Benin Bronzes

Restitution: Germany set to return stolen Benin bronzes to Nigeria

*We are confronting our historic and moral responsibility, says Monika Gruetters, German Minister for Culture

Alexander Davis | ConsumerConnect

As part of its restitution plan for a substantial number of looted artifacts to be returned to the rightful owners in the West African country, Germany has said it is returning hundreds of artifacts known as the ‘Benin Bronzes’ that were mostly stolen from West Africa by a British colonial expedition, and subsequently sold to collections in the European country and other parts of the world.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, assuring of the authorities’ decision Friday, April 30, 2021, welcomed a deal reached with museums and authorities in Nigeria to work on a restitution plan for a substantial number of artifacts, calling it a “turning point in dealing with our colonial history,” agency report said.

Monika Gruetters, German Minister for Culture, said the Benin Bronzes were a key test for the way the country deals with its colonial past.

Gruetters stated: “We are confronting our historic and moral responsibility.”

The goal is to contribute to “understanding and reconciliation” with the descendants of those whose cultural treasures were stolen in colonial times, she said, adding, the first returns are planned for next year.

Meanwhile, a historian has welcomed the German plans to right the wrongs in this regard, but said they do not go far enough, reports AP.

Juergen Zimmerer, a professor of Global History at the University of Hamburg, in Germany, said: “Sadly, there is neither a precise time plan nor an unconditional commitment to restitute all looted artifacts.”

The professor noted it is not yet clear how many objects will be returned, or whether there will be any recognition of the efforts by civil society groups that had called for the restitution over time.

ConsumerConnect recalls that a British colonial expedition looted vast numbers of treasures from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin in 1897, including numerous bas-reliefs and sculptures.

Subsequently, as hundreds of artifacts ended up in the British Museum, in the United Kingdom (UK), hundreds were reportedly sold to other collections, such as the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, which has one of the world’s largest collection of historical objects from the Kingdom of Benin, estimated to include about 530 items, including 440 bronzes.

However, the British Museum does not currently have plans to return parts of its collection, according to report.

It was gathered the British Museum in a statement said: “The devastation and plunder wreaked upon Benin City (in present Edo State of Nigeria) during the British military expedition in 1897 is fully acknowledged.”

The Museum added that the circumstances around the acquisition of Benin objects are explained in gallery panels and on its Web site.

The statement noted: “We believe the strength of the British Museum collection resides in its breadth and depth, allowing millions of visitors an understanding of the cultures of the world and how they interconnect over time – whether through trade, migration, conquest or peaceful exchange.”

But Zimmerer, who has done extensive historical research on the Benin Bronzes, said the decision by Germany would likely affect the wider debate about how institutions in former colonial countries should handle such artifacts.

He explained that “the pressure will grow, because the British position of simply not addressing the issue of restitution is no longer sustainable.”

Kindly Share This Story