A wooden instrument confiscated by the French army in 1916 and housed at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris will be returned to the Museum of Civilizations in the Côte d’Ivoire in 2023. The instrument’s return marks the first time it will be in its country of origin in nearly a century.
The Ivorian drum Djidji Ayokwe, nicknamed the “talking drum,” is a traditional musical instrument that was used by the Ébrié community to warn against danger, to mobilize for war, and to summon villages to ceremonies or festivals. It measures almost 10 feet long and weighs 940 pounds.
The return is part of a 2017 restitution policy initiated by French President Emmanuel Macron. The drum was the first on a list of 148 works that the Côte d’Ivoire officially requested at the end of 2018 to be returned by France.
Before it’s returned, the museum is working to restore the piece, which had been damaged in the nearly 15 years it had spent outdoors in the French governor Marc Simon’s house in Côte d’Ivoire between 1916 and 1930. There, various weather conditions and insects altered the drum.
Since Macron became president in 2017, he has advocated for the restitution of artworks from Africa that were seized during French colonization of parts of the continent. Progress has been slow, however, and since then, France has since returned just a handful of artifacts, including 26 works from the royal treasures of Abomey to Benin, which were looted by French colonial troops in 1892.
In addition to the Côte d’Ivoire and Benin, five other countries—Senegal, Ethiopia, Chad, Mali, Madagascar—have submitted requests to France for the return of their respective national artifacts. Three new proposed laws in France may help with the objects’ return if they are passed by the French senate in June.