UK university to return looted African sculpture

UK university to return looted African sculpture
Neil Curtis, Head of Museums and Special collections, with one of the Benin bronze depicting the Oba of Benin at The Sir Duncan Rice Library, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. (University of Aberdeen via Reuters)
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Updated 25 March 2021

UK university to return looted African sculpture

UK university to return looted African sculpture
  • It is the first institution to agree to the full repatriation from a museum of a Benin bronze, raising pressure on other establishments
  • The university acquired the bronze sculpture depicting an ‘Oba’ (king) of Benin at auction in 1957

LONDON: The University of Aberdeen in Scotland is to return a Benin bronze sculpture to Nigeria, saying it was acquired by British soldiers in 1897 in “reprehensible circumstances.”
It is the first institution to agree to the full repatriation from a museum of a Benin bronze, raising pressure on other establishments, including the British Museum, to follow suit.
The university acquired the bronze sculpture depicting an “Oba” (king) of Benin at auction in 1957, and it is considered a classic example of Benin Late Period Art.
It was originally taken in 1897, when a British military expedition attacked and destroyed Benin City, looting thousands of metal and ivory sculptures and carvings, known as the Benin bronzes, from the royal palace.
Benin City, in present-day southern Nigeria, was the seat of a powerful West African kingdom at the time.
The university called it “one of the most notorious examples of the pillaging of cultural treasures associated with 19th century European colonial expansion.”
“It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural importance that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances,” said university vice-chancellor George Boyne.
Neil Curtis, head of museums and special collections, said a review of its collections identified the work “as having been acquired in a way that we now consider to have been extremely immoral.
“So we took a proactive approach to identify the appropriate people to discuss what to do,” he added.
A panel of academic specialists and curators unanimously recommended its return to Nigeria and the university’s governing body supported the unconditional return.
Nigeria’s minister of information and culture Lai Mohammed called the move a “step in the right direction” and urged other holders of Nigerian antiquity “to emulate this.”
Some museums support the creation of the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City to house the looted artefacts.
These include the British Museum, which cannot legally give up possession of its artefacts and is reportedly considering lending its bronzes.
A Cambridge University college said in 2019 it would return a Benin bronze of a cockerel that was taken down from display at the famous education establishment after a student protest.


Obama dog Bo, once a White House celebrity, dies from cancer

Obama dog Bo, once a White House celebrity, dies from cancer
Updated 09 May 2021

Obama dog Bo, once a White House celebrity, dies from cancer

Obama dog Bo, once a White House celebrity, dies from cancer
  • News of Bo's passing was shared by Obama and his wife Michelle on Instagram
  • Bo, a Portuguese water dog, was a gift to the Obamas from the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy

WASHINGTON: Former President Barack Obama’s dog Bo died Saturday after a battle with cancer, the Obamas said on social media.
News of Bo’s passing was shared by Obama and his wife Michelle on Instagram, where both expressed sorrow at the passing of a dog the former president described as a “true friend and loyal companion.”
“He tolerated all the fuss that came with being in the White House, had a big bark but no bite, loved to jump in the pool in the summer, was unflappable with children, lived for scraps around the dinner table, and had great hair,” Barack Obama wrote.
Bo, a Portuguese water dog, was a gift to the Obamas from the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., a key supporter of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign who became close to the family. Bo helped Obama keep a promise to daughters Malia and Sasha that they could get a dog after the election.
A companion dog, Sunny, joined the family in August 2013.
Both were constant presences around the White House and popular among visitors there, often joining the Obamas for public events. The dogs entertained crowds at the annual Easter Egg Roll and Bo occasionally joined first lady Obama to welcome tourists. The dogs also cheered wounded service members, as well as hospitalized children the first lady would visit each year just before Christmas.
In a post featuring a slideshow of images of Bo — including one of him sitting behind the president’s Resolute Desk in the Oval Office — first lady Obama recounted his years bringing some levity to the White House.
“He was there when Barack and I needed a break, sauntering into one of our offices like he owned the place, a ball clamped firmly in his teeth. He was there when we flew on Air Force One, when tens of thousands flocked to the South Lawn for the Easter Egg Roll, and when the Pope came to visit,” she wrote.
First lady Obama wrote that she was grateful for the time the family got to spend with him due to the pandemic, and said that over the past year, “no one was happier than Bo.”
“All his people were under one roof again,” she wrote.

