Germany to return Benin statues to Nigeria

Germany to return Benin statues to Nigeria

Germany is set to return hundreds of bronze busts from the Kingdom of Benin - an old kingdom that was located in what is now southwestern Nigeria - back to their place of