Germany to return Benin Bronzes to Nigeria: A new era for stolen artefacts?
DW, 01 May 2021
It's being called a game changer - and the start of a new era. Germany has promised to begin returning the artefacts known as the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria next year, making it the first country to do so.
Germany has a collection of just over 1,000 Benin Bronzes. They're on display in museums in Cologne, Dresden, Hamburg, Leipzig, and Stuttgart. The sculptures and metal plaques are from the ancient Kingdom of Benin - which is today known as Edo State in southern Nigeria. The Bronzes were looted by British soldiers in 1897 and sold to museums in North America and Europe. The largest collection of the Bronzes is held by the British Museum.
Nigeria has been trying to get the bronzes back for decades. Without success. But momentum has been building over the last few years... with calls growing ever louder for artefacts seized during the colonial era to be returned to their places of origin. Germany's culture minister explained why Berlin had decided to act now. She said:
''We are confronting our historic and moral responsibility. We want to contribute to a common understanding and reconciliation with the descendants of the people who were robbed of their cultural treasures during the times of colonialism.''
It's not just the Benin Bronzes from Nigeria that are wanted by their rightful owners. There is also a claim from Cameroon from where a special artefact known as the Tangay was stolen from a local King. More than a century later it is still in Germany. But not everyone in Cameroon is of the view that it should be brought back to the country.
In Douala, Cameroon Prince Kum'a Ndumbe III has been advocating for the return of the Tangue, a sculpture stolen from his grandfather in 1884. Prince Ndumbe has made a copy of the Tangue and put it on show in Cameroon.
The original artifact - looted by the Germans during colonial times - is on display at a museum in Munich.
But not everyone agrees that the Tangue should be immediately returned. Princess Marilyn Douala Bell is an artist and founder of an art center in Douala. Even though her great-grandfather was executed in 1914 for resisting German rule, Marilyn thinks Cameroon is not ready to receive the artefact.
Others in Douala also claim to be the rightful owners of the Tangue. At least one more descendant of a Douala King has made a claim on the artifact. For Marilyn this is a source of concern. She wants the tangue to be returned but fears the conditions are currently not right.
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