arts

Nigeria's looted Benin bronzes returned, more than a century later

Published 20th February 2022
The Oba of Benin Kingdom, Oba Ewuare II (center) reacts after receiving repatriated artifacts on February 19, 2022.
Credit: Kola Sulaimon/AFP/Getty Images
Nigeria's looted Benin bronzes returned, more than a century later
Written by Story by Reuters
Two Benin bronzes were returned on Saturday to a traditional palace in Nigeria, more than a century after they were pillaged by British troops, raising hopes that thousands more artifacts could finally be returned to their ancestral home.
The artifacts, mostly in Europe, were stolen by explorers and colonizers from the once mighty Benin Kingdom, now southwestern Nigeria, and are among Africa's most significant heritage objects. They were created as early as the 16th century onwards, according to the British Museum.
At a colorful ceremony to mark the return of a cockerel sculpture and head of an Oba or king, spokesman Charles Edosonmwan for the Oba palace in Benin City noted that some of the bronzes were kept as far away as New Zealand, the United States and Japan.
One of the repatriated artifacts that were looted from Nigeria over 125 years ago by the British military force is placed on a table inside the Oba of Benin palace.
One of the repatriated artifacts that were looted from Nigeria over 125 years ago by the British military force is placed on a table inside the Oba of Benin palace. Credit: Kola Sulaimon/AFP/Getty Images
The two artifacts were handed over to the Nigerian High Commission in October by the University of Aberdeen and Cambridge University's Jesus College but had yet to be returned to their ancestral home.
"They are not just art but they are things that underline the significance of our spirituality," Edosonmwan said in an interview on the sidelines of a ceremony attended by traditional leaders.
The return is another milestone in the years-long fight by African countries to recover looted works, as numerous European institutions are grappling with the cultural legacies of colonialism.
Some 90% of Africa's cultural heritage is believed to be in Europe, French art historians estimate. Musée du quai Branly -- Jacques-Chirac in Paris alone holds around 70,000 African objects and London's British Museum tens of thousands more.