Nigeria Hopes the Return of Two Looted Artfacts Will Inspire the British Museum to Give the Benin Bronzes Back

A Benin Bronze plaque in the British Museum, London, collection. Photo: Michel Wal, via Wikipedia.
A Benin Bronze plaque in the British Museum, London, collection. Photo: Michel Wal, via Wikipedia.

Following the return of two Benin bronzes looted by British troops in 1897, officials in Nigeria have reiterated their call for the British Museum to relinquish its collection of bronzes and return them to their country of origin, the BBC reported (see “Benin Bronzes Looted By the British Returned to Nigeria”).

During a trade mission to Benin in 1897, seven British officials were reportedly killed by the men of the Oba, the King of Benin. In retaliation, the British killed thousands and set the city on fire in what has been described as “the most brutal massacre of the colonial era.” Following the attack, the King’s palace was looted and more than 2,000 artworks and religious artefacts seized.

The majority of the stolen artworks were taken back to Europe where they were sold or kept as souvenirs. Some 800 pieces have found their way to the collection of the British Museum, where they continue to be displayed today.

Prince Edun Akenzua, brother of the current Oba and grandson of the Oba forced to flee from the British, told the BBC, “These things that were removed were chapters of our history book. When they were made, the Benin people did not know how to write so whatever happened, the Oba instructed the bronze casters to record it.” He emphasized, “We saw the removal as a grave injustice and we are hoping that someday people will see why we are asking for these things back,” he said.

The British Museum responded that it was yet to receive an official request. It said in a statement, “As a museum of the world for the world the British Museum presents the Benin Bronzes in a global context alongside the stories of other cultures and makes these objects as available as possible to a global audience.”


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