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Germany to return looted Nigerian bronzes

The government of Nigeria has said it is pleased to be receiving a returned portion of the Benin Bronzes that were said to be looted all the way back in 1897. The ancient artifacts were supposedly taken by British soldiers initially in a raid before being acquired by museum collections across the United States of America and European cultural capitals. 

The artifacts consist mainly of plaques and sculptures numbering in their thousands. The items were plundered from the old Kingdom of Benin in what is now southern Nigeria. The bronzes are not associated with Benin, the modern nation. 

The repatriation of the artifacts has been the sole work of the Benin Dialogue Group for over the last decade. The group is based in Germany but comprises partnerships from multiple European nations. German officials have been working with the Nigerian government on return of the works so they can be permanently displayed in Benin City. The exhibition is hope to be realised within the year. 

In a joint release, Germany and Nigera made the statement: “The participants are in agreement that addressing Germany’s colonial past is an important issue for the whole of society and a core task for cultural policy.” They went on to “reaffirm their willingness in principle to make substantial returns” for the majority of the artifacts – a suggestion they may wish to keep several of the pieces. A more detailed time plan for the return of the artifacts will be released after the summer. 

Nigerian institutions currently only hold 9 of the Benin Bronze artifacts, whilst 38 institutions in the USA and 45 in the UK are recorded as having a piece of the historic collection. The art and cultural world has for a long time been calling for the return of previously looted artifacts as an action of decolonization.