 


Farasani people find summer solace in ancient Saudi getaway

Farasani people find summer solace in ancient Saudi getaway
Al-Qassar village consists of old buildings and is located in the south of Farasan Island. (Supplied)
Updated 08 May 2021

Farasani people find summer solace in ancient Saudi getaway

Farasani people find summer solace in ancient Saudi getaway
  • Al-Qassar village becomes a top destination for those seeking moderate climates and potable water

MAKKAH: The village of Al-Qassar — located 5 kilometers away from the Farasan governorate — has long been a hub for the people of the Farasan Islands who are always in connection with the place.

This is especially noticeable during summer, when people migrate to the village to escape from the heat.
For more than 50 years, Al-Qassar’s historic homes have witnessed vibrant ceremonies, as their walls were built with stones, roofed from palm tree fronds, and adorned with seashells and beautiful Arabic inscriptions.
Saudi historian and poet Ibrahim Moftah said that Al-Qassar is one of the first villages that was inhabited in the Arabian Peninsula hundreds of years ago. The village enjoys moderate weather, is covered with palm trees, and is full of fresh wells and rich in history and events, he added.
“Farasan was a deserted island on all levels and the love of change is in the nature of Jizani people, so they used to go to Al-Qassar for change,” he told Arab News.
He said that at the beginning of the month of April, the village becomes a top destination for those seeking moderate climates and potable water. “Water in Al-Qassar can be found at a depth of six meters, whereas it can only be found in Farasan at a depth of 23 meters.”
Previously, most travel and trips to Al-Qassar village were during what Farasani people call the “Shaddah” season, where families ride camels to travel.
People of Farasan would postpone their wedding ceremonies in order to travel to Al-Qassar in summer, where the weather is cool during the Shaddah season.
Those trips to the village were done in two phases: One morning trip for a bride, who rides a camel carrying water and boxes with accompanying music, and another second trip during the afternoon for families.
“The Farasan people used to celebrate new brides in Al-Qassar in a unique way, especially if the bride was in the first year of her marriage, amid the chants and songs of joy,” said Moftah. “A calm and trained camel is chosen, then they decorate the camels with beads, pearls and silk, and copper bells that are fixed to its ankles to make sounds as it walks.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• For more than 50 years, Al-Qassar’s historic homes have witnessed vibrant ceremonies, as their walls were built with stones, roofed from palm tree fronds, and adorned with seashells and beautiful Arabic inscriptions.

• Previously, most travel and trips to Al-Qassar village were during what Farasani people call the ‘Shaddah’ season, where families ride camels to travel.

• People of Farasan would postpone their wedding ceremonies in order to travel to Al-Qassar in summer, where the weather is cool during the Shaddah season.

