British Museum agrees to return looted Benin bronzes to Nigeria

London: A London museum has agreed to return a collection of Benin bronzes looted from what is now Nigeria in the late 19th century, as cultural institutions across Britain face pressure to return artifacts acquired during the colonial era.

The Horniman Museum and Gardens in south-east London said it would hand over a collection of 72 objects to the Nigerian government. The decision comes after Nigeria’s National Museums and Monuments Commission formally asked for the artifacts’ return earlier this year and after consultation with community members, artists and schoolchildren in Nigeria and the UK, the museum said.

A Benin copper alloy tablet depicting an encounter between the Benin chief Uwangue and Portuguese traders, brought back to Nigeria by the Horniman Museum.

A Benin copper alloy tablet depicting an encounter between the Benin chief Uwangue and Portuguese traders, brought back to Nigeria by the Horniman Museum. Recognition:AP

“The evidence is clear that these objects were acquired through violence, and external consultations have supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their property to Nigeria,” said Eve Salomon, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, in one Explanation . “The Horniman is pleased to take this step and we look forward to working with the NCMM to ensure continued care of these valuable artifacts.”

The Horniman’s collection is a small part of the 3,000 to 5,000 artifacts stolen from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 when British soldiers attacked and occupied Benin City as Britain expanded its political and commercial influence in West Africa. The British Museum alone owns more than 900 objects from Benin, and National Museums Scotland has another 74. Others have been distributed to museums around the world.

Artifacts include brass and bronze plaques, animal and human figures, and royal regalia made by artists working for the Benin royal court. The general term Benin bronzes is sometimes used for objects made of ivory, coral, wood and other materials, as well as metal sculpture.

Countries like Nigeria, Egypt and Greece, as well as indigenous peoples from North America to Australia, are increasingly demanding the return of artifacts and human remains in the face of a global reassessment of colonialism and the exploitation of local people.

A brass plaque depicting a war chief and royal military priest carrying a leather gift box, returned by London's Horniman Museum.

A brass plaque depicting a war chief and royal military priest carrying a leather gift box, returned by London’s Horniman Museum.Recognition:AP

Nigeria and Germany recently signed a deal for the return of hundreds of Benin bronzes. This followed French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision last year to autograph 26 pieces known as the Abomey Treasures, priceless works of art from the 19th-century Dahomey Kingdom in modern-day Benin, a small country west of Nigeria.

But the British institutions have been slower to react.

https://www.smh.com.au/world/africa/british-museum-agrees-to-return-looted-benin-bronzes-to-nigeria-20220808-p5b806.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_world British Museum agrees to return looted Benin bronzes to Nigeria

Joel McCord

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