Sanity Injection

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Posts Tagged ‘Arthur Japin’

Severed head opportunity for politically correct historical rewrite

Posted by sanityinjection on July 23, 2009

This is an odd and interesting story and a good example of how PC nonsense is nowadays accepted at face value, even when it’s historically false.

Our story begins with a Dutch author named Arthur Japin. Mr. Japin was working on a historical novel and happened to pay a visit to Leiden University in 2008. While there, he discovered something unusual in the university medical center’s anatomical collection: a severed human head in a jar of formaldehyde. Even more interesting, the head was that of a black man. It turned out that the head belonged to Badu Bonsu II, chieftain of the Ahanta tribe in what is now Ghana. Bonsu was decapitated in 1838 by a Dutch officer, Major General Jan Verveer.

When the discovery was announced, the Dutch government was very embarrassed. The Dutch, you see, had been in Ghana as missionaries, traders, and colonists, but also very significantly as slave traders, and Bonsu’s head was a stark reminder of  a part of Dutch history that modern Netherlanders are not proud of. On behalf of the modern members of the Ahanta tribe, the government of Ghana demanded the return of Bonsu’s head, and the Dutch government agreed. So Ghana sent elders of the Ahanta tribe to the Netherlands to bring the head back. There was a formal handing-over ceremony between Dutch officials and the Ahantas.

Nothing wrong with any of that. So far, so good. But here is where it starts to get silly.

You see, the Ahanta take the position that the beheading of Badu Bonsu was a terrible injustice. And the Dutch government seemed to accept that position, further casting the incident in the context of the Dutch slave trade and using the occasion to fall all over itself to apologize for slavery, Bonsu’s killing, and for just generally existing. The Ghanaians are now asking the Dutch to atone for their misdeeds by building schools and hospitals for the Ahanta.

What’s wrong with that, you may ask? Well, lemme ‘splain.

There is certainly nothing wrong with the Ahanta leaders being sad, angry, and embarrassed by the violent death of their ancestor. Nor is there anything wrong with the Dutch nation regretting the role it played in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, one of the most vile and atrocious institutions in the history of mankind.

But as usual, political correctness whitewashes the considerable moral complexity of historical fact. Consider these facts:

1. Slavery was a traditional practice of black tribes in Africa before the Dutch ever got there.

2. It is documented that the Ahanta chiefs sold African tribesmen captured in war as slaves to Europeans.

3. By 1838, when Bonsu was killed, the slave trade had dwindled to the point that many Dutch in Ghana were there as colonists, not slave traders.

4. The Dutch had sent two emissaries to Badu Bonsu, who had them executed and their heads displayed as trophies. Bonsu’s own killing by Verveer was in retaliation for this act.

Armed with these facts, we can conclude that Bonsu’s killing was not a one-sided atrocity committed by evil Dutch slave traders against an innocent African chieftain. It was a retaliatory measure, using the same methods used by Bonsu himself, that cannot be linked specifically to the slave trade at all.

Now, if the government of the Netherlands wants to build schools and hospitals in Ghana out of the goodness of its heart, fine. But there is no basis for them to be extorted over the affair of Bonsu’s head. The Ahanta were not helpless victims of the Dutch; they were active participants in the slave trade who profited from it. As for Badu Bonsu, he reaped the justice that he himself exactly sowed. Today, we would never condone his killing, but neither would we condone the killings of others that  he ordered. Is one more blameworthy than the other?

If you read the AP news article on this carefully, you will note that the Ahanta leaders even tried to con a second free trip to the Netherlands out of this – unsuccessfully.

The moral of this story is simple. History is written in shades of gray. No nation or tribe has a monopoly on good or evil. For nations to spend time and money apologizing for things that happened over 150 years ago is an exercise in futility at best and fraud at worst. But there is no shortage of people in many countries eager to exploit Western feelings of guilt for their own profit. Badu Bonsu, who would have wasted no opportunity to enrich himself and his tribe, would be proud.


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