Photo Credit: Instants
Two Benin Bronzes Returned To Home In Nigeria More Than 100 Years Later
Nigeria has recently received two Benin bronzes, 100 years after British troops stole them.
While the fight of returning looted African treasures is hardly over, it’s certainly a sign of hope more will be returned.
CNN reports that the artifacts returned include a cockerel sculpture and the head of an Oba – a word that translates to king in Yoruba and Bini languages found mostly in West Africa.
The two artifacts were first returned to the Nigerian High Commission in October 2021 by the University of Aberdeen and the Univerity of Cambridge, but they haven’t been returned to their ancestral home until now.
“They are not just art but they are things that underline the significance of our spirituality,” Charles Edosonmwan, spokesperson for the Oba palace in Benin stated during a ceremony celebrating the return.
British Museums have faced a lot of scrutiny over the last few years for their hesitancy to return Benin Bronzes. A majority of the artifacts were taken during a looting expedition in 1897. During the raid, British soldiers stole more than 3,000 works of art, before burning the city down. They killed an unknown number of people and brought one of the greatest kingdoms to a violent end.
Leaders at the British Museum, where more than 900 items from Benin City are displayed, told Nigeria that it would loan the artifacts back in 2018.
Pressure From Other Countries
It has become harder for The British Museum to hold its position as more European countries are coming to terms with their imperial past and giving back their collection of Benin Bronzes.
Officials in Germany said they plan to return bronzes in their possession as early as 2022 and France’s President Emmanuel Macron stated that one of his priorities would be getting the artifacts back to African countries.
“I cannot accept that a large part of the cultural heritage of several African countries should be in France,” Macron stated in 2017. “Africa’s heritage must be showcased in Paris, but also in Dakar, in Lagos, in Cotonou. This will be one of my priorities […]. I want to see the conditions put in place so as to allow for the temporary or definitive restitution of African cultural heritage to Africa.”
In 2021, officials from the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art announced they decided to remove and repatriate the bronzes back to Nigeria as well.
An estimated 90 to 95% of sub-Saharan cultural artifacts are housed outside Africa across Europe and in North America, according to a report and analysis from NPR.