Mon 03 May 2021:
German officials say they have reached an agreement with Nigeria to return a share of plundered artifacts known as Benin Bronzes.
Thousands of plaques and sculptures were looted from the ancient Kingdom of Benin — now southern Nigeria, not the modern nation of Benin — by British soldiers in an 1897 raid, and were ultimately acquired by museums largely in Europe and the United States.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas welcomed the agreement, reached with museums, to return the artifacts to Nigeria, calling it a “turning point in dealing with our colonial history.”
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Also, Germany’s minister for culture, Monika Gruetters, noted, “We are confronting our historic and moral responsibility.”
The first returns are planned for next year, she said.
The German officials aim to return the first of their Benin Bronzes next year, and will release more specific plans and timetables by this summer. They said they “reaffirm their willingness in principle to make substantial returns” of the artifacts, but left the door open to keeping some of them.
A British colonial expedition removed treasures from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin in 1897, including bas-reliefs and sculptures. Many of these artifacts were put on display in the British Museum, or sold to other collections.
The Ethnological Museum in Berlin exhibits one of the world’s largest collection of artifacts from the Kingdom of Benin, estimated to include about 530 items.
Activists are increasingly calling for cultural institutions to repatriate their Benin Bronzes — widely seen as a symbol of colonial conquest — to Nigeria, though few have actually done so.
The French state promised two years ago to repatriate 26 such artifacts by 2021, but, as Art News reported this month, none has permanently left the country yet.
And while the British government has said institutions should “retain and explain” controversial artifacts, some regional U.K. museums appear to disagree, as the Guardian reports.
More than 900 of these artefacts are housed in the British Museum, which has come under increasing pressure to return them in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
Historians say Benin City, formerly known as Edo, boasted earthen walls longer than the Great Wall of China.
It was also said to be one of the first cities with a form of street lighting.
British troops razed the whole city to the ground in 1897 to avenge the killing of an earlier force.
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