Das ehemalige Königreich Benin, heute auf dem Gebiet Nigerias, wurde 1897 durch britische Truppen eingenommen. Die Eroberung brachte zahlreiche Kunstschätze gewaltsam und konzentriert auf den Markt, viele wurden sehr rasch vornehmlich von europäischen Museen angekauft. Wie dabei die einst als »Benin-Bronzen« summierten Werke als ein Instrument im innereuropäischen Konkurrenzkampf um wissenschaftliche Vormachtstellung dienten, verdeutlicht dieser Text, der vom britischen Archäologen und Museumskurator Henry Ling Roth veröffentlicht wurde.
kommentiert von Johanna Wolz
nach: Henry Ling Roth, Great Benin. Its Customs, Art and Horrors, Halifax 1903, Appendix, S. xviii-xxi.
When on the return of the members of the Punitive Expedition it became known that fine specimens of bronze castings and ivory and wood cravings had been found in the old city of Great Benin, Mr. Charles H. Read, the Keeper of Antiquities at the British Museum, with characteristic energy at once endeavoured to secure for the national collection good representative specimens of these bronzes, and he succeeded in gathering together the finest collection of plaques that is to be found in any Museum. But owing to the want of proper pecuniary support, he was not able to obtain possession of any of the more expensive, and in many cases equally interesting, articles. Not only was the national institution thus deprived of its lawful acquisitions, but at the same time another government department sold for a few hundred pounds a large number of castings which had cost thousands to obtain, as well as much blood of our fellow countrymen. Hence it is that so many Bini articles are not represented at all at Bloomsbury. Had it not been for the well-known interest which the late General Pitt-Rivers took in such subjects, a still larger portion of these articles would have been lost to us for ever. Money with him being no object, he purchased largely and succeeded in making a very varied and, therefore, most interesting collection, which is still to be seen in his Museum at Farnham. From what I can ascertain, the bulk of these has been secured by the Germans, and it is especially annoying to Englishmen to think that such articles, which for every reason should be retained in this country, have been allowed to go abroad. Not that I wish to, nor do I blame the Germans in the least for what they have done, but it is only one more example of their alertness, and of our apathy. These articles have been lost to us, directly through the want of funds, but indirectly owing to grave omissions on our part in times gone by, to circumstances indeed which unfortunately continue. To many, this loss is apparently a small matter when compared with great domestic questions of the day, nevertheless the principle involved is an important one.
For many years the Germans have foreseen that the study of native races and their development, a study known to us under the awkward name of Anthropology, is essential to every civilised community which trades with, or is called upon to govern native communities, and with their characteristic thoroughness they have become leaders in a branch of science in which the Americans alone have been able to equal them, and, as it now appears, are about to outstrip them. To arrive at this position the German ethnologists have always been sympathetically dealt with by their Government; and when the Government can no longer supply the funds, I am told the Kaiser, on application being made to him, will put his hand in his pocket, and when that source is closed the wealthy German merchants are not appealed to in vain. For such gifts they will receive their Sovereign’s approbation. Similarly, in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, when a museum is in want of funds, an appeal is made to local merchants, and in a few hours the necessary money is collected. Such measures for collecting money do not appear to have been tried in England, and if tried it is doubtful what success such an attempt would meet with. There remains the fact that with us the native races are not adequately studied, and we are consequently handicapped politically, scientifically, and commercially in competition with other nations.
Politically, it is of the first importance that our governing officials should have a thorough knowledge of the native races subject to them – and this is the knowledge that anthropology can give them – for such knowledge can teach what methods of government and what forms of taxation are most suited to the particular tribes, or to the stage of civilization in which we find them. In connection with this, there can be no doubt that with adequate knowledge much spilled bloodshed could have been saved in the past, both on our frontiers and in our colonies.
Scientifically, the loss is great from whatever point we look at it, and it is not lessened by the painful feeling that our successors will condemn us for neglecting to make use of our opportunities – opportunities which they will never have, either to use or abuse – and take steps towards attempting to give them adequate records of the native races of our times. Unlike the Tasmanians or the ancient Peruvians, the West African will never be wiped off the face of the earth, but intercourse with the white man alters his beliefs, ideas, customs, and technology, and proper records of these should be made before we destroy them. The destruction is going on apace, one of the chief contributory causes being the unsuitable European teaching given to the native races generally – unsuitable to them on account of the wide physical and mental differences that exist between the white and black man. Miss Kingsley put the point with her usual smartness when she said at one of the meetings of the Fellows of the Royal Colonial Institute, that »an African is no more an undeveloped European than a rabbit is an undeveloped hare.« All the same, we conduct our intercourse with the African just as though he were an individual who could be turned into a European. That he has great possibilities no one will doubt, but a good general knowledge of native races would prevent us making such grave mistakes as this.