Moftah said that before a bride’s trip to Al-Qassar, “young women gather at the bride’s house and start singing, then they start their trip with the bride in the forefront. The camels would also be carrying wooden boxes that used to arrive from Aden and are made in India, loaded with expensive clothes and perfumes. The bridesmaid accompanies the bride, and she is usually of a similar weight. Men and women would stand on the sides to wave goodbye to the bride’s procession.”
The bride is then received in Al-Qassar with jugs of water and chants.
However, Moftah said that “nowadays, there are no more camels in Farasan” and that “life has changed and these traditions ended 50 years ago,” as cars, modern homes and air-conditioners have become common and Al-Qassar is no longer an escape or a shelter for anyone, now only home to “deserted houses and souvenirs.”
According to the Saudi historian, official festivals and a surge in tourism “was not fair” to the history of Al-Qassar village, as older traditions were not properly represented. “The region has lost one of the most beautiful cultural traditions.”
Saudi tourist guide Yahya Abbas said that Al-Qassar village consists of old buildings and is located in the south of Farasan Island, and includes almost 400 houses fixed with tree fronds, small stones and sand “to prevent water leaks.”
He added: “The history of this village dates back to the Roman era, and there are writings and drawings dating back to the Himyarite era.
“The village is considered the largest palm oasis in the region, with plenty of fresh wells.”
Abbas said that Al-Qassar has now become an area for tourists and visitors who want to discover its history and that of the Farasan Islands, as well as view the ancient houses in the village.


Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi quits Artists’ Syndicate after request to avoid criticizing politicians

Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi quits Artists’ Syndicate after request to avoid criticizing politicians
Updated 06 May 2021

Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi quits Artists’ Syndicate after request to avoid criticizing politicians

Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi quits Artists’ Syndicate after request to avoid criticizing politicians
  • Furious diva posts resignation letter insisting all Lebanese should express themselves freely and democratically
  • Resignation follows statement from chairman urging members to avoid political comments

BEIRUT: Lebanese pop star Nawal Al-Zoghbi has resigned from the Syndicate of Professional Artists after the body told members they could not criticize politicians.
Al-Zoghbi posted a two-page resignation letter on her Twitter account on Wednesday slamming the country’s ruling elite. 
She said there was a “negative influence” from all Lebanese politicians and political parties and accused them of sluggishness towards the country’s current economic and political crisis.
The Arabic music diva said she did not feel honored to sit back and watch her “beloved Lebanon and its people” sliding into the unknown.
Al-Zoghbi also addressed her five million followers on Instagram and 4.7 million followers on Twitter saying she would show unity and support to her fellow “decent citizens” by resigning from the Syndicate.
Last month, actor Jihad Al-Atrash, the Syndicate’s chairman, requested that members should not criticize or mention politicians or political parties. He added that freedom of expression remains respected and preserved within the parameters of the constitution.
His statement followed an attack on the house of actor Asaad Rachdan by supporters of MP Gebran Bassil, the head of Free Patriotic Movement.
During a TV interview, Rachdan had criticized President Michel Aoun , his son-in-law Bassil and their political party for their governance and blamed them for the current crises in Lebanon.
“I will not remain silent and I cannot be silenced except by killing me and I am not afraid to die,” he said.
Rachdan’s home was vandalized and Aoun’s photos were posted all around it.
Al-Atrash was heavily criticized for his statement after the attack and many artists and actors showed solidarity with Rachdan.  
Al-Zoghbi condemned the statement from Al-Atrash and the Syndicate, saying it was her obligation to back good citizens and support their demands for a better life. She said people should be able to express themselves and their opinions “freely and democratically.”
She described the Syndicate’s stance as “a dangerous and unprecedented move.”
She had been a member of the Syndicate for 20 years.
Lebanon is mired in political and economic crises as its politicians have failed to form a new government amid a financial collapse.
Many in the country are furious at the ruling elite and blame the current situation on decades of corruption and mismanagement.


Belgian farmer moves border with France by 2 meters

Belgian farmer moves border with France by 2 meters
Updated 05 May 2021

Belgian farmer moves border with France by 2 meters

Belgian farmer moves border with France by 2 meters
  • Group of local history enthusiasts discovered the move during a walk in a wooded area on the French side
  • In Belgian village of Erquelinnes, the mayor appeared keen to avoid an international incident

BRUSSELS: A Belgian farmer unwittingly extended his country’s territory by moving an ancient stone marking the border with France that was on his land.
A group of local history enthusiasts discovered the move during a walk in a wooded area on the French side.
The discovery of the stone, now sitting 2.20 meters (7.2 feet) away from where it was placed in accordance with a border agreement two centuries ago, has caused a flap in a normally sleepy rural area.
“If it belongs to us, it belongs to us. We don’t want to be robbed of 2 meters,” a resident of the French village of Bousignies-sur-Roc told RTL Info.
On the other side, in the Belgian village of Erquelinnes, mayor David Lavaux appeared keen to avoid an international incident.
“The land was sold and I think the person who bought it changed the borders the way he wanted,” he said. “But this isn’t just a private border, it’s a border between countries and you can’t just at will move boundary markers that have been there for a long time.”


