UK museum agrees to return looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

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The Horniman Museum possesses a relatively small share of the Benin Bronzes that once decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now southwestern Nigeria…reports Asian Lite News

A museum in Britain agreed Sunday to return a collection of Benin Bronzes looted in 1897 to Nigeria.

The decision comes as European institutions come under increasing pressure to repatriate artifacts that were stolen during the colonial era.

The Horniman Museum and Gardens in London’s southeast said 72 items would be handed over to the Nigerian government. Among them are 12 brass plaques, known as Benin Bronzes, a brass cockerel altarpiece, ivory and brass ceremonial objects, brass bells and a key to the king’s palace.

The museum received a formal request from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) earlier in the year asking for the artifacts to be returned.

“The Horniman is pleased to be able to take this step, and we look forward to working with the NCMM to secure longer term care for these precious artifacts,” Eve Salomon, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, said in a statement.

“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 statement added.

The NCMM welcomed the decision and said it looked forward to “a productive discussion on loan agreements and collaborations.”

The Horniman Museum possesses a relatively small share of the Benin Bronzes that once decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now southwestern Nigeria.

Thousands of treasures, sculptures and other artworks — many of them dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries — were looted by British colonists who attacked and occupied Benin City at the end of the 19th century.

Many of these artifacts ended up in different countries. The British Museum alone holds more than 900 objects from Benin, and National Museums Scotland has another 74.

Germany has more than 1,000 of the artifacts, split between around 20 museums. Its biggest collection is held by Berlin’s Ethnological Museum, which is considered the most important outside the British Museum.

The Nigerian government has stepped up its demands in recent years for European countries to hand back the Benin Bronzes. It ultimately plans to build a museum in Benin City, in the southern Edo state, to house the recovered treasures.

Last month, Nigeria and Germany signed a deal to begin the return of hundreds of Benin Bronzes — the biggest effort yet by a European country to give back the looted artworks.

France last year handed over 26 pieces, known as the Abomey Treasures, that French forces looted from the 19th century Dahomey kingdom in present-day Benin.

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