Nigeria Receives Stolen Benin Bronzes

by Duke Magazine

After over a century, two Benin Bronzes, which were looted by British troops, have been returned to a traditional palace in Benin City, Nigeria. The artifacts were stolen from the Kingdom of Benin in modern-day Nigeria by British soldiers in 1897.

A looted bronze cockerel knew as the “Okukur” and the head of an Oba (king) were returned to the palace during a colorful ceremony in Benin City on Saturday, according to Reuters.

The two artifacts were handed over to the Nigerian High Commission in October by Cambridge University’s Jesus College and the University of Aberdeen but were yet to return to their home in Nigeria.
“They are not just art but they are things that underline the significance of our spirituality,” palace spokesman Charles Edosonmwan said of the bronzes after their return on Saturday.

Last year, Jesus College became the first U.K. institution to give back one of the artifacts known as the Benin Bronzes. The “Okukur” was given to the college in 1905 by the father of a student, according to BBC. In 2016, the college removed it from public view after students protested.

The college subsequently set up a working group that concluded that the statue belongs to the Oba of Benin, head of the historic Eweka dynasty of the Benin Empire. The empire centered on Benin City in modern-day Nigeria, according to the Associated Press.

A ceremony was later held at the college to sign the handover documents, BBC reported. In October, the college returned the looted bronze cockerel to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments. Sonita Alleyne, master of Jesus College, said at the time that returning the artifact was the “right thing to do” as it was of cultural and spiritual significance to the people of Nigeria.

The return of the two Benin bronzes comes as people call on Western countries to return artifacts looted during colonization. Benin City was the capital of 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. Two of the Benin Bronzes were in 2014 returned by a British citizen, Mark Walker, leading to calls for the repatriation of more artifacts.

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