Monday, July 25, 2022

Illustration by Joshua Obeng-Boateng

 BBC has just created this fantastic podcast series called "Museum of Bad Vibes," with the first episode on "The Bird of Prophecy Staff," one of the more familiar objects that constitute the Benin Bronzes corpus found these days in museums that received artifacts looted from Benin City in 1897. In the podcast, the bronze staff speaks about its place in Benin society and its post-1897 imprisonment in the museum cabinet.

Here's the podcast synopsis:

The Bird of Prophecy staff has been locked up in a box unable to speak and when finally given the chance, he tells the story of his former glory as a ceremonial symbol of pride for his people.

Bird of Prophecy (ahianmwen-oro), 32.4cm, 16-19th century, presently at Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

On this tour, Hanna Adan, with the assistance of experts, explores the history of the Benin Bronzes, from the Benin Kingdom. The sculptures include elaborately decorated cast plaques, commemorative heads, animal and human figures, items of royal regalia, and personal ornaments. They were created from the 16th century onwards in the West African Kingdom of Benin, which was part of the British Empire from 1897 to 1960, and is now part of Nigeria.

Bird of Prophecy (ahianmwen-oro), 20.3cm, 16-19th century, presently at Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

Through the eyes of the Bird of Prophecy staff, Hanna tells the story of the British Empire raid, the destruction that saw the kingdom crumble, and the dispersal of the famous Benin Bronzes around the globe.

Through this sonic museum tour we ask - what is the Museum’s duty towards contested objects of spiritual and cultural significance in their collections?


Produced and Presented by Hanna Adan

With story by George Bailey

Assistant Producer and Editor: Kwaku Dapaah-Danquah

Researcher: Seyi Bolarin

Starring: Oluwafemi Olugbade

Contributors: Oluwatoyin Sogbesan, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Sonita Alleyn

Production Mentors: Jane Thurlow and Corinna Jones

Sound Designer: Lauren Armstrong-Carter

Tech Producer: Bob Nettles

Executive Producers: Khaliq Meer & Leanne Alie

Commissioned for BBC Sounds Audio Lab by Khaliq Meer

Artwork by Joshua Obeng-Boateng