Germany has returned 20 Benin Bronzes looted in the 19th Century to Nigeria following a deal made earlier this year to bring back over 1,000 of the cultural artefacts. Nigeria said in July that it was the first time a European country had signed this kind of deal, BBC reported.
At a ceremony in the capital, Abuja, on Tuesday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said returning this set of Benin Bronzes was part of efforts to confront its colonial past.
“Today, we are here to return the Benin Bronzes to where they belong, to the people of Nigeria,” Baerbock said during the official handover in Abuja. “We are here to right a wrong,” she added. An ivory carving, a decorated plaque and some iconic ceremonial heads were among the artefacts returned, BBC reported.
The return of the artefacts comes amid calls on Western countries to return artifacts looted during colonization. Benin City was the capital of the Benin Kingdom, one of the most highly developed states in Africa, when it was ransacked and burnt down in 1897 by British forces. Its destruction in what became known as the Benin Expedition of 1897 led to the fall of the once successful and well-recognized Benin Kingdom located in what is now southern Nigeria.
Britain’s punitive expedition did not only lead to the deaths of gallant chiefs but also took away various works of art including Ivory and bronze works. Today, most of these works of art are held in prominent museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum. Some were bought by German collectors and the country has been holding around 1,100 of the 5,000 that were looted.
“Twenty years ago, even 10 years ago, nobody could have anticipated these bronzes returning to Nigeria, because the obstacles to achieving repatriation were seemingly insurmountable,” Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s minister of information and culture, said at the handover. “But today, with the pioneering gesture of a friendly nation, Germany, the story has changed.”