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Ethnologisches Museum: Path is Clear for Returning the Ngonnso’ to Cameroon

Ethnologisches Museum

The female figure known as Ngonnso’ originated from the historical kingdom of Nso’ in northwest Cameroon and entered the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin collection in 1903 as part of a gift from colonial officer Kurt von Pavel. The figure has great spiritual significance for its society of origin. The Stiftungsrat der Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SPK, Board of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) has authorised SPK President Hermann Parzinger to finalise an agreement with the responsible Cameroon authorities on returning the Ngonnso’.

After several years of contact with the Cameroonian government, the dialogue intensified last year, partly through the mediation of Ms Sylvie Njobati from the civil society initiative “Bring Back Ngonnso’”. In December 2021 representatives of the Nso’ community in Cameroon and Germany, museum representatives, and German art scholars exchanged views on the history of the figure’s provenance and the significance of the Ngonnso’ for the Nso’ people. They mutually established that the Ngonnso’ had not been removed from Kumbo, the capital of the Nso’ kingdom, through looting in the course of war. Nonetheless, von Pavel’s stay in Kumbo was an expression of unequal power relations and structural, colonial violence, even in the absence of specific acts of aggression, because he was accompanied by soldiers and armed porters who intended to intimidate the Nso’. In addition, the Ngonnso’ plays a central role for the Nso’ because she is considered a mother deity. Based on these circumstances, the Foundation Board has followed the president’s recommendation to initiate the figure’s return.