London: A London museum has agreed to return a collection of Benin bronzes looted in the late 19th century from what is now Nigeria, as cultural institutions across the UK come under pressure to return colonial-era artefacts.
The Horniman Museum and Gardens in south-east London said it would donate the 72-item collection to the Nigerian government. The decision came after Nigeria’s National Museums and Monuments Commission formally requested the return of the artefacts earlier this year and after consultation with community members, artists and schoolchildren in Nigeria and Britain, the museum said.
“The evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired by force, and external consultation has confirmed our view that it is moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria,” the museum’s board of trustees chair, Eve Solomon, said in a statement. . “Horniman is delighted to be able to take this step, and we look forward to working with the NCMM to ensure the continued care of these precious artifacts.”
Horniman’s collection is a small part of the 3,000-5,000 artifacts removed from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897, when British soldiers attacked and occupied Benin City as Britain expanded its political and commercial influence in West Africa. The British Museum alone holds more than 900 objects from Benin, and the National Museum of Scotland holds another 74. Others have been distributed to museums around the world.
Artifacts include tablets, animal and human figures, and royal regalia made in brass and bronze by artists who worked for the Benin royal court. The general term Benin bronze is sometimes applied to works of ivory, coral, wood, and other materials, as well as to metal sculptures.
Countries including Nigeria, Egypt and Greece, and indigenous peoples from North America to Australiaare increasingly demanding the return of artifacts and human remains amid a global reappraisal of colonialism and the exploitation of local populations.
Nigeria and Germany recently signed an agreement to return hundreds of Benin bronze medals. This followed Decision of French President Emmanuel Macron last year to sign more than 26 works known as the Abomey Treasures, priceless works of art from the 19th-century kingdom of Dahomey in modern-day Benin, a small country west of Nigeria.
But British institutions were slower to react.