Colonial art: Cambridge hands over looted bronze to Nigeria

LONDON , -- On Wednesday, a college at Cambridge University handed over a bronze cockerel that was stolen from Africa in 19 century to Nigerian authorities. This is part of a modest but growing effort by some European countries to restore African art lost to colonial powers.

Colonial art: Cambridge hands over looted bronze to Nigeria

LONDON , -- On Wednesday, a college at Cambridge University handed over a bronze cockerel that was stolen from Africa in 19 century to Nigerian authorities. This is part of a modest but growing effort by some European countries to restore African art lost to colonial powers.

Jesus College is the first U.K. institution that has returned one of the artifacts known by the Benin Bronzes. Sonita Alleyne, a college master, described Wednesday's ceremony as a "momentous event."

The Okukor statue was taken by British colonial troops in 1897 from the Court of Benin, Nigeria. It was one of thousands of artifacts that were seized during occupying forces. It was then given to the college in 1905.

After students protested, the college removed the bronze from view in 2016. They claimed it was a colonial narrative. A working group was formed by the college that determined the statue belonged to the Oba, the head of the historical Eweka dynasty in the Benin Empire. The capital of the empire was Benin City, modern-day Nigeria.

His Royal Majesty Oba of Benin Omo N'Oba N'Edo Uku Akpolokpolo II, welcomed the handover decision. He stated that he hoped others would speed up the return of his artworks which are often of religious significance to him.

Many of the seized Benin Bronzes were eventually deposited in London's British Museum, while hundreds more were sold off to other collections like the Ethnological Museum Berlin. Germany stated this year that it would return all items in its possession.

Monday's announcement by the British Museum indicated that it was working with Nigeria to create a museum in West Africa. This will allow Benin to "reunite Benin artifacts from international collections." It also said Monday that the British Museum is in negotiations with Nigeria to collaborate on the construction of the museum.

These returns are controversial in Europe where many museums have works from colonial times.

France's president announced Wednesday that 26 colonial-era artifacts were being returned home to France. These items included some of the 90,000 African artworks currently held in French museums.

The "Abomey Treasures", a collection of wooden anthropomorphic statues and royal thrones, as well as sacred altars, were stolen by the French army 129 year ago. They are currently on display at Paris and will be handed to Benin on November 9.

The exhibit was visited Wednesday by President Emmanuel Macron and Aurelien Agbenonci (Benin Foreign Minister). They called it a "historical moment".

The foreign minister described his efforts for years to get the work back and said that "No one could predict this happy outcome...given how many obstacles were."

He said that the 26 works were "an undeniable component of the cultural identity and religion of our country", calling the restitution a crucial step towards Benin's efforts in developing its cultural sector and creating jobs.

Macron, the first French president, called for the systematic restitution colonial art. However, he acknowledged that only two items had been returned to Madagascar: a sword to Senegal and a sword to Senegal. To make the handover of such art smoother, Macron called for "a law to create a long term framework for restitution."

These works will be returned home. Macron stated that they will find the men or women who can understand the power behind these works. Their return home is their rightful return home.

Updated Date: 10 November 2021, 11:41

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