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Germany returns ownership of bronzes to Nigeria

August 25, 2022

Over 500 pieces will be returned under the deal. The artifacts were looted by British soldiers in the 1800s and sold all over Europe.

Benin Bronzes from Nigeria
Three of the bronzes that will be returned under the dealImage: Louisa Off/REUTERS

A German arts and history foundation on Thursday signed an agreement with to transfer ownership of the Benin Bronzes from the Ethnological Museum in Berlin back to Nigeria.

The deal between the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage (SPK) and Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) covers 512 objects in the museum's collection.

"This represents the future concerning the artifacts issue, a future of collaboration among museums, a future of according respect and dignity to the legitimate requests of other nations and traditional institutions," NCMM's Abba Isa Tijani said.

He urged museums outside of Germany to emulate the agreement. French art historians have estimated that some 90% of Africa's cultural heritage is believed to be in Europe.

The Benin Bronzes are coming home!

The pieces are intricate plaques and sculptures made of bronze, an important type of artwork from the region since at least the 13th century.

The works in question were stolen from the Kingdom of Benin, located in what is now southwestern Nigeria, by British soldiers in 1897 and ended up in museums all over Europe.

Germany already began repatriating other artifacts to Nigeria earlier this year. Under the deal signed Thursday, several pieces will stay on loan to Berlin for several years.

Slow progress

Culture Commissioner Claudia Roth said it was an example for museums in Germany with colonial-era collections and that further agreements would follow in coming months.

After decades of formerly colonized countries demanding the return of looted artifacts, European countries have only recently begun to return some of the items.

Earlier this month, London's Horniman Museum said it would return 72 artifacts, including 12 brass plaques, to the Nigerian government, following a similar move by a Cambridge University college and a Paris museum last year.

There have also been complaints that bureaucratic hurdles are slowing down the process considerably.

Theft or performance?

es/fb (AFP, Reuters, dpa)