Benin-(Berberanews)-More than a century after they were pillaged by British forces, two Benin bronzes have been returned to a traditional palace in Nigeria, raising hopes that thousands more relics would be returned to their ancestral land.
The relics were plundered from the Benin Kingdom, now southwestern Nigeria, by explorers and colonisers and are among Africa’s most important heritage objects.
According to the British Museum, they were constructed as early as the 16th century.
Palace spokesperson Charles Edosonmwan claimed some of the bronzes had been brought as far afield as New Zealand, the United States, and Japan at a colorful ceremony in Benin City on Saturday to mark the return of a cockerel sculpture and the head of an Oba (king).
The University of Aberdeen and Cambridge University’s Jesus College handed over the two antiques to the Nigerian High Commission in October, but they have yet to return to their native country.
In an interview on the sidelines of a ceremony attended by traditional authorities, Edosonmwan remarked, “They are not simply art, but they are things that underpin the essence of our spirituality.”
The return represents a watershed moment in Africa’s years-long quest to reclaim plundered art, as several European institutions grapple with colonialism’s cultural legacies.
According to French art historians, 90 percent of Africa’s cultural heritage is believed to be in Europe.
The Musee du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris alone houses 70,000 African artifacts, with the British Museum in London housing tens of thousands more.