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France returns sword of 19th century anti-colonial hero to Senegal

French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe gave back the sabre of hero El Hadj Omar Tall to Senegal's President Macky Sall.
French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe gave back the sabre of hero El Hadj Omar Tall to Senegal's President Macky Sall. RFI/Charlotte Idrac

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has returned a sabre belonging to 19th century Islamic scholar and leader, Omar Tall, to Senegal’s President Macky Sall, in Dakar. Tall is considered a hero in Senegal and a symbol of fighting colonialism.

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Calling it a “historic day”, Sall received the sword in the presence of some of Tall’s descendants.

"The sword that unites us here is...that of a great conqueror, that of a spiritual guide," said Philippe. "It's the sword of the founder of the Toucouleur empire, which included Guinea, Mali and present-day Senegal. It's the sword of a scholar."

Early into his presidency, Emmanuel Macron called for African artefacts to be returned to the continent. There are some 90,000 artefacts in museums throughout France, including the Quai Branly in Paris.

A report Macron commissioned, carried out by French art historian Benedicte Savoy and Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr, recommended that French museums give back articles that were taken without consent, if a government requested.

Made of iron, brass, and wood, the sword had been kept in a museum in Dakar on loan from France.

The ceremonial handover on Sunday formally returned the artefact for a period of five years. French MPs must now vote to ensure that it is permanently returned to Senegal, along with other treasures in French museum coffers.

“It’s symbolic. It had been lent to us before, but now it is being restored to us,” Hamady Bocoum, the head of the Museum of Black Civilisations told AFP in Dakar.

Leader of the Tidjane brotherhood, a Sufi order in West Africa, El Hadj Omar Saidou Tall was a Muslim scholar, political leader and led troops into battle against the French. After fighting against the French for two years, he signed a peace treaty in 1860.

According to historians, he disappeared in Mali in 1864.

His son Ahmadou took up his sword and fought the French again but was ultimately defeated in 1893 – when the French took his sword.

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