Nigerians celebrate return of art looted from Europe

the herald

ABUJA. – Nigerians celebrated the return of Beninese bronzes looted during the colonial era. It comes as African leaders push for the return of artefacts from Europe.

Two bronzes from Benin have been returned to their ancestral home 125 years after British soldiers looted them in West Africa.

A colorful ceremony marked the return of sculptures, one representing a rooster and the other the head of a king, to the Oba Palace in Benin City, Nigeria on Saturday.

“It’s not just art, but it’s things that underline the importance of our spirituality,” said Oba Palace spokesman Charles Edosonmwan.

The University of Aberdeen and Jesus College, Cambridge became the first institutions in the world to return Beninese bronzes when they returned them to the Nigerian High Commission last year.

At the time, Professor Abba Isa Tijani, Director General of the National Commission of Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, urged “other museums and institutions around the world to seize this opportunity and follow suit”.

During the colonial era, many pieces were acquired illegally and ended up in European collections. As a result, some estimate that 80-90% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s cultural heritage is found in Western museums.

The musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris alone holds around 70,000 African objects and the British Museum in London has tens of thousands more.

Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany have all received requests from African countries to return lost treasures. The return as calls grow in Africa for Western countries to return colonial remains from their museums and private collections.

Last year, Germany announced plans to return hundreds of bronzes to Nigeria.

As Nigerians hailed the return of the two bronzes to Benin City on Saturday, the president of the neighboring Benin nation, Patrice Talon, opened an exhibition of historic works of art returned by France last year.

The 26 coins were stolen in 1892 by French colonial forces from the former kingdom of Dahomey, south of present-day Benin.

The exhibition “Beninese art of yesterday and today” was to “give back to the people of Benin a part of their soul, a part of their history and their dignity”, declared the Minister of Culture Jean-Michel Abimbola.

Abimbola said discussions were underway to return other items, including the sculpture of the god Gou, which is still in the Louvre in Paris. –Reuters/AFP