British Museum set to return artifacts taken from the Benin kingdom nearly 2 centuries ago

The British Museum will reportedly host a summit along with other European museums to discuss the return of bronze artefacts ‘taken’ in 1897 from the Kingdom of Benin, now Southern Nigeria.

The museum will negotiate with Nigeria and Benin about returning the items which are expected to go on permanent display in Benin City.

Historical reference (From Quartz Africa):

  • In the late 19th century, Britain sought to wipe out the kingdom of Benin in what became known as the “punitive expedition.” When Oba Ovonramwen, then ruler of Benin, imposed customs duties on goods leaving the territory, Britain sent 1,200 soldiers to destroy the kingdom as a form of reparations for the colonial power.
  • The city was set on fire and hundreds of trinkets, bronze sculptures, and valuables were taken and later handed to the British government. Through trade and art dealership, these artefacts have mostly ended up in Germany and the United States.

According to the report, some of the items to be given back to Nigeria include a bronze cockerel called “Okukor”, housed at the University of Cambridge.

Why?

  • Senior curator at Swedish museum, Världskulturmuseet, Michael Barrett, told The Guardian the move is part of an effort from a “generation of curators” looking to “find ways towards reconciliation.”

However, former curator of the National Museum in Lagos, John Picton, said while the moral case for the return of the Benin’s bronze was “indisputable,” but there was a risk that removing them from European museums would take African art out of world art history.

Oba Ewuare II of Benin has urged to the British government to repatriate the bronze sculptures to the Benin Museum as it formed an important part of their history.

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