Two Benin bronzes have been returned to a traditional palace in Nigeria, more than a century after they were pillaged by British troops, raising hopes that thousands more artefacts could finally be returned to their ancestral home.
The artefacts, mostly in Europe, were stolen by explorers and colonisers from the Benin Kingdom, now southwestern Nigeria, and are among Africa’s most significant heritage objects.
They were created as early as the 16th century, according to the British Museum.
At a colourful ceremony in Benin City on Saturday to mark the return of a cockerel sculpture and head of an Oba (king), palace spokesman Charles Edosonmwan said some of the bronzes had been taken as far away as New Zealand, the United States and Japan.
The two artefacts were handed over to the Nigerian High Commission in October by the University of Aberdeen and Cambridge University’s Jesus College but have yet to return to their ancestral home.
“They are not just art but they are things that underline the significance of our spirituality,” Edosonmwan said in an interview on the sidelines of a ceremony attended by traditional leaders.
The return is another milestone in the years-long fight by African countries to recover looted works, as numerous European institutions are grappling with the cultural legacies of colonialism.
Some 90 percent of Africa’s cultural heritage is believed to be in Europe, French art historians estimate.
Musee du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris alone holds about 70,000 African objects and London’s British Museum tens of thousands more.