Germany agrees, in ‘historic’ deal, to return Nigeria’s looted Benin bronzes
Following in the UK’s footsteps, also Germany has now signed an agreement to transfer ownership to Nigeria of the Benin Bronzes, among Africa’s most culturally significant artifacts, looted in the 19th century.
The Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage (SPK) and Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) inked the deal on Thursday (25 August) to transfer their ownership from the Ethnological Museum collection in Berlin to Nigeria. Some 90% of Africa’s looted cultural heritage is believed to be in Europe, according to French art historians’ estimates. When British soldiers invaded the Kingdom of Benin in 1897, which was back then located in what is now southwestern Nigeria, they took hundreds of bronzes — intricate sculptures and plaques dating back to the 13th century onwards — with them and these artifacts subsequently ended up in museums around Europe and the United States.
For years, African countries fought to recover these precious artifacts pillaged by explorers and colonizers as Western institutions grappled with the cultural legacies of colonialism. Germany, which returned the first of the sculptures to Nigeria in July, has urged museums outside the country to emulate the latest agreement — hailed as the most extensive transfer of museum artifacts from a colonial context to date. Earlier this month, the Horniman Museum and Gardens in southeast London also said that it would transfer a collection of 72 items to the Nigerian government. Countries including Nigeria, Egypt and Greece, as well indigenous peoples from North America to Australia, are increasingly demanding the return of artifacts and human remains amid a global reassessment of colonialism and the exploitation of local populations.