Gaza women pedal their way to glory and happiness

Gaza women pedal their way to glory and happiness
Palestinian women ride bicycles at the Yarmouk Stadium in Gaza city on April 28, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 05 May 2021

Gaza women pedal their way to glory and happiness

Gaza women pedal their way to glory and happiness
  • 10 bicycles in attractive colors and protection tools needed have been provided

GAZA CITY: Ola Zaqout regularly rides a bicycle as part of an unprecedented sports project she recently launched on the Gaza Strip with dozens of her Palestinian female friends.

Marking a departure from the norms in the strip that Hamas has run for 15 years, the initiative provides an opportunity for girls to ride bicycles in public places.

Its owner Rania Al-Daour calls it “Breathe Deeply” — a space for women to express themselves and lead normal lives.

Officially, there is no law prohibiting women in Gaza from riding bicycles, but under the weight of customs and traditions, it is unusual to see a woman cycling in public.

Zaqout, 23, said she felt the happiness that she had missed for years when she was able to ride a bicycle outdoors for the first time.

When she turned 10, Zaquot stopped riding bicycles following the decision of her family which considered it “a disgrace to the girl.”

She said that she loved riding her brother’s bike: “I was skilled and doing acrobatic movements in the streets.”

She said the Breathe Deeply project gives women access to the sport without restrictions and in an atmosphere of privacy.

Zaqout said she hoped that the culture of exercise spreads for women as well as for men. She looks forward to the day when she can use a bicycle in her daily life.

As a result of the prevailing atmosphere and culture since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, restrictions imposed on women — whether by an official decision or by informal means — have increased.

Al-Daour, the project owner, said its idea stemmed from her passion for returning to her childhood, the period when she was able to ride bicycles without any hindrances.

Rania, 29, a veiled woman and mother of three girls, believed that the project would provide girls with the opportunity “to practice cycling in an open space with comfort and privacy consistent with religious and community values.”

HIGHLIGHT

Women in Gaza need this sport, which improves psychological feelings, reduces depression, and improves body shape.

The project was launched in cooperation with the Gaza municipality and the Yarmouk Stadium in the city center was designated for women to practice the sport for five days a week in specific hours.

Al-Daour aims to “encourage women to practice the sport without shame or obstacles.”

The project enables girls aged 12 and above to ride bicycles for a symbolic fee. Rania has provided 10 bicycles in attractive colors for women, and the protection tools that this sport needs to maintain the safety and security of the participants.

Al-Daour and other trainers also coach girls who have never ridden bicycles.

Despite the encouragement Al-Daour has received, the project faced severe criticism on social media from people believed to be religious extremists, who shared pictures of unveiled girls during the opening ceremony of the project.

But Al-Daour preferred not to comment on such criticisms. “The project welcomes everyone, regardless of the appearance of the girl or the nature of her clothes. We practice sports in a playground designated by the municipality for specific hours and for girls only.”

Al-Daour emphasized that providing girls with the opportunity to practice cycling is not intended to challenge society and its traditions, but rather to help women pursue sport and gain its health and psychological benefits.

Women in Gaza need this sport, which improves psychological feelings, reduces depression, and improves body shape, according to Al-Daour.

During the opening ceremony, the Hamas-appointed Mayor of Gaza Yahya Al-Sarraj praised the project: “It encourages girls to practice sports and provides them with space to practice cycling in an atmosphere of privacy.”