French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Senegalese President Macky Sall during the symbolic handover of Omar Tall’s sword. Photo: Edouard Philippe on Twitter
France has formally returned to the nation of Senegal a sword which belonged to 19th century West African ruler, Islamic scholar, and anti-colonial fighter Omar Saidou Tall.
The sword, or sabre, of the West African Muslim leader had a French-made blade and a handle shaped like a bird’s beak.
The act is mostly symbolic since the curved iron, brass and wood sword has been kept in its leather sheath in a museum in Senegal’s capital on loan from France.
A ceremony in Dakar saw the item formally returned to Senegal for a period of five years. France’s MPs are yet to vote on the permanent return of this and other African artifacts kept in French museums to their countries of origin.
Omar Saidou Tall (ca. 1794 – 1864) was born in the Imamate of Futa Toro in today’s Senegal. He established an empire through conquest in what is today Senegal, Mali, and Guinea in the 1850s and 1860s.
Omar Tall was the leader of the Tidjane brotherhood, a Sufi order in West Africa. He fought against France, the rising colonial power in the region, from 1857 until 1859.
His domain in West Africa was recognized by the French with a peace treaty in 1860.
Omall Saidou Tall is deemed a hero in Senegal in particular. According to Senegalese historians, he disappeared mysteriously from the cliffs of Bandiagara in Mali in 1864.
Omar Tall’s son Ahmadou (1836-1897) succeeded him and was defeated by the French in April 1893 in Bandiagara. That was when the French forces captured Omar Tall’s sword.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe handed the sword of Omar Tall to Senegal’s President Macky Sall in a ceremony in Dakar on Wednesday, BBC News reports.
The return of the artifact comes as part of a commitment by France to restore to its former West African colonies crucial artifacts from their historical and cultural heritage.
“This is a historic day,” Senegalese President Macky Sall stated during the ceremony, which was also attended by some of Omar Saidou Tall’s descendants.
French museums presently possess at least 90,000 artifacts from Sub-Saharan Africa, with French Prime Minister Philippe stating that the return of Omar Tall’s sword was “the first step" towards fulfilling France’s above-mentioned commitment.
The symbolic return of Omar Tall’s sword in Dakar, Senegal. Photo: French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Twitter
In 2018, France’s President Emmanuel Macron commissioned a group of experts to study the matter. The experts recommended that French museums return their African artifacts to their countries of origin.
According to the expert group’s report, the bulk of the Africa collection in Paris’ Quai Branly Museum – some 46,000 artifacts – was acquired with some degree of duress.
“It’s symbolic. It had been lent to us before, but now it is being restored to us,” the head of Dakar’s Museum of Black Civilizations Hamady Bocoum, which had been storing the Omar Tall’s sabre, on its formalized return from France to Senegal.
According to El Hajj Mamadou Mactar Thiam, a descendant of the Muslim scholar, French colonialists also looted books which belonged to Tall.
“They took everything, including his library, in Segou, and I hope that all our books that are now in France will be returned to us,” Thiam told BBC Afrique.