British museum agrees to return looted Benin bronzes to Nigeria

A handout photo provided by the Horniman Museum and Gardens shows a brass plaque depicting a war chief holding a leather gift box and a royal army priest. The Horniman Museum and Gardens in London announced Sunday that it has agreed to return a collection of Benin bronzes looted from what is now Nigeria in the late 19th century. [Horniman Museum and Gardens via AP]

A London museum on Sunday agreed to return a collection of Benin bronzes looted from what is now Nigeria in the late 19th century.

The Horniman Museum and Gardens in southeast London has announced that it will transfer 72 pieces from its collection to the Nigerian government. The decision follows a formal request by Nigeria’s National Museums and Monuments Commission earlier this year to return the artifacts and consultations with community members, artists and schoolchildren in Nigeria and the UK, the museum said. Stated.

“The evidence that these objects were acquired by force is very clear and external consultations have supported our view that it is moral and appropriate to return ownership to Nigeria.” said Yves Salomon, chairman of the museum’s board of directors. “Horniman is delighted to be taking this step and looks forward to working with the NCMM to ensure the long-term care of these precious artifacts.”

Horniman’s collection is only a small part of the 3,000 to 5,000 artifacts that were brought out of the Kingdom of Benin in 1897, and as British soldiers expanded their political and commercial influence in West Africa, they moved to Benin City. attacked and occupied The British Museum alone holds more than 900 of his objects from Benin, and the National Museum of Scotland has another 74. Others were distributed to museums around the world.

Artifacts include plaques, animal and human figures, and royal regalia made in brass and bronze by artists working in Benin’s royal palaces. The general term Benin bronze is sometimes applied to items made of carved ivory, coral, wood, other materials, and metal.

Countries such as Nigeria, Egypt and Greece, and indigenous peoples from North America to Australia, are increasingly demanding the return of their artifacts and remains amid a global reassessment of colonialism and exploitation of local populations.

Nigeria and Germany recently signed a deal to return hundreds of Benin bronzes. French President Emmanuel Macron last year unveiled more than 26 of his works, known as the Treasures of Abomey, a priceless piece of art from the 19th-century Kingdom of Dahomey, in what is now Benin, a small country west of Nigeria. decided to sign.

But British institutions have been slow to react.

The Nigerian Federal Ministry of Information and Culture formally requested the British Museum to return the Benin Bronze last October.

The museum said on Sunday it is working with a number of partners in Nigeria on a “thorough and open investigation” into the history of Benin’s antiquities and the looting of Benin City.

“The museum is committed to actively engaging with Nigerian institutions regarding the Benin Bronze, including pursuing and supporting new initiatives developed in collaboration with Nigerian partners and colleagues,” the British Museum said on its website. said on the site.

The Horniman Museum also traces its roots back to the Age of Empires.

The museum opened in 1890 to open to the public a collection of artefacts collected from around the world by tea merchant Frederick Hornimann.

Amidst the Black Lives Matter movement, the museum has embarked on a ‘Reset Agenda’ that calls for determination to “tackle long-standing issues of racism and discrimination within our history and collections and take a more sustainable path.” future. ”

The museum’s website acknowledges that Frederick Hornimann’s involvement in the Chinese tea trade helped the British sell opium in China, benefiting from lower prices due to the use of low wages and sometimes forced labor. increase.

Horniman also recognizes that he holds items “obtained through colonial violence.”

These include Hornimann’s Benin Bronze Collection. This includes 12 brass plaques, brass cockerel altars, ivory and brass ceremonial objects, brass bells, and royal keys. Bronze is now displayed with information acknowledging its forced removal from Benin City and its contested status.

“We recognize that we are at the beginning of a journey to make our stories and practices more inclusive, and we still have much work to do,” the museum said on its website. “This includes reviewing the future of collections acquired through coercive or unequal bargaining.” [AP] British museum agrees to return looted Benin bronzes to Nigeria

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