Horniman Museums and Gardens
A British museum says it will return dozens of artifacts to the Nigerian government that were taken by force more than a century ago.
The Horniman Museum and Gardens in London plans to hand over 72 objects – which notably include a body of sculptures known as Benin bronzes – looted from Benin City in southern Nigeria during a British military invasion in 1897, according to the museum’s Board of Trustees.
“The evidence is very clear that these objects were obtained by force, and external consultation has supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria,” Eve Salomon, chairman of the board, said in a statement. news release said.
Horniman Museum and Gardens
The museum agreed to return the artifacts after receiving a request in January from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, a Nigerian body that oversees the preservation of the country’s historical and cultural properties.
The Horniman said he has carefully researched the objects in his possession that originate from the kingdom of Benin – an ancient region separate from modern-day Benin – to identify those that pertain to the NCMM’s request.
The artifacts to be returned include 12 copper plates – better known as Benin bronzes – ceremonial objects, brass bells, everyday items from the period such as fans and baskets, and a key “to the king’s palace.”
Despite their name, Benin bronzes are a series of thousands of sculptures and plaques made mostly of copper, reported The New York Times. The elaborate works once decorated the king’s palace in the ancient Kingdom of Benin.
“We very much welcome this decision by the Trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens,” Abba Tijani, NCMM’s director general, said in the news release.
He added that he looked forward to future collaboration between his organization and the Horniman, including the possibility of lending artefacts to the British Museum.
The agreement is part of a larger effort to repatriate African artifacts looted during Europe’s colonial conquests. Many of the objects ended up in museums across Europe and the U.S. As NPR reported, some museums have not followed through on similar promises to return artifacts.