The University of Aberdeen will return a controversial bronze from Benin after a review found the item had been acquired in an “extremely immoral” manner, as the Nigerian government asks other British museums to re-evaluate their collections.
The bronze, representing the Oba, or King of Benin, was part of a loot of thousands of items taken when British forces sacked the city of Benin in southeastern Nigeria in 1897, and will be returned “in a few weeks,” according to University.
In a statement, the institution, which has held the bronze since 1957, said that the “punitive expedition” of 1897 was one of “the most notorious examples of the looting of cultural treasures associated with the European colonial expansion of the 19th century.”
Professor George Boyne, the university’s principal and vice-chancellor, said the decision was in line with “Aberdeen’s values as an international and inclusive university,” adding that maintaining the bust would have been wrong because it was “acquired under such reprehensible circumstances. “. .
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, said the move was a step in the right direction. “Other holders of Nigerian antiquity should emulate this to bring justice to the burning issue of repatriation,” he added.
The news comes the same week that Germany confirmed that it was repatriating several bronzes that remain in its collections.
Berlin is negotiating the return of the 440 bronzes kept in its Ethnological Museum, and the agreement reportedly includes training for Nigerian museum staff, archaeological excavations, and assistance in the construction of a new museum in Benin that has been designed by the Ghanaian architect. British. David Adjaye.
On Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the repatriation issue was part of an “honest engagement with colonial history”, adding: “It is a question of justice.”
The German position contrasts with the British position on bronzes and artifact repatriation from the colonial era more broadly.
The British government has consistently refused to consider repatriation despite several decades of pressure, including a sustained campaign by the Labor MP. Bernie Grant in the 1990s.
Individuals and other British institutions have pledged to return the bronzes. Jesus College in Cambridge said it would return a bronze rooster taken by British colonial forces in 1897 after a student-led campaign that began in 2016.
In 2019, Mark Walker, the grandson of a British soldier who was part of the punitive expedition, loaned two wooden ceremonial oars to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, which will eventually return them to the royal court of Benin.
The British Museum, which has the largest collection of Benin bronzes in the world, said it fully acknowledges the “devastation and looting” of the British in Benin City.
“We believe that the strength of the British Museum collection lies in its breadth and depth, enabling millions of visitors to understand the world’s cultures and how they interconnect over time, whether through trade, migration, conquest or peaceful exchange, “said a spokesman. additional.
Professor Dan Hicks, curator of world archeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum and author of The Brutish Museums: the Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution, said the results focus on the other British museums that currently have bronzes. “In the past, the British Museum has taken up too much space in this conversation,” he said.
“Responsibilities and decisions lie in the vast majority of cases with the fiduciary bodies, [and] what we are seeing now is the beginning of new local conversations led by the public, communities and stakeholders. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism