Couple who sold African mask worth $4.6 million for mere $160 wants it back

Originally published at: Couple who sold African mask worth $4.6 million for mere $160 wants it back - Boing Boing


All the European people involved in this story should just be glad that Killmonger didn’t decide to weigh in.



Beat me to it.

KiIlmonger wasn’t actually wrong about the evil of colonialism; his “solution” was just incredibly fucked up.

The family of the couple in question very likely didn’t “pay a fair price” for that piece of African art, if they paid anything at all.


Flipper gives entity with the mask $4.6 million back, gets $160 back from greedy dumbass French couple, Gabon gets $160 mask. Simple.


“wwwaaaaaaah, we sold the wooden mask that grand-dad stole for less than the auction house sold it. Not fairrrrrrr”


This is the only correct answer.


That seems like a lot to spend on an obviously cursed mask.

creeping jim carrey GIF


I agree with everyone else that Gabon is the rightful owner and the mask should be returned to them. But I found this bit interesting, from a legal standpoint:

My property law professor had us study a case involving a dispute over a famous home run ball. Two different men had their hands on it in the stands, and both claimed ownership. Almost immediately, someone proposed just auctioning the ball off and the two men splitting the profits, but they both balked at that. They were certain the ball was worth a massive fortune, and they each wanted all the money for themselves. It ended up tied up in court for years. In the end, the court ruled that the ball had to be sold at auction and the proceeds split evenly between the two men, but by then, the value of the ball in the market had dropped dramatically (I think it might have been the homer that broke Maris’s record, and by the time this had played out, that record had been broken again a couple of times) so both men ended up losing a ton of money, after legal fees. Anyway, my professor had us study that case as a lesson: that people’s greed can work against them, and that suing isn’t always in your client’s best interest. This mask case falls in that same category. The couple should have just taken the 300,000 Euros. This mask is almost certainly going to end up back in Gabon, but if they’d have taken the offer, that wouldn’t be their problem. Now, they’re going to end up with nothing, and a bunch of attorney’s bills.


Good. That whole era and all the broken records should be washed from the books. Not sure if it’s the same ball you talk about, but at least the Barry Bonds “record breaking” ball was appropriately marked, even if the official record isn’t.

It seems pretty likely that the circumstances under which a colonial governor obtained it were dodgy at best; but I’m curious about how Gabon gets a claim to something that would have originally been in private Fang hands.

It feels especially…iffy…by comparison to the genre of WWII looted art hunting; which generally aims at return to the relevant heirs of the owner; rather than being claimed by the nation state where it happened to be before being stolen.

In this case is the chain of custody and original ownership just viewed as being irrevocably shot; with Gabon not really being the legitimate owner; but being less-worse than the alternatives; or is the position actually that the various states that formed absorb the property rights of people who lived in the territory they now occupy?

There are international agreements and treaties regarding the designation, proper handling and repatriation of cultural artifacts. This isn’t a new concept, but in practice there’s often a huge power imbalance when it comes to getting people who have the stuff that was taken from indigenous peoples to do the right thing.

International law doesn’t always cover this sort of thing or provide an enforcable legal framework for resolving disputes, because what little International law actually exists is largely written to preserve the status of those who wrote it. So people who work toward repatriating cultural artifacts usually have to resort to moral arguments, diplomacy and soft pressure campaigns.

One great podcast covering some of these topics:

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.