Culture

For the first time, Ghana’s Asante King displays long-lost treasure looted by British forces in 1800s

Ghana’s Asante king Otumfuo Osei Tutu II has unveiled the long-lost treasure of the kingdom that was plundered during colonial times by British military forces.

After a decades-long wait, the British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum relinquished 32 gold and silver treasures that were looted during the Anglo-Asante Wars in the 19th century. Among the returned artifacts are the state sword referred to as Mpomponsuo and the gold badges of officials responsible for purifying the king’s soul.

There’s also a gold lute harp gifted by Asantehene Osei Bonsu to British diplomat Thomas Edward Bowdich during an 1817 trade agreement, according to RTE News.

Addressing the gathering during the event “Homecoming: adversity and Commemoration,” Otumfuo Osei Tutu II said the first exhibition of the artifacts at Manhyia Palace reflected the “soul of the Asante people”.

“(Though) not all have been returned, what we have here still embodies the soul of the Asantes,” the king said of the items looted in 1874. “So, the spirit is back here, and today is a day for Asantes, a day for the black African continent, and the spirits are back with us again today.”

In the renovated Manhyia Palace Museum in Kumasi, the heart of the Asante kingdom, the king unveiled the artifacts for public display. Each piece provided a unique window into the opulence of Asante heritage and tradition during the colonial era.

The exhibition opens to the public this week, inviting all to immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of Asante history and culture. The return of these artifacts coincides with mounting pressure on European and U.S. museums to repatriate African treasures taken during the colonial era.

Dr. Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, noted that the return of these objects, representing the profound heritage of the Asante Kingdom, aims to confront the painful history of their acquisition, marked by the wounds of imperial conquest and colonialism.

“These treasures have been witnesses to the triumphs and trials of a great kingdom, and their return to Kumasi is a testament to the power of cultural exchange and reconciliation,” he said.

The Fowler Museum in the U.S. also joined in returning seven royal artifacts to the Asante king, thus, there are now 39 items housed in the Manhyia Palace Museum, originally taken by colonial powers.

Otumfuo Osei Tutu II appointed two technical advisors, Ghanaian historian Ivor Agyeman-Duah and Scottish historian Professor Malcolm McLeod, to oversee the repatriation process.

Nigeria is also in talks to repatriate numerous artifacts dating from the 16th to 18th centuries, including metal plaques and sculptures, taken from the ancient Kingdom of Benin and currently held in museums and private collections across the U.S. and Europe.

Meanwhile, the Benin Republic has received twenty-four treasures and artworks previously looted by French colonial forces in 1892.

Stephen Nartey

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