The London-based Museum plans to return some 72 artefacts looted from Nigeria in the 19th century. It is the first government-sponsored museum in the UK to do so.
Following requests from NCMM, the Horniman Museums has agreed to return some 72 artefacts to Nigeria. Some of the items include 12 brass plaques, also known as the Benin bronzes, a brass cockerel, and a key to the king’s palace.
The museum says it has consulted with visitors, students, academics, community members, and artists based in Nigeria and UK. The museum considered all of their views on the future of the Benin objects. It is moral and appropriate to return them.
Artefacts were Largely Acquired by Force: Horniman Museum
The evidence shows that these objects were acquired through force. Also, external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return them. Horniman is pleased to be able to take this step. We look forward to working with the NCMM to secure longer-term care for these precious artefacts, said Eve Salomon, the chair of the museum.
The Benin Bronzes from Horniman are the latest artefacts western museums are returning to Nigeria. In 1897, British forces looted some 10,000 objects during their raid of Benin. Most of these artefacts are held in British museums and private collections.
Horniman Not the Only Institution to Return Stolen Artefacts
Last month Jesus College in Cambridge and Aberdeen University returned a Cockerel sculpture and the bust of a king. Oxford and Cambridge Universities have also announced to return some 200 articles to Nigeria. So far Horniman’s decision has made it the first government-sponsored museum to return stolen artefacts.
In recent years, political pressure has increased on western countries to return items stolen during the colonial age. Germany has returned about 1,100 artefacts to the west-African country. The NCMM has welcomed the decision saying it looks forward to a “discussion on loan agreements and collaborations.” It currently plans to send some of the exhibits to the museum of Benin. It may send the rest of the collection to the museum in Lagos.
Currently, the British Museum holds the largest number of Benin Bronzes in the UK. According to the Guardian, the British Museum alone holds 900 objects, the largest in the world. While there are demands for their return to Nigeria, the British Museum says it cannon return them permanently. The British Museum Act of 1963 and the National Heritage Act of 1983 prevent it from returning such items.
Immensely Significant: Prof Dan Hicks (London)
Prof. Dan Hicks, professor of contemporary Archaeology at the University of Oxford has described the announcement as “immensely significant”. The decision “ comes hot on the heels of the announcement from Oxford and Cambridge. They were the largest commitment we’d seen from the UK so far,” he said.
“ What’s important about the Horniman news is the nature of the museum- their relationship in terms of the funding arrangement. And it’s a significant London museum. Up until now, it had been individual objects one at a time, in stark contrast to the over 1,100 that have been committed to being returned by the German government,” Hicks added.
(Inputs, BBC, the Guardian)