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London museum to return trove of stolen artefacts pilfered from colonised country

Rachel Lang

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London museum to return trove of stolen artefacts pilfered from colonised country

Featured Image Credit: Horniman Museum

London's Horniman Museum has finally agreed to return dozens of artefacts that were swiped from the once-mighty kingdom of Benin by British soldiers.

The Benin Bronzes are a collection of several thousand brass and bronze plaques and sculptures that once decorated the royal palace in Benin, which is now situated in Edo State, Nigeria. 

They were swiped in 1897 during a British military incursion, along with thousands of other items. They eventually wound up in museums across Europe and in the United States.

The Benin Bronzes are considered some of Africa's most culturally significant artefacts.

Credit: Horniman Museum
Credit: Horniman Museum

Britain's tendency to nick relics of significance - like the Elgin Marbles, for example - have been a bone of contention in recent years as colonised countries call for the return of their pilfered artefacts.

Now, 125 years later, the Benin Bronzes will finally return to home soil.

Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) requested the return of the artefacts earlier this year and the Horniman has agreed to give them back.

Horniman Museum and Gardens Trustee Chair Eve Salomon confirmed the items will return to their home state in Africa.

"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," she told Reuters.

"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 artefacts."

NCMM Director-General Abba Tijani has welcomed the Horniman's decision to return the Benin Bronzes, and told Reuters that the NCMM looks forward to loan agreements and collaborations with the Horniman for future displays.

Credit: Horniman Museum
Credit: Horniman Museum

The Horniman's decision to return some of the Nigerian artefacts will likely increase the pressure on London's British Museum, where the largest collection of about 900 Benin Bronzes can be found.

The British Museum has copped a lot of flak in recent years for exhibiting 'pilfered cultural property'.

They were roasted in 2019 by leading human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, who called for museums across Europe and the US to return the treasures that were stolen by 'conquerors or colonial masters'.

"The trustees of the British Museum have become the world’s largest receivers of stolen property, and the great majority of their loot is not even on public display," Robertson said at the time, as per The Guardian.

He also slammed the museum for offering what is essentially a 'stolen goods tour', 'which stops at the Elgin Marbles, Hoa Hakananai’a, the Benin Bronzes and other pilfered cultural property'.

Topics: Art, UK News, News

Rachel Lang
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