The Benin Bronze, one of thousands looted by British troops in 1897, will be handed over to a Nigerian delegation by scotland’s university on Thursday, making it the third European institution in two days to return cultural artefacts to their African homelands.
The sculpture depicts an Oba, or king, of the once powerful Kingdom of Benin, located in what is now Nigeria. The bronzes stolen from its royal court are one of Africa’s most significant heritage objects, and they are most often found in Europe.
The bronze head was purchased by the University of Aberdeen at an auction in 1957. Following a recent review of its provenance, which revealed it was one of the looted items, the university approached the Nigerian authorities to offer to give it over.
“The Benin Bronzes have become significant symbols of injustice over the last 40 years,” said Professor George Boyne, principal and vice-Chancellor of the university, in a statement before he handed over control of responsibility to the University.
It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural value that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances,” he added.
The present Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, said the bronzes were “imbued with the spirit of the people from whom they were taken”, adding that he hopes the Scottish university’s “noble act” will inspire other institutions to follow suit.
On Wednesday, a Cambridge University college returned another Benin Bronze to Nigeria, while the Quai Branly museum handed over 26 artefacts stolen in 1892 to the republic of Benine, which is based in France and borders Nigeria.
The handovers are the clearest sign yet of a rising tide towards the return of artefacts taken away from Africa by Europeans during the colonial period. Germany has agreed to return Benin Bronzes held in its museums next year.
The returns are likely to put additional strain on the British Museum in London, which holds the most extensive and significant collection of Benin Bronzes. — Reuters