The Horniman Museum in London announced on Sunday that it would return to the Nigerian government 72 artifacts, including 12 brass plaques known as the Benin Bronzes, looted from Benin City by British soldiers in 1897. Created from brass and bronze in the once powerful Kingdom of Benin in what is now southwestern Nigeria since at least the 16th century, Benin bronzes are among Africa’s most culturally significant artifacts.
They were seized, along with thousands of other items, during a British military incursion, and ended up in museums in Europe and the United States. African countries have struggled for years to recover works looted by explorers and colonizers, while Western institutions grapple with the cultural legacy of colonialism. German authorities returned the first of more than 1,100 priceless sculptures to Nigeria last month, following examples set by the University of Cambridge’s Jesus College and the Quai Branly museum in Paris last year.
The Horniman said the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) requested the return of the artefacts earlier this year. “The evidence is very clear that these items were acquired by force, and an external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their property to Nigeria,” said Eve Salomon, President. trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens.
“The Horniman is pleased to be able to take this step and we look forward to working with the NCMM to ensure longer term care for these precious artifacts.” NCMM chief executive Abba Tijani welcomed the decision, saying he looked forward to discussing loan deals and collaborations with the Horniman.
The returns are likely to increase pressure on the British Museum in London, which holds by far the largest and most important collection of Benin bronzes.
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