A civil rights group in the United States has petitioned the United Kingdom’s Charity Commission to reject the repatriation of looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria because the West African nation also “profited from slavery.”
According to The Telegraph, the petition from the New York-based Restitution Study Group comes after the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge announced their intention to return the prized Bronzes to Nigeria. But the artworks can only be returned after the Charity Commission gives the green light.
British forces looted the artworks during an 1897 raid in the Kingdom of Benin. The city is situated in what is now known as Nigeria. The Restitution Study Group, which undertakes legal initiatives to have descendants of African slaves receive reparations, said it wants the Bronzes to remain in UK museums.
“We ask that you reject any request to transfer them to Nigeria,” the group wrote in a letter to the Charity Commission.
“The Kingdom of Benin, through Nigeria, would be unjustly enriched by repatriation of these relics. Black people do not support slave trader heirs just because they are black. Nigeria and the Kingdom of Benin have never apologised for enslaving our ancestors,” the group added.
“We ask that you not approve the transfer of these relics.”
The Kingdom of Benin was involved in the slave trade before the city’s ultimate collapse. European and American slave traders purchased enslaved people from the kingdom. The kingdom also used the earnings it received from the trade to make Bronzes that were used to adorn its royal palace.
Nigeria has been calling on museums that have the looted Bronzes to return them. This campaign has resulted in Oxford, Cambridge, and London’s Horniman Museum deciding to repatriate the artworks, The Telegraph reported. The Charity Commission must, however, officially approve their return.
But the Restitution Study Group says the artworks shouldn’t be returned because museums in Nigeria would make profits off items that were made with earnings from the slave trade. Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, who is the group’s leader, said the Bronzes should remain in Western museums as they would be more accessible to diasporic descendants of slaves. Farmer-Paellmann claimed that would also afford them education about the slave trade.
The group’s leader also argued diasporic descendants of slaves should have co-ownership of the prized Bronzes because they were made off earnings from the slave trade.
“We want France, UK, USA and other museums to know they should keep the Benin Bronzes for the real victims, the descendants of the enslaved who paid for them with their lives, not the slave traders’ descendants,” she said.