got stolen. Way I look at it is, their voice needs to be heard and it was never heard. And they'd love for these items to be returned home, you know, their spirits are still connected to those items. Their spirits can be at rest.

    Credits: This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. Find out more about Claire’s writing on Aboriginal history at clairegcoleman.com. This episode features sounds from BP or not BP, and Matmorfus from Freesound.org.The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE UK production.

    This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. Find out more about Claire’s writing on Aboriginal history at clairegcoleman.com. This episode featured sounds from BP or not BP and Matmorfus from freesound.org. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE World News production.

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  • Episode 8

    A Vice World News Production © 2021



    The Parthenon Marbles are usually found on Level 0, Room 18. They are currently not on display.

    When Greece was under Ottoman rule, Lord Elgin struck a deal to take whole pieces of the Parthenon in Athens back to the UK. The sculptures have been contested ever since.

    Petros Apostolakis: Poseidon was the god of the ocean and of the sea. Athena was the goddess of knowledge. The two gods fought over the name the city was going to take. Athena fought with Poseidon. Athena won, so this is why the city was named after her – Athens took her name. And since we people believe that the gods were always there – they could interact with you, maybe being a stranger in the streets – so they built the Parthenon in an effort to win the gods and goddesses’ gratitude.

    Soundbite: Stolen lives, get it back; stolen culture, give it back. VICE World News presents The Unfiltered History Tour – colonialism, as told through ten objects.

    Apostolakis: So my name is Petros Apostolakis and I'm a university student from Athens, Greece. I'm also a climate activist, a human rights activist trying to fight for a better education, for a better society and a better world in general.

    So actually, the word “Acropolis” is not only used in the Parthenon and in Athens – it is used in temples around the country. It means the edge of the city – acro means “the edge” and polis is “the city”. To understand the importance of the Acropolis to the Athenian people – there is a limit on the floors that a building can have, so they don't block the view from anywhere in the city to the Acropolis.

    Even today, as a teenager, you know, going up in the hills with my friends, staying there in the night, you can see the beauty of the Acropolis, just from kilometres away. It is always here [laughs]. So it was actually built by the Athenians under the rule of Pericles. Construction began in 448 BC. It is a temple to honour specifically the goddess Athena, who is the patron goddess of Athens. It was massive, it was a magnificent, and very beautiful, temple. It had a huge sculpture of the goddess Athena inside of it, which hasn't been found. Not only the sculptures, but also in the walls, there were sculptures and pieces of art, where you could see the myths sculpted into the marble. One of them being a fight between ancient Greek people and the centaurs, the mythological creatures. One else is the birth of the goddess Athena, from the head of Zeus. It wasn't only used as a temple, people worked everyday there, communicating with each other, interacting with each other. It was actually a centre of the community.

    From the medieval ages, until 1453, which was under the Byzantine Empire, which was actually the successor of the Roman Empire. So the Roman Empire was succeeded by the Byzantine Empire, which was taken over by the Ottoman Empire, when Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, was taken over in 1453.

    So they took every land that the Byzantine Empire had. Greece was under occupation for about 400 years. The occupation was strict and it was hard for the Greek people – until the Greek people revolted in the revolutionary War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. We're now this year celebrating 200 years from the day that the revolution started [laughs].

    Lord Elgin, was appointed as the ambassador of England, in the Ottoman Empire. He actually wanted to take some copies of the Parthenon Marbles for his mansion back in Scotland. So he employed some sculptors and some artists, for them to help him, you know, make copies of the artefacts. But when he came to Greece, and he saw what was going on here, he saw that it would be very easy for him to, you know, take some of them back; take the pieces from the Parthenon and bring them back.

    It was actually an effort of him to get rich because he had a debt to the English government. And it was an effort not only to, you know, to preserve the artefacts and preserve their beauty and help them actually survive the Ottomans, it was actually an effort for financial stability for him. So he asked for permission by the appointed government in Athens from the Ottoman Empire. It wasn't a democratically elected government that gave permission for those sculptures to being stolen. It was an empire, an occupation, which gave permission; which never really cared about the artefacts that match.