Of the historical value of the study of native races, there should be at the present day be no question. This study has not only assisted classical students in the elucidation of many doubtful points in the history of the Greeks and Romans, but it is of extreme importance in explaining to us so much that would be otherwise obscure in the study of the growth of national institutions.
At the British Association meeting held at Ipswich in 1895, Professor Haddon in deploring the inattention paid to the study of native races in England, pointed out that if an Englishman wished to learn anything about the coloured peoples under British sway without actually visiting them, he had to go to Berlin to do so. To put this statement in a different form, it means that we have to pay other countries for information which we ought to have within our own doors, for it means that we must buy foreign books when we ourselves should be the suppliers to foreigners. By a knowledge of native races we get to learn what they want, and by a method of systematic publication of information about the natives, valuable assistance could be rendered to our traders, very much in the same way as we are served by Consular Reports from foreign countries. A short time ago Lord Salisbury, at the suggestion of the Keeper of Antiquities at the British Museum, agreed that it was advisable to collect anthropological information for arrangement and diffusion by an Ethnological Bureau, but was unable to make arrangements to carry out such a scheme, because there were no political leaders who cared to give him the necessary support. A very distinguished African traveller and administrator, in fact, probably our most successful African administrator of the day, is inclined rather to blame the public, than public men, for this apathy, saying the leaders would make a move if the public demanded it. But the leaders are there to lead, not to be led. Where indeed would Germany be now if she had waited for public opinion to raise the question? It was her able, far-seeing leaders in times gone by who made her present prominent position for her. And who are the Governors of our Colonies who have been the most successful in dealing with the native races under their charge? They are men like Sir Wm. McGregor and the Rajahs Sir James and Charles Brooke, in Sarawak. In New Guinea, Sir Wm. McGregor encouraged his officials to study the natives, with the result that they became interested in those they were put over to govern and governed them wisely. Sir Williams is now repeating his New Guinea success in Lagos. Of one of Sarawak’s governors, Dr. Chas. Hose and his youthful aide-de-camp, it was pithily said, at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, that he and a boy governed a district over 10,000 square miles in extent – and he could do so simply because he had studied his subjects and required no physical force to aid him to keep order. This is a very different policy from that adopted by a Governor of one of our older West African colonies, who refused a medical officer, an official of the colony, permission to study the natives.
It has been of late the fashion to decry the older universities, but strangely enough as regards this study, they are the only seats of learning in England where the student can obtain the knowledge he is in search of. At Cambridge, Professor Haddon has set to work to remedy the state of things he deplored when at Ipswich, and with contagious enthusiasm has gathered round himself a band of energetic young men who are a credit to the country. At Oxford we have the priceless museum presented to the University by the late General Pitt-Rivers, at the solicitation of his friend, Professor Tylor, and presided over by Mr. H. Balfour. What is the use of these institutions if their teaching is ignored?
I cannot help thinking that if some of the above facts had been known to, or appreciated by the gentlemen who disposed of the Bini antique works of art, they would have adopted proper means for keeping the articles in this country, and so saved us an ultimate loss which far exceeds in value the few hundred pounds made by the sale.
 The Germans took possession oft he Samoa Group, some four years or so ago, and have already in the press an excellent Gazetteer, which gives a most useful account of the native population. We have now been in possession oft he Fiji Group for about forty years, and are still asking: Where is our Gazetteer oft he Fijis?
 We have at the present moment the curious spectacle of the University of Birmingham, which advertises itself in the pages of Nature as the »up-to-date« University, thinking it has covered the whole field of the study of native races, when it arranges for a simple course of Physical Anthropology, and leaves out of all consideration the other equally important branches of the study, such as the Social and Religious Institutions, the Technology, and Linguistics of Native Races, and their Ethnography and Archaeology. No university of the British Empire has the right to call itself »up-to-date«, which ignores the study of the hundreds of millions of coloured people under our sway.