In Pics: Germany Returns Over 20 Artefacts Looted In 19th Century To Nigeria

An agreement of intent to return Benin bronzes to Nigeria was signed on July 1, 2022.

Benin bronzes that were taken from the ancient Kingdom of Benin and lost for centuries are now being returned to their original place by the government of Germany. These valuable heritage artefacts were taken from Benin, which is now southern Nigeria, not the modern nation of Benin, by British troops in the late 19th century. These historic statues, idols, and jewellery were bought by German customers and ultimately ended up in numerous German museums. The German government has decided to return the cultural treasures to Nigeria after careful consideration.

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Photo Credit: AFP

Thousands of 16th to 18th century metal plaques, sculptures and objects hailed as some of the finest African art were ransacked by British forces from the ancient Kingdom of Benin and ended up in museums and art collections across the US and Europe.

Germany’s return of part of the hundreds of bronzes it still holds comes as international momentum grows for the restoration of African artefacts from other former colonial powers Britain, France and Belgium.

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Photo Credit: AFP

German Foreign minister Annalena Baerbock travelled to Nigeria’s capital Abuja to personally hand over the objects, which included figureheads and other artefacts.

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Photo Credit: AFP

“What we are returning is a part of your history, what we are returning is a part of who you are,” Baerbock said at the ceremony with Nigerian officials.

“We are here to right a wrong.”

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Photo Credit: AFP

Many of the Nigerian artefacts were originally taken in 1897, when a British military expedition attacked and destroyed Benin City, making off with thousands of metal and ivory sculptures and carvings.

A new online archive “Digital Benin” (https://digitalbenin.org/) has started to provide a centralised hub of images and descriptions of more than 5,000 artefacts held in 131 institutions around the world.

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Photo Credit: AFP

The project, which began planning and research two years ago, was launched last month in Benin City, in southern Nigeria’s Edo State, the heart of the former Benin Kingdom.

Nigeria’s neighbour Benin earlier this year inaugurated an exhibition of artworks and treasures returned by France after two years of negotiations.

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Germany’s Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock sits next to Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama (R), during the handing over of the Benin bronzes.
Photo Credit: AFP

Those 26 pieces were stolen in 1892 by French colonial forces from the capital of the former Kingdom of Dahomey.

The Kingdom of Benin, which despite its name was located in what is now southwest Nigeria, traces its roots back to the first century BC.

It expanded through military conquest and commerce, which with the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century developed into trade in slaves, ivory and spices.

(With inputs from AFP)

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