Germany plans to return looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria in 2022, after museum experts and political leaders struck an agreement on Thursday.
Most of the priceless artefacts were looted by British forces from the Kingdom of Benin, in present-day Nigeria, in 1897 as part of a colonial conquest.
Following auctions, some of the brass, bronze and ivory sculptures and carvings ended up in museums and private collections across the world, including the British Museum in London and the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac in Paris. Berlin’s Ethnological Museum holds more than 500 artefacts from the Kingdom of Benin, most of them bronzes. Some 180 of the bronzes are due to be exhibited this year in Berlin’s Humboldt Forum, a new museum complex that opened in December.
“We want to contribute to understanding and reconciliation with the descendants of those whose cultural treasures were stolen during colonisation,” German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said.
The 16th-18th century Benin Bronzes that decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin hold deep cultural significance, and there is growing international pressure to give them back. Their exact number is unknown, though it is believed to exceed 3,000.
Scotland’s University of Aberdeen announced last month that it would imminently return a bust it had acquired in the 1950s, citing ethical concerns.
After the decision on Thursday, the next step will be to develop a road map for the return, which should be completed in the next few months. That will mean inventorying all the items by June 15, followed by a meeting on June 29 to consider the best approach.
The Benin bronzes could in the future be held at the Edo Museum of West African Art
(EMOWAA), a new museum in Benin City designed by architecture firm Adjaye Associates.
Germany says it will help fund a pavilion to hold some restituted artefacts until the museum is completed in 2025.
With reporting by DW, The Guardian