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Bring Back ‘Ngonnso’: Not Just A Figurine, An Identity

Like a voice crying in the wilderness, the Nso dynasty over the years seems be crying for the return of Ngonnso.

Tagged-III15017, the figurine of Yaa Ngonnso believed to be restless at the Ethnological Museum in Dahlem, Berlin Germany, exhibited this September 22 at the Von Humboldt Center.

“The statuette is being displayed to a people who know nothing about her origin”, Fon Kong laments.

Many a Nso people like Fon Kong seem to believe that the calamity, turmoil and turbulence that is befalling the Nso clan is intricately woven around the absence of their spiritual mother.

The exhibition is happening at a time the #BringBackNgonnso campaign is on its rails, now placed under NsoFirst-NSODA Organization Leadership called NSODA Culture Renaissance Initiative NCRI.

Sylvie Njobati, the face behind the campaign and coordinator of the Nso First-NSODA Organization Leadership Team, has taken the message of Royal Highness the Fon of Nso, Sehm Mbinglo II to the owner of the foundation keeping the statuette in Germany.

Art depicting Ngonnso by Mfikela Jean Samuel, displayed in Germany

In its physical form, “Ngonnso is a sculpture carved in wood wearing magnificent earrings and an African hairdo, holding a bowl on her laps and resting on four supports fitted to a round stand. It is decorated with cowries from neck to stand depicting wealth and royalty”, describes Prof. Fanso Verkijika.

But, to the Nso people, Ngonnso is more than a figurine, it is an umbilical cord that links the Nso dynasty to their ancestors, an identity.

The spiritual mother-Ngonnso is the foundress of the Nso dynasty epitomized by the statuette, which now sits in a German museum.

“Our plight as a people goes beyond what to the Germans could be money or a show of colonial conquest. Our plight is identity crisis, disconnection from the essence of our being, hoarding of our freedom”, Njobati states.

A dive down history lane with Professor Fanso, reveals that Ngonnso, the princess of Tikar in the Adamawa region had two brothers, Nchare-yen and Mfombam who left the palace following a feud over succession in 1394.

The siblings separated, Ngonnso founded the Nso dynasty and since tradition forbade her from ruling, her husband became king and she the Queen Mother.

So when she passed no to glory, the figurine was made in honour of the powerful woman, Yaa Ngonnso.

On how the statuette left Nso to Germany, there are pointers that, it was looted by Germans and the Nso palace was set ablaze.

But, another theory has it that, it was gifted to the Germans not stolen, Fanso quotes a researcher Anne Splettstoesser with information from the curator at the Berlin Museum.

Stories of looted Artefacts from Africa during the colonial period and how some have been restituted abound.

When the Afoua Kom that vanished in 1966, was returned to the Kom people in the Northwest region from the New York Gallery in 1973, this sparkled hopes that Ngonnso could be returned.

Several sons and daughter of the Nso dynasty have been making efforts to bring back Ngonnso.

One of them, Prof Fanso says from 1970 under the Sehm Mbinglo 1, Nso people nurtured the desire to have Ngonnso back. The Fon wrote a letter which depicted the yearnings of a people for the return Ngonnso to its origin.

Gad Shiynyuy who discovered the figurine is said to have spearheaded the initiative to bring back Ngonnso.

Many more have chipped in their pieces for the return of the statuette alongside the Nso Development and Cultural Association, NSODA.

Ngonnso among other art works

Where would the Ngonnoso be displayed when restituted?

Fanso maintains that a museum idea came up in 2013 with Alison Roth, an American, for the construction of the Nso Arts and Cultural Centre, with provision for museum, performance space and the renovation of the entire palace.

But, the crisis which started in 2016 slowed the project and disrupted the visit of German researchers.

In 2019, the Germans tried to organize restitution generally under ‘the concept on the establishment and organization of a German contact point for collections from colonial context’.

This concept established a contact point, procedure, guidelines, legal framework and other for the restitution from colonial context.

But why after so many years restitution remains an illusion?

According to Fanso, three reasons account for the delay in returning Ngonnso: the ongoing renovation of the palace, the provision of a befitting place for Ngonnso and other Artefacts and the end of the Anglophone crisis.

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