    The procedure to try to steal the artefacts and take them from Greece to England took about nine years and it started in 1801, in an effort, which many poets have described as brutal. Edward Dodwell, a very important painter, who was in Athens at that time, described it as something brutal, something vandalising. Lord Byron was influenced too much by these procedures…

    Actor reading from Lord Byron’s “The Curse of Minerva”: Know, Alaric and Elgin did the rest.

    Apostolakis: Writing a lot of poems for Acropolis and the Parthenon.

    Actor: That all may learn from whence the plunderer came / The insulted wall sustains his hated name: / For Elgin’s fame thus grateful Pallas pleads, / Below, his name—above, behold his deeds!

    Apostolakis: The first part of the marbles, he tried to ship them with a private boat from Greece to the UK, and the boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea. It's the irony – he was saying that he was trying to protect them. And actually his efforts were the exact opposite thing. He destroyed the artefacts; he sank them in the Aegean.

    He left some in Italy while going back to Britain. The next time he tried to bring some back and actually some of the marbles that were left in Italy were given back in 2008 by the Italian prime minister. So Lord Elgin came back to England. He stored the artefacts in a cellar where they used to store coal – it was very, very harmful for the Marbles.

    He wrote some letters to the British government trying to convince them to buy the artefacts, so it was discussed in the British Parliament. And even then, in the British Parliament, some of the members in the House of Commons believe that the Marbles should return back to Greece. Even in the first moments, in the first years of this dispute, some of the members of the British Parliament believed and proposed that the Marbles should come back. So the British government appointed a committee to investigate the legality of the marbles and whether they could purchase them from Elgin. And the dispute was whether he would be able to take the Marbles if he was a private citizen, or whether he took them because of him being an ambassador. He used his power and his ambassadorship to influence the Turkish authorities to take them back. The committee decided to, you know, purchase the Marbles, and after many years, they now belong to the Board of Trustees of the British Museum.

    Greece is a country which for so many years has faced many problems, the World Wars, the Civil War, that we had after the two World Wars, the dictatorship. So the efforts to, you know, re-patronise the artefacts in the Marbles in the modern era began in 1981, when Melina Mercouri was appointed Minister of Culture...

    Archive recording of Melina Mercouri: We say to the British government: You have kept those sculptures for almost two centuries...

    Apostolakis: ... By a newly elected government of [Greek PM] Andreas Papandreou. She began the efforts to you know re-patronise the marbles and bring them back

    Mercouri: Now, in the name of fairness and morality. Please give them back.

    Apostolakis: The legality of the purchase from the British government by Lord Elgin, is being questioned. I think that there have been some UNESCO declarations and I remember that the committee of ministers of culture, when Melina Mercouri was the Greek Minister of Culture, voted for a resolution in support of the returning of the Parthenon Marbles.

    Mercouri: ... And the Parthenon marbles they are. There are no such things as the Elgin Marbles.

    Apostolakis: But there is a talking point from the Greek side that we really do not try and we do not go on the legal way. Because it shouldn’t be a legal matter at all. It should be a moral and ethical matter.

    Mercouri: They are our pride. They are our sacrifices. They are the essence of Greekness. We're asking only for something unique, something matchless, something specific to our identity.

    Apostolakis: I remember myself when I visited London in 2018 – 15 years old – with my school of foreign languages in which I learned English. And I remember visiting the British Museum. We entered the Room with the Parthenon Marbles. It gave us goosebumps. It was a sad moment for everyone, seeing something that has been stolen from you. Even the place in which the marbles were being kept, was not the best preserved space. The British Museum can do better for the artefacts. They would be better in the Acropolis Museum, because there was a debate whether, you know – we didn't have a museum back then; we built one, just for the artefacts to come. And they didn't.

    I had a dispute, a conversational fight with one of the members of the group. He is a conservative, and he says, “They belong to us, they should come back. We're better than other people. While the ancient Greeks were building these, the other cultures had nothing, they lived in trees.” That's something that the right-wing people, conservative people try to use as a talking point. I had a fight with him. And I told him, “What are you talking about? This is not a matter of, you know, the culture of Athens back then being better than anyone else.” I believe, you know, in culture being international and culture being able for everyone to access and experience. I don't believe in better cultures; I believe in different cultures, and the need and the importance of showcasing the beauty of any of them.

