London’s Horniman Museum says it wound return 72 artefacts, including 12 brass plaques known as the Benin bronze, that were looted from the royal palace of the Oba of old Benin Kingdom, when British soldiers invaded the Palace in 1897, to the Nigerian government.
Created from brass and bronze in the once mighty kingdom of Benin, present-day Edo state, in South-South Nigeria, the Benin bronze is among Africa’s most culturally significant artefacts, stolen along with thousand other items of value during a British incursion, ending up in Museums in Europe and the United States.
What informed their choice of returning the artefacts?
According to Eve Solomon, chairperson of the Trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens, Nigeria’s Commission for Museums and Monuments, NCMM, had requested the return of the artefacts at the beginning of the year.
She said: “the evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired through force, and external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria. The Horniman is pleased to be able to take this step and we look forward to working with NCMM to secure longer-term care for these precious artefacts.”
Director-General of the Nigeria Commission for Museum and Monument, Abba Tijani, welcomed the decision, saying he looked forward to discussing loan agreements and collaborations with the Horniman.
Why is this return important?
African countries have battled for years to recover works pillaged by explorers and colonisers, while western institutions are grappling with the cultural legacies of colonialism. Last month, German authorities returned more than 1,100 priceless sculptures to Nigeria, following examples set by Jesus College at Cambridge University and the Quai Branly Museum in Paris last year.
These returns are likely to increase pressure on the British Museum in London, which holds by far, the largest and most significant collection of Benin bronzes.