Who Owns Cultural Property?

As decimated lands regain some semblance of an economic drive and awareness of the current status of pre-colonial antiquities and other lifted resources is awakened, countries are beginning to demand that items looted by imperialists and colonialists, with supposed justification or not, be returned. This has caused an outcry from the western establishment, the last guard of the status quo, as it imagines untold riches beginning to disappear from its clutches. “Who will pay to visit our museums in such foul weather, if we have nothing to display?” Or more aptly, “How dare the natives get restless and demand we give back the goods?”~While many western museums are scrambling to make certain that no objects of questionable provenance have prominent places in their collections, others have taken the deliberate tack of proposing that they are the better warehouse, because they reside in the more advanced, more cultured, the just plain moreâÂ?¦West. But no chorus (or at least none of these paeans to Western civilization) has yet to divulge how this advancement was procured. (‘Twas surely not on the backs on those who treasures were rested away, was it?)

The debate, as it were, rages. “Who owns cultural property?” To hear the hue and cry originating from , apparently one must believe that all rights and assigns to any object of value still reside with the empire. There have been a great number of justifications from the Western world – apparently still seated in – for maintaining possession of any spoils, ill-gotten amid imperialist rampage. Some poster girl for the “cause” has even written a diatribe upon it, bound and peddled under the guise of a book. The papers have been awash with the drivel. We have heard any number of British academics tell us that “our museum/s is the best location to houseâÂ?¦” any number of items, including apparently, fully-half of the cultural property of Africa, which does include Egypt, although this is geographical fact is seldom admitted in the West; a good third of the wares of Ancient Greece; a sizeable tincture of items from the Roman Empire – Hail Caesar! learned “how to do” empire from one of the best – and who knows what all else.

Recently, one fellow wrote, with a wink to his local museum, that certain (third-world) countries did not deserve their treasures back, for they could not care for them, could not revere them as had. He moaned of the trouble he had as a tourist trying to visit the few items left in situ in a specific African country. He cursed the status of getting tickets, of getting there, of an accented old guide who admonished him with a look for being descended of usurpers. One would have thought someone tried to pick his pocket. Another, a woman this time, cried that a certain Englishmen (Elgin) had removed certain things (some marbles) to protect them from impending destruction as war and hostile occupation were around (at the time of the removal). She averred that the dear fellow (for he is still well-regarded) had purchased the things from the occupying government, the infidels, thus assuring the items were not stolen and were now rightful residents of the National museum. What a bunch of twiddle!

The titular head is severed. And the body, though battered, demands its sustenance, its cultural wealth, be ferried back. Rome has decided to be generous, and has said can keep its blasted wall (of Hadrian), the rest however; is expected to be returned and promptly. pressed its argument, though it fell on ears purposely stuffed with cotton, so came across as a murmur. Africa fared no better though it possibly has more to lose. holds desperately tight to its past – little else is left – come hell or high-water, be it right or wrong. But it is not enough to save the cause.

No, it is not nearly enough. In spite of (or maybe, eerily, because of) all the grumbling, the categorical denials, the nasal tones chiming “Britain, how great thou art,” the simple fact is that the tide of time is against them, for all glory days eventually come to past so that a new day may dawn. Hear the cock crow, ! Your era of impudence is nigh drawing to a close. You are outflanked, your island no longer sufficient refuge. As is the way of History, mark my words, the lowly masses will eventually rise up and overthrow (or occasionally behead) the ruling class. And it shall happen; the numbers are on the other side.

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