‘A Historic Moment’: The Netherlands Is Repatriating Nearly 500 Cultural Artifacts to Indonesia and Sri Lanka

The Rijksmuseum is also restituting works for the first time in its history.

Cannon, from before 1745. Photo: Rijksmuseum.

The Netherlands is taking its first steps in repatriating stolen objects to two of its former colonies. The European nation announced on Thursday, July 6, that it plans to return 478 cultural artifacts to Indonesia, at the country’s request. A further six colonial objects are being returned to Sri Lanka by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, marking the first restitution in the institution’s history.

Most notably, the Dutch government is restituting a hoard of precious jewellery, gold, and silver known as the “Lombok treasure” to Indonesia. These objects were stolen as war booty in 1894, when Dutch troops seized and destroyed a Balinese palace during a brutal attack on the island of Lombok.

Other objects that are being handed over to Indonesia include a “keris” dagger from the Klungkung kingdom, four statues from the 13th century Javanese Hindu kingdom of Singasari, and the Pita Maha collection that contains 132 pieces of modern Balinese art.

In 2020, the Advisory Committee on the Return of Cultural Objects from Colonial Contexts advised the Dutch government that, in the event that a former colony requests the return of a looted cultural object, it should comply “unconditionally.”

“This is a historic moment,” said the Dutch state secretary Gunay Uslu. “It’s the first time we’re following recommendations of the committee to give back objects that should never have been brought to the Netherlands.”

Items from the Lombok Treasure. A collection of jewels, precious stones and silver taken as war booty from the island of Lombok. Dated 1894. Photo: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

Additionally, the Rijksmuseum is repatriating part of its collection for the first time. It initiated research into the provenance of its colonial-era objects in 2017 and announced that it was in dialogue with their countries of origin in 2019. In turn, Sri Lanka called for the return of six objects: a magnificent cannon dating from before 1745, two guns, two sabres, and a knife.

The Cannon of Kandy has been in the Rijksmuseum’s collection since 1800, having been looted by the Dutch East India Company in 1765. Due to its ceremonial function, it is adorned with rich ornament of silver and gold with inlaid rubies and decorative symbols referring to the Sinhalese monarchy of the Kingdom of Kandy.

“The relationship and exchanges of knowledge built up between the two nations [Sri Lanka and the Netherlands] in the fields of research and common history constitute a strong foundation for the future,” said the Rijksmuseum’s general director Taco Dibbits in a press statement.

A news release by the Dutch government has also made clear that this restitution effort “forms the basis for further cooperation between the two countries.”

 

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