Connect with us

Europe

Benin Bronzes: Nigeria hails ‘great day’ as London museum signs over looted objects

News Agencies

Published

on

A square bronze pendant or ornament, one of the objects that London's Horniman Museum says was looted from Benin City by British soldiers in 1897

A square bronze pendant or ornament, one of the objects the museum says was looted from Benin City by British soldiers in 1897

A UK museum’s signing over of its collection of objects looted from the Kingdom of Benin is “a really great day”, the head of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments has told the BBC.

The Horniman Museum in south London is is returning 72 items, including so-called Benin Bronzes, to Nigerian ownership – making it the first in the UK to officially to take such action on this scale.

Prof Abba Tijani said: “Hanging on to looted objects is no longer tenable.”

Advertisement

The move adds to pressure on other museums and galleries as they grapple with the question of restitution.

Professor Abba Tijani, head of Nigeria's National Commission for museums and monuments, with Godwin Obaseki, Governor of Edo State

[L-R] Professor Abba Tijani, head of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, with Godwin Obaseki, Governor of Edo state

Nick Merriman, director of the Horniman Museum, told the BBC that after a lot of research and consultation “there was no doubt they’d been looted – so there was a moral argument for their return”.

“I think we’re seeing a tipping point around not just restitution and repatriation, but museums acknowledging their colonial history – and that’s better history, I think,” he said.

Advertisement

He added it would lead to a “fuller account of how collections have arrived in British museums”.

However, he also said it was important to note that some museums are subject to legislation which prevents them from removing items from their collections, whereas others, which are charities such as the Horniman, are allowed to do so.

London’s British Museum has 900 items from Benin, and Professor Tijani added: “I think the British Museum is watching, I believe they are now taking it deeply to see that they do something, because every museum across the world is saying it is not right for them to hang on to these objects.”

Advertisement

He said seeing some of the objects in the British Museum would “give me high blood pressure”, adding he would keep appealing to the museum to “really look at” returning artefacts, with the option to have objects on loan for display.

A brass plaque depicting Oba Orhogbua.

This plaque depicting Oba Orhogbua (circa 1550-1578) holding a staff representing authority and power is being returned

Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) has issued formal repatriation requests to museums across the world.

Advertisement

In 2026 its government will open the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City, which is being designed by the British-Ghanaian architect Sir David Adjaye, to house the largest collection of Benin Bronzes ever assembled.

The NCMM approached the Horniman in January 2022. After a consultation, and with the endorsement of the Charity Commission, the Horniman’s trustees decided it was “moral and appropriate” to hand the artworks back.

Six will return to Nigeria. For now, the rest of the collection remains in London on loan.

Advertisement

The Benin artworks were forcibly removed in 1897, in a large-scale British military expedition.

British forces attacked and occupied the city of Benin, in what is now modern-day Nigeria.

Soldiers burned and partially destroyed the Benin Royal Palace, looting and pillaging as they went. The Oba, or King, was forced into exile.

Advertisement

At the time, the violent assault was claimed to be in retaliation for an attack on a British trade mission a month earlier.

Now it is viewed by many in the wider context of Britain’s desire to break up a wealthy trading competitor and seize its assets. Benin was swallowed into Nigeria under the British Empire before Nigerian independence in 1960.

The kingdom is renowned for its complex and elaborately decorated collection of sculptures. These highly prized items were created over 600 years by specialist craftsmen working for the royal court in the kingdom’s capital.

Advertisement

They include beautiful human and animal figures, ceremonial objects made from ivory and brass, and royal regalia.

A series of plaques, known as the Benin Bronzes, which used to decorate the palace walls, are a key historic record of the court and kingdom.

A brass face or mask

A convex brass hip ornament depicting a face or mask, with an arm extending from each nostril

During the British attack, many thousands of items of huge ceremonial and ritual value were stolen. Deemed official “spoils of war”, they were brought to the UK for sale or to be distributed to soldiers who had taken part in the raid.

Advertisement

Museums in the UK, Europe and the US hold many of them. Some bid for the objects at auctions at the start of the 20th Century which were held to finance the expedition.

Two of the items being returned by the Horniman were acquired its founder Frederick Horniman a month after the attack, directly from someone personally involved in the looting. Others were purchased two years later from a local resident.

With 900 in its own collection, the British Museum has a sizeable proportion of the UK’s Benin Bronzes.

Advertisement

The Nigerian Government has been asking museums to return these important artworks since the 1930s.

Germany signed a historic agreement with Nigeria this summer to transfer ownership from its museum collections of more than 1,000 items taken from Benin. France has also returned items.

In the UK, Glasgow Life is in the process of finalising the planned return of 17 objects from Benin held in its museums.

Advertisement

Similar actions are under way in Oxford and Cambridge.

Museums are facing increasing calls to address the legacy of British colonialism and plunder.

Whether it is demands for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures (or Elgin Marbles as they were often better known) to Greece, or the fate of objects looted from Africa, conversations about repatriation and restitution are high on the agenda.

Advertisement

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has said “decisions relating to the care and management of their collections are a matter for the trustees of each museum”.

The Horniman though, which won 2022 Art Fund Museum of the Year, is not bound by the same laws as some of Britain’s national institutions.

The British Museum, for example, is banned by Parliament from “deaccessioning” items in its collections, except in very specific circumstances.

Advertisement

The museum says that would prevent it returning its Benin Bronzes to the Nigerian government, although it is part of a working group called the Benin Dialogue Group.

For the Nigerians, the Horniman agreement officially signed on 28 November creates a template for the future.

