British and French institutions begin returning looted African artefacts

2021-10-28 11:05:23
British and French institutions begin returning looted African artefacts

A British university and a French museum on Wednesday returned cultural artifacts looted during the colonial era from the Kingdom of Benin, located in what is now Nigeria in West Africa.

The move sets a precedent that will pressure other Western institutions to return similarly stolen works, Reuters said in a report.

Cambridge University in England, returned a sculpture of a cockerel taken by British troops in 1897, one of hundreds of bronzes pillaged from the once powerful Kingdom of Benin. The Benin Bronzes are among Africa's most culturally significant artefacts.

"This is the right thing to do out of respect for the unique heritage and history of this artefact," said Sonita Alleyne, Master of Jesus College ahead of a ceremony at which the cockerel was handed over to a Nigerian delegation.

After being looted, the artefact was given to Cambridge University in 1905 by the father of a student.

In Paris, the Quai Branly museum handed over to the republic of Benin 26 artefacts stolen in 1892. They are among 5,000 works requested by the West African country, which borders Nigeria.

The handovers mark a milestone in the years-long fight by African countries to recover works pillaged by explorers and colonisers, at a time when numerous European institutions are grappling with the cultural legacies of colonialism.

Some 90% of Africa's cultural heritage is believed to be in Europe, French art historians estimate. Quai Branly alone holds around 70,000 African objects and London’s British Museum tens of thousands more.

Germany has agreed to start returning Benin Bronzes held in its museums next year. Britain's University of Aberdeen said it would return a Benin Bronze that depicts the head of an Oba (king) on Thursday. It had purchased the sculpture at an auction in 1957, it said.

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