African History Film: Invasion 1897

6 Min Read

So there you are, going about your day as always, working, shopping in the market, cooking, looking after your children, minding your own business and these people turn up and start disrupting everything, killing people and taking your land.

This is what happened all over Africa, in India, the Pacific islands and many other places including, of course, the Americas.

I recently saw the film Invasion 1897 as part of the African Odysseys season at BFI London South Bank. The film was preceded by a superb talk by Pan-Africanist scholar-activist Dr. Ama Biney entitled “Grand Theft Africa”, which filled in more of the historical details. It was followed by a panel discussion with the director, Lancelot Oduwa Imaseun, Nadia Denton and Dr. Biney. Click here for more African Odysseys films.

In 1884-5 European powers including Britain, Germany, France, Belgium and others gathered at the Berlin Conference to divide up Africa amongst themselves. This has popularly been termed “the scramble for Africa”.

When we read or hear about what happened, it’s hard to believe that this was actually done. People were murdered in their thousands, perhaps millions, and their land was grabbed. Africa was seen as land for the taking, and as a rich source of minerals and other wealth, and her people were seen as, at best, servants or slaves, expendable and, at worse, an obstacle to accessing that wealth. When we look at where Africa is in the world today, and the status of African people in the global African Diaspora, we must do so in the context of what happened historically. The problem with this is that there have been so many lies, distortions and deliberate omissions that it’s hard to piece together the story. We have been fed so much false information about ourselves and our history and heritage.

Because there is so much misinformation about, it is our task – yours and mine – to dig down and uncover the truth, and share it with as many people as possible. Thankfully, there are organisations such as Black History Walks and Black History Studies, alongside many others, that are committed to doing this work ongoing.

Invasion 1897 tells the story, little known in the West, of the invasion of the West African Kingdom of Benin. Many of us are aware that the Benin bronzes are in the possession and on display at, the British Museum in London.

Invasion 1897 tells the story of how that came to be.

In 1897, the British invaded Benin on a pretext. Invasion 1897 depicts the invasion, in which thou sands of people of Benin were killed, and as a result of which Benin became part of the British Empire and later, Nigeria. The palace was looted and many treasures, including the bronzes, were taken.

One thing I was not aware of was that the bronzes are a record of the history and heritage of the people of Benin. Members of pre-literate and non-literate societies have many ways of recording and preserving their heritage, which can include visual arts, dance, music and storytelling (the art of the griot).

So when the bronzes were stolen and sold on to museums and art dealers in the West, they were more than beautiful objects. They contained the history of a people.

Similar scenes took place all over Africa. For more about this, see my blogs about Kenya, Namibia, the Niger Delta and Congo.

The psychological, emotional, physical and economic long-term effects of the Maafa – of slavery and colonisation – cannot be overstated. For more about this, see:  Healing Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome.

One thing that strikes me is that people in these countries are often unaware of this history, which is one of the key themes of The First Grader. The mainstream media often present us with a distorted view of this history, if they cover it at all.

Local economies were disrupted and the political structures that were in place were destroyed. In some cases, the leaders, such as Oba Ovonramwen in Benin and Yaa Asantewa in Ghana, were exiled; others were killed.

Invasion 1897 is a Nollywood film and, as such, the production values are sometimes not great. The depiction of the violence was largely cartoonish, for which I am grateful. The film had previously had a private screening at the British Museum in which, apparently, some members of the audience walked out.

The fact that this is a Nollywood movie means it is accessible to large numbers of people and I hope it will be screened widely. We need this information, because knowledge is power. Please share this with your networks.

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