University of Cambridge to return looted Benin bronzes
University of Cambridge to return looted Benin bronzes to Nigeria
The 116 artefacts, which are mostly made of brass but also contain some ivory and wood items, were captured by British forces during the sack of Benin City in 1897.
During the attack, the British burned down the city’s palace and banished Benin’s Oba, or king, with thousands of brasses and other works – known collectively as “Benin bronzes” – which were captured and later sold in London to cover the cost of the to recoup military mission .
Considered to be of outstanding artistic quality and importance, the artifacts ended up in museums in the UK, Europe and the US, with calls for their return dating back to the mid-20th century.
The university supported a formal request by the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) earlier this year for the items to be returned.
A spokeswoman for the university said on Wednesday: “The Charity Commission has examined the return of 116 historical objects, often referred to as Benin bronzes, from the University of Cambridge’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology to the National Commission of Museums and Monuments (NCMM) and approved ) of Nigeria.
“The University is now working with the Commission to finalize the next steps regarding these Benin Bronzes and we will communicate these in due course.
“Some artifacts will remain at Cambridge on extended loan to ensure that this West African civilization continues to be represented in the museum’s exhibitions and in classroom instruction.
“Those who return physically will be transferred to the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, as required by law by the Republic of Nigeria and an approach formally endorsed by the Oba of Benin.”
Last month, the Horniman Museum in south London returned looted Benin bronzes to Nigeria, while the Wellcome Collection closed its Medicine Man gallery for “perpetuating a version of medical history based on racist, sexist and ableist theories and language”.
However, Downing Street said there were no plans to change the law preventing the British Museum from returning the Elgin marbles, also known as the Parthenon marbles, to Greece.