    I said I personally do not believe in the idea that we own the Marbles and that the Greek people own the Marbles. I believe that everyone should have access; that it is the part of our history, of our national heritage. The Greek history owns the Marbles and the centre of Greek history is in Athens in Greece, so they should be here for every person that visits the city can see them.

    Credits: This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. Voice acting from Simon Lawson and Nikoletta Georgiou, and sounds from BP or not BP. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE UK production.

    This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. Voice acting from Simon Lawson and Nikoletta Georgiou, and sounds from BP or not BP. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE World News production.

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  • Episode 9

    A Vice World News Production © 2021



    The Summer Palace collection is on Level 2, Room 95.

    It took British and French troops three days in 1860 to burn down the Summer Palace in Beijing, and its priceless artefacts have been dispersed across the world ever since.

    Fu Yiwen: The first time I visited the site of the Summer Palace is ten years ago. It's in the spring, I remember. And out of my imagination, when I go up and see the beautiful garden, there's a big lake there. When you walk around the lake, you can see a lot of trees and flowers. But you cannot find any wooden architecture there, because they are destroyed by the fire. The first time I saw the destroyed stone architectures, I just feel a deep sorrow and humiliation. At that time, I can't help [cry] tears a bit. I don't know why because I'm not an emotional person, I'm a very reasonable person. But at that time, you cannot help to tears. I think the Summer Palace, not only as a palace for Chinese people, this is the real treasure of the human being. It has been completely destroyed by the British Army in the Second Opium War.

    Soundbite: Stolen lives, get it back; stolen culture, give it back. VICE World News presents The Unfiltered History Tour – colonialism, as told through ten objects.

    Fu: Hello, everyone. My name is Yiwen, I'm now a current BPP law student; before that I spend as my three years in the UK to study art. That's the reason I'm so interested in the Summer Palace topic.

    Juliet Patrick: Hi, I'm Juliet Patrick. I'm 21 years old, my mum's from China. So that really built my interest in a lot of Chinese art. So for my dissertation, I looked at the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was a series of garden palace complexes

    Yiwen: ... and you have date back to the Qing Dynasty.

    Patrick: It was built over the course of three emperors, which was about a century long. So the first of these three was the Kangxi Emperor, and he ruled from 1611 to 1722. And then his son took over – the Yongzheng Emperor – from 1722-36. And then his son – the Qianlong Emperor – took over until 1799.

    Fu: So that's made the Summer Palace very important because it represents imperial culture in the Chinese history.

    Patrick: The types of art that were made during the Qing Dynasty really varies from emperor to emperor, because they each had their own specific taste. Kangxi kind of liked traditional, almost ware, so there was a lot of Ming imitations, so the blue and white Chinese porcelain, for example. And his son, the Yongzheng Emperor, he really enjoyed simplistic, very elegant and refined porcelain. And then the Qianlong Emperor [laughs], he was really extravagant. So he created revolving wares, which are these porcelain vases, which are composed of lots of different parts like a jigsaw puzzle, and you can rotate them and the scenery inside changes. So it's almost like a film in a porcelain vase.

    The whole dynasty, and these emperors, were all ethnically Manchu. When they took over initially, they were a minority rule. So they had to conform a lot to the Han Chinese culture and way of life, while still keeping some of their Manchu identity. So that's why you see kind of this move from very simplistic or traditional ware to very extravagant ware, because of this move away from the need to conform as they consolidated their power.

    So the emperors of the Qing Dynasty were originally based in the Forbidden City, a palace complex in the centre of Beijing, where all of the government or business would take place. It was quite hot and noisy, especially in the summer. So the summer palaces were basically a holiday home, a very extravagant holiday home northwest of Beijing. Through the next emperor's reign, it became expanded upon. The Yongzheng Emperor added courts and office buildings so they could conduct business. And then under his son's rule, he imitated lots of scenes from across the Empire, shops and theatres and farms and places of worship and ancestral shrines.

    Fu: Qianlong is a very important emperor of the Chinese.

    Patrick: His father, the Yongzheng Emperor, he created such a surplus in economic income, which allowed for a lot of prosperity through his son's reign.

    Fu: Qianlong is the emperor who really enjoyed the gardening life. So he asked this French missionary to design the British garden for him. It’s the first time in China that there were gardens inspired by the British garden. Summer Palace, in Mandarin we say “Yuanmingyuan”, interpreted in English as the “brightness of garden”. So at that time, the Summer Palace is called the “Garden of the Garden”. That means that it's the most perfect garden in the world.

    Patrick: What's really significant about these Summer Palaces is a lot of them weren't for residency, they were purely for collecting artworks, everything that would be made in the Empire would be amassed in the summer palaces.

    Fu: Qianlong installed a lot of jewellery and treasures in the Summer Palace.

    Patrick: Jades, golds...

    Fu: Paintings, rubies...

    Patrick: Porcelain...

    Fu: Ceramics, I have to mention ceramics...

    Patrick: Any tribute items as well. It became basically an encyclopaedia of the Qing Empire.

    During this period, Britain was smuggling opium into China, which was a very addictive drug. China had a controlled system of trade. They would trade with outside countries, but not to the extent that the British Empire wanted. And in 1729, there was a ban on selling and smoking opium because it was becoming so rife, and then by 1796, all importing opium was banned. The first Opium War, which was declared in 1839 on China, was the result of China trying to bring this smuggling to a halt. And by 1842, they were defeated and signed the Treaty of Nanking, which, among other things, conceded what is now Hong Kong to Britain.

    So after the end of the First Opium War, the British continued to smuggle opium into China, and that's what led to the Second Opium War. To cut a long story short, four years into the war, the Chinese had captured and tortured a number of the British consulate and other members of the invading force. On this pretext, the British and French sent their forces to the summer palaces on the seventh of October 1860.

    Fu: The French and the British armies, they just go direct to Beijing and they looted the Summer Palace and neighbourhood around the Summer Palace, like the Yiheyuan, another garden, and the Xiangshan. They looted these neighbours for two days. Then they left for three days. Then the British Army came back.

    Patrick: The British were led by James Bruce, the eighth Earl of Elgin. Elgin ordered the soldiers to begin setting fire to the summer palaces.

    Fu: And they set the fire of the summer palace and destroyed this Brightness of the Garden; the Garden of the Garden.

    Patrick: The act of looting and the destruction of the palace was an act of humiliation towards the Chinese. Prince Gong who was left in charge of China after much of the court had fled Beijing, he signed a treaty on October 24 – so pretty soon after the burning of the palaces. That treaty legalised the opium trade, and it granted Christians full civil rights and it gave a lot of silver to Britain and France, and they got Kowloon Island as well, the British.

    So all of this loot after it was taken by the British was gathered into a prize auction. They were able to bid on what they wanted to buy, and the proceeds were divided among the British soldiers. As a result, these goods would show up at lots of exhibitions or private collections. And so they've been dispersed across the world, basically. A lot of museums are very hesitant to label these objects as loot. So for example, at the Royal Engineers Museum in Kent, they have an imperial throne known as the Gordon throne after the person who acquired it. The deputy creator James Scott there says that he doesn't mention the word “loot” at all, because they tried to keep it as quote, neutral, unquote, as possible. They try to obscure the fact that they were loot, and they still are.

    Fu: The British Museum never clearly indicate which one pieces was looted for the Summer Palace directly. If the British Museum, they admit this piece of the artworks is from the looting, it would set precedent for other governments, just like the Chinese government, like Cambodia government, [to] ask for the repatriation from the UK. That's the reason they never make to the public that this is pieces of work from the looting.

    Patrick: Chinese history and goods and cultural output becoming loot – it robs the Chinese people of the ability to learn about their own history, which I think is one of the most significant things about this discussion on repatriation and so-called contested goods. It's the fact that, you know, the general public suffer because they lose these connections that they have with the history.

    Fu: When I study in SOAS, because my major is art and archaeology, we have a lot of courses, actually, in the British Museum. The feeling is very complicated when I saw these pieces of art, because it’s originally from China, right, but the Chinese people cannot get access to our own artwork. You have to travel to the UK to see these pieces of art. So that's the feeling; [it] is very complicated for me.

    Patrick: Some people think, you know, ‘All's fair in war’, but there's certain rules to wars at the same time, and you know, they can't undo the burning of the palaces as no place can undo destruction of architectural sites to the original condition. But they could somewhat undo the looting, through repatriation, if you like. It's about acknowledging what was done wasn't right. So you can't really say sorry, and then keep them, and really mean that apology.

    Fu: British Museum is so-called a civilised institution. It is very disgraceful for them to show off their looting history. It’s a colonial history, the British government started the Opium War, which leads them to destroy the Summer Palace and looted these marvellous pieces of art work to the UK.

    Patrick: I think a lot of British people aren’t ashamed of the Empire, we kind of embrace it. And I think that's a lot to do with the lack of education about it. And especially the atrocities that were committed in the name of the Empire. There was a YouGov poll in 2015 or 16 that found nearly half of people thought it was good, and like 40 percent was proud of it. And I know you can't cover like, every single bad thing that's ever happened in the curriculum. But I think when it's so pertinent, and it still impacts our country and was a major part of British history, it should probably be covered. But I think the point is, I don't know if the average British person walking down my street would know about the atrocities and how significant that is. And I think maybe if they did know that, their thoughts would change.

    Credits: This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. sounds from BP or not BP. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE UK production.

    This podcast was produced by Jesse Lawson, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. Sounds from BP or not BP. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE World News production.

    Description Transcript Credits
  • Episode 10

    A Vice World News Production © 2021

    Lion Hunt of


    The Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal is on Level 0, in Room 10a, Panel 10.

    Ashurbanipal is the greatest king Assyria has ever known. Now the Assyrian people don’t even have a homeland to return his reliefs to.

    Max J. Joseph: The land identified as Mesopotamia – the land between two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates – was a succession of, I guess, civilizations as nation states that arose. In the same way that you have, in a European context, Rome. Rome became an empire, but it was essentially one city that became strong. So Assyrians get their name from the city state Assur, in the same way that Babylonians get their name from Babylon and so on.

    The Assyrian people, they presided over empires – various different-sized empires containing different lands, stretching from Egypt, all the way to Iran. Throughout these lands, you have sheer wealth of archaeological artefacts, material heritage. I mean, only still a fraction of it has been excavated properly. There's still so much on the ground, that even when ISIS had taken over and they were destroying these artefacts, as they were destroying them, they were discovering new artefacts. That's how sad it was. And this heritage being fought over or destroyed by people who don't seem to value it.

    Soundbite: Stolen lives, get it back; stolen culture, give it back. VICE World News presents The Unfiltered History Tour – colonialism, as told through ten objects.

    Joseph: My name is Max J. Joseph. I'm an artist and a writer currently based in London. And I've been working on various Assyrian-related issues for over a decade now, whether it's from cultural preservation, humanitarian work, activism, advocacy, all kinds of stuff – given my background as an Assyrian myself. Most of this artwork was obviously commissioned by kings. They wanted to show off, essentially: Ashurbanipal, the greatest king that Assyria’s ever known, sitting astride a chariot with his men either side of him, holding spears, arrows, on a lion hunt.

    Some of the things about showing off; some things were propaganda campaigns about how great they were, how great they're treating everyone, some were just exalting themselves and what they provided to their own people.

    So the king back then was seen as the protector. He's the only one that can protect the people from enemy forces, hostile enemies. And you see this mostly, for example, with the lion reliefs, which is one of the most famous panels in the British Museum – a whole set of reliefs depicting Assyrian kings hunting and killing lions. Now, lions that actually exist in Mesopotamia. They were hunted into extinction. They were like a menace that were plaguing farmlands, you know, killing sheep and cattle. They weren't seen as these majestic creatures that we see today. They were a neighbourhood menace, almost roaming around on the plains. But they were still lions, right? So they were still powerful, vicious, they were huge threats.

    The Assyrian kings used to commission these panels to show them protecting the people from the lions, the threat. So there's these different strands of history that come through with these reliefs, different values and principles, different struggles that the king was trying to get ahold of, and to reassure the people around him that he's the guy. He's the man. And these reliefs tried to depict that.

    Most of the reliefs stayed exactly where they were for thousands of years, all the way up until the 18th and 19th century. It would accelerate massively in the 19th century. So this will happen under the auspices of the Ottoman authorities. Now this was towards the end of Ottoman rule, as their empire disintegrated after World War I. But most of these relics were first identified and essentially taken away by Western explorers, adventurers, and so on.

    The main motivation, however, for why these guys were there in the first place – people like Austin Henry Layard, a very famous British explorer, diplomat and so on – came from a religious perspective. There was a lot of stuff in the Bible related to Assyria, to Nineveh, to Jonah and the whale, you had all kinds of stuff going on in the Bible about Assyrians. And there was a lot of nobility in the UK and America that was very interested in trying to, I guess, prove that all of these things happened by finding material objects that relate to them.

    There's so much money invested in this pursuit. It became a trade between empires. So what essentially took place was, you'd have these adventurous explorers and missionaries go to these far-flung reaches where no one used to travel to just because they heard, a local or someone – there was some word that was passed down that so and so exists here and so on. They'll go and investigate. And they will hire teams of locals to go and dig up everything.

    And the labourers who were doing most of this digging, obviously, were local people around. But many of them were also Assyrians who saw these travellers, these European travellers, who said, “We're Christians now” – because the Assyrians were – saw all these European travellers as Christians, and immediately saw some kind of outlet, some kind of connection to the outside world. Because for centuries, the Assyrians had been frozen in the midst of different empires. So essentially, what happened was, you had Ottoman bureaucrats signing off papers, they didn't even know what they were doing. This was early in the 19th century, to British explorers, travellers and excavators that just wanted to take this stuff with them. Some of these lamassus for example – those giant winged bulls that everyone sees in the British Museum, but also exist in the Louvre, in New York, and so on. Some of them were even cut up and separated then and there. They were destroyed and then rebuilt in Paris, in New York and so on. The Level of brazenness that happened – “take everything over” – was never been seen before.

    They were obsessed with getting all of these antiquities over to the west. At that time, these empires all had these connections. They weren't always at war. They had trading connections; to them these antiquities were commodities in the Ottoman state. They were like, “We’re just trading stuff we don't really want with someone who wants it.” That's how they were viewed.

    Growing up in London, I mean, the British Museum is an institution that everyone sees through school trips, through everything else. And for me, being of Assyrian background, I've been disconnected from my own heritage, right? Because I'm in diaspora, with most Assyrians living in their homelands today, that is now Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Syria – we haven't seen our own material heritage. So growing up and going to the British Museum when I was a child: That was my first experience of my own ancient heritage. And it was bittersweet, really.

    On one hand, this was absolutely amazing. And I was stunned by it. And I still make trips on my own there, to just go see these artefacts and these antiquities, because I felt some kind of connection, finally, in my life with some kind of heritage. But on the other hand, because it's such a contentious issue and the politicisation of these artefacts and the antiquities; the politics around, you know, who gets to keep what, where they are and so on, that really darkened a lot of my experiences as well, especially given that Assyrian continuity – as it's called in academia – is something that's still sadly contested. I.e. are we really Assyrian?

    So I'm standing there going, “Yes, I am. Because I speak the language, I have generations of history” and so on. So that was my experience growing up with these antiquities, and what my families and relatives used to show me. Because you feel like a foreigner wherever you go, if you’re an Assyrian. So whether you're in diaspora in America, in Poland, Sweden, Australia, which is where many Assyrians live today – you're never really accepted as someone from those areas, especially given that they have their own cultural background, history and so on.

    It's always the case, I mean, if you're in a bar, you're having a drink, you meet someone, someone says, “Hey, where are you from?” I just say, “yeah, you know – because I was born in London.” But clearly, it's just that there's that looming question that comes afterwards: “So are you really from?” And that question is the bane of my existence. Because that's not a simple answer for me. You have to go into all kinds of history and politics to explain just who you are.

    Before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there was over a million Assyrians in Iraq. Now there's fewer than 250,000. And that, for me, is a population movement, purely to be using the light term, of seismic, undescribable proportions. And obviously, the exclamation point at the end of all of that was the genocide of the hands of ISIS.

    So the Assyrian diaspora – there’s more Assyrians that live outside of their homeland than live in it. And I'm including all four states that Assyrians are from in that region: Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iraq. So much of our legacy involves being constantly on the move, settling in areas that don't necessarily accept us or even acknowledge us as a people, and trying to live with that/ Because most of our families and their families and their ancestors, they've always been persecuted under some kind of violent duress, or forced to move, and so on. And this has continued up into the present day, all the way up until 2014. When ISIS attacked the Assyrian heartland in Nineveh, all the remaining Assyrian villages there were abandoned. Both the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga fled, despite squabbling and fighting for control of the area. Everyone had betrayed us then, and we didn't have anyone except ourselves.

    When Assyrians hear the arguments for repatriation today, we agree we want to see this heritage return. The problem is the people arguing about it, do not want anything to do with us; do not see us and do not include us. For us, we have jokers to the left of us and clowns on the right. And we're struggling to be heard amid all of the noise that they're making.

    You have these two arguments. So the argument that says no, these antiquities belong where they are right now, which is Western institutions, you know, like the British Museum, the Louvre and so on. Because if there was an agreement drafted between two state entities, and that's that. That's the agreement from, actually, the British Museum side. Ashurbanipal is the most famous king that Assyrians ever had, and the British powers knew that. And there's this seduction of power and alignment of power, and desire to have power, to have the greatest king available in your own building, your own institution – it’s a big badge of honour, it's like a trophy. The repatriation argument is there's no actual basis for why the agreement exists in the first place. The same argument is actually made for the Elgin Marbles, for example. The argument to repatriate was there was no basis for them to be taken between the people who decided for them to be taken. Lord Elgin had an agreement with the Ottomans, and essentially flew in the face of Greece because Greece view that territory as occupied Greece.

    During the Ashurbanipal exhibition at the British Museum in 2019, there were protests outside that museum, because Iraqis wanted this heritage to be returned. Now joining that protest, there was almost no Assyrians, unfortunately. Because we were never really included and the whole idea that they should be returned to Iraq – there's a lot of tension for us. We want them to be returned, but we also want to return. [laughs] That can't be reconciled.

    And at the moment, that's where Assyrians sit with this. So many Assyrians will say, “Yes, we want these things, these heritage pieces, this priceless material heritage to be returned. But what about us?” We feel like there's a grave injustice there to even ask for them to be returned, without us even being acknowledged or mentioned by the state of Iraq. The main argument, I would say, is that Iraq needs to do far more, to reconstruct and rebuild the areas where Assyrians live in Iraq – that was ravaged by ISIS, all across Nineveh. At the moment, it’s still mostly in rubble.

    One of the compromises that Assyrians have is to say rebuild our areas, and if you want all of this stuff returned, return them to where they were – return them to Nineveh, send them to where they were excavated from, house them in proper facilities. So Assyrians who still live there can wake up every day and see them if they like. Because that is the compromise for us. The compromise is we want both of us to return, and our areas to be rebuilt and redeveloped, and also for Assyrians to be acknowledged as an indigenous people of Iraq. That's still not acknowledged. We're still seen as outsiders.

    Credits: This podcast was produced by Calum Perrin with support from Jesse Lawson and research from Marthe Van Der Wolf. This episode features sounds from BP or not BP. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE UK production.

    This podcast was produced by Calum Perin, with research from Marthe Van Der Wolf and support from Jesse Lawson. This episode featured sounds from BP or not BP. The Unfiltered History Tour is a VICE World News production.

    Description Transcript Credits

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