Germany to return looted bronzes to Nigeria next year

The 16th-18th century metal plaques and sculptures are some of the most highly regarded works of African art

File photo: A view of the Benin bronze depicting the Oba of Benin is seen at The Sir Duncan Rice Library, the University of Aberdeen, in Aberdeen, Scotland. Reuters
File photo: A view of the Benin bronze depicting the Oba of Benin is seen at The Sir Duncan Rice Library, the University of Aberdeen, in Aberdeen, Scotland. Reuters

Germany plans to hand back ancient pillaged artworks known as the Benin bronzes to Nigeria next year, Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said on Thursday.

Most European former colonial powers in recent years have begun a process of considering the return of looted artefacts to the former colonies, especially in Africa.

"We want to contribute to understanding and reconciliation with the descendants of those whose cultural treasures were stolen during colonisation," Ms Gruetters said.

"We expect the first returns to take place in the year 2022."

The 16th-18th century metal plaques and sculptures that decorated the royal palace of Benin are among the most highly regarded works of African art.

They are scattered around European museums after being looted by the British at the end of the 19th century.

The Ethnological Museum in Berlin has 530 historical objects from the ancient kingdom, including 440 bronzes. It is considered to be the most important collection outside London's British Museum.

About 180 of the bronzes are due to be exhibited this year in Berlin's Humboldt Forum, a new museum complex that opened in December.

Nigeria's ambassador to Germany, Yusuf Tuggar, had called for the bronzes to be returned.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Berlin was "working with those involved in Nigeria and in Germany" on the future of the objects, which he called "a question of justice".

"An honest approach to colonial history also includes the question of restitution of cultural assets," Mr Maas said.

Last month the University of Aberdeen in Scotland agreed to return a Benin bronze sculpture to Nigeria, saying it was acquired by British soldiers in 1897 in "reprehensible circumstances".

That decision raised pressure on other establishments, including the British Museum, to follow suit.

The British Museum is reportedly considering lending its bronzes to Nigeria.

Nigeria plans to build a museum in Benin city to house looted artefacts after they are returned, in a €3.4 million ($4.1m) scheme in which the British museum will take part.

Late last year France approved the restitution of 26 items from the kingdom of Benin, which were pillaged in 1892.

Updated: April 30, 2021 02:35 AM

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