Protesters interrupt €4.2 million auction of "stolen" 19th-century Gabonese mask

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By Katherine Berjikian  & AFP
A rare wooden mask called a 'Nigil' that sold for €4.2 million in France.
A rare wooden mask called a 'Nigil' that sold for €4.2 million in France.   -  Copyright  AFP

In Montpellier in the South of France, protesters disrupted an auction right before a 19th century carved mask was sold for €4.2 million, despite accusations that it was “stolen goods”.

The protesters were part of the local Gabonese community, and they were calling for the return of the wooden ‘Nigil' mask.

Historically, the Fang people of Gabon used it in ceremonies. And it is extremely rare, with only around 10 similar masks in the world.

"We and all the people here are contesting this sale,” said Ange Mbougou, secretary-general of the association of Gabonese in Montpellier.

“We have taken the necessary legal action to ensure that these works are returned, as is the case everywhere in Africa."

According to the auction house, the French colonial governor René-Victor Edward Maurice Fournier acquired the mask in 1917 under unknown circumstances, probably during a tour of Gabon.

It then stayed in his family house in Hérault from the 1920s until his descendants discovered it.

The auctioneer at the event, Jean-Christophe Giuseppi, said to the best of his knowledge, the auction was "entirely legal".

In recent years, European countries have started to make repatriate objects acquired during colonialism.

Last year, France returned 26 artefacts to Benin that colonial troops looted in 1892.