Crucially for them, this is about ownership, and 125 years after the objects were taken from Benin, the Nigerians have taken back control. Now they can decide what happens next.

Advertisement
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Advertisement

Breaking News

Editor Pick’s

Latest Entertainment

Entertainment1 hour ago

‘Flashdance’ singer Irene Cara’s cause of death revealed

Irene Cara died on Nov. 25. (Photo: Jordin Althaus/WireImage) Irene Cara, best known for her work acting in ’80s movie...

Entertainment2 hours ago

Vanessa Hudgens Is Engaged to Professional Baseball Player  Cole Tucker

Cole Tucker and Vanessa Hudgens attend the 2021 AFI Fest Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Vanessa Hudgens is officially a bride-to-be! The High...

Entertainment3 hours ago

Ex-pop star Gary Glitter freed from UK prison

LONDON (AP) — Former pop star Gary Glitter was released from prison in England on Friday after serving half of...

Entertainment4 hours ago

Joey Lawrence says the late Anne Heche was ‘an amazing light’ in his new movie ‘Frankie Meets Jack’

Joey Lawrence, the late Anne Heche and Lawrence’s wife, Samantha Cope, co-star in the new movie Frankie Meets Jack. (Photo:...

Entertainment11 hours ago

Nick Carter Countersues Women Who Accused Him of Sexual Assault: ‘Opportunists’

NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 26: Singer Nick Carter leaves the Ray Tamarra/GC Images Nick Carter is fighting back against...

Entertainment14 hours ago

Euphoria’s Chloe Cherry Facing Theft Charge for Allegedly Stealing $28 Blouse

Chloe Cherry Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Chloe Cherry has been charged with misdemeanor retail theft over an alleged incident that took place...

Entertainment15 hours ago

Dwayne Johnson Says His Mom Is ‘OK’ After Late-Night Car Accident, Will ‘Continue to Get Evaluated’

Dwayne Johnson and his mom, Ata Johnson arrive at the AFI FEST 2016 presented by Audi premiere of Disney’s “Moana”...

Entertainment15 hours ago

Bodies Believed to Belong to Rappers Missing Since Canceled Gig Found: ‘They Didn’t Deserve This’

Detroit police are searching for Armani Kelly, 38, Dante Wicker, 31 and Montoya Givens, 31 who appeared to have disappeared...

Advertisement

Latest Sports

Sports56 mins ago

Dan Orlovsky bizarrely claims Joe Montana not top-5 NFL QB all time

Dan Orlovsky unleashed a take regarding 49ers great Joe Montana that was so hot, it might have inadvertently scalded him...

Sports1 hour ago

Ford to rejoin Formula 1 in 2026 and team up with Red Bull Racing

Red Bull is currently running Honda engines under its own branding. It won the 2022 constructors' title and snapped an...

Sports2 hours ago

Brooks hits Mitchell in groin, both get ejected

Both Cavaliers star Donovan Mitchell and Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks were ejected on Thursday night after a brawl broke...

Sports2 hours ago

Will Tom Brady re-sign with the Buccaneers for cap purposes?

Tom Brady is gone from Tampa Bay. He leaves behind a championship legacy — along with a $35.1 million cap...

Sports3 hours ago

Knicks’ RJ Barrett addresses frustration with benching against Lakers

Following Thursday's win, Knicks guard RJ Barrett addressed his frustrations with being benched against the Lakers on Tuesday.

Sports3 hours ago

Mavericks star Luka Doncic injures right foot after scary fall in win over Pelicans

Luka Doncic was ruled out with a right heel contusion on Thursday night, just days after he returned from a...

Sports4 hours ago

TNT’s Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal tell Memphis Grizzlies to ‘quit talking, start playing’

On "Inside the NBA", Hall of Famers Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley had something to say about the Grizzlies talking...

Sports4 hours ago

NHL rumors: Bruins ‘believed’ to be in the market for a left defenseman

The Bruins could use some more depth on the blue line, and they reportedly are targeting a defenseman who can...

Technology Hot News

Technology2 weeks ago

Led by "Amazon" and "Microsoft" .. the technology giants are planning to lay off 64,000 employees

After 10 years of driving the stock market bull run, big tech companies are racing to downsize staff to adapt...

Technology2 weeks ago

Apple introduces MacBooks with new M2 processors

Yesterday, Tuesday, Apple unveiled MacBooks powered by the new, faster “M2 Pro” and “M2 Max” processor chips, in a surprise...

Technology2 weeks ago

All you need to know about the upcoming Galaxy S23 phones from Samsung

Samsung has officially announced that the (Galaxy Unpacked 2023) event will be held this year on Wednesday, February 1, which...

Technology2 weeks ago

FTX Exchange Announces Hacking and Stolen $415 Million in Cryptocurrency

Bankrupt American cryptocurrency firm FTX announced today, Wednesday, that $415 million in cryptocurrency has been hacked and stolen from the...

Technology2 weeks ago

Because of a "fraudulent tweet"… Elon Musk's trial begins

Elon Musk's trial began Tuesday in San Francisco with the selection of jury members who will have to decide whether...

Technology2 weeks ago

An electric spoon replaces salt and spices, but with conditions

Experts have developed an electric spoon that is able to replace spices and flavors and affect the taste buds in...

Technology3 weeks ago

The biggest dangers of using tracking devices.. so you can escape?

If you spot an unknown Bluetooth tagging device, there are ways to disable the device so it can't track your...

Technology3 weeks ago

New Twitter.. For You tab to web version

The Twitter platform announced that it will bring the new tab (For You), which launched last Tuesday for iPhones and...

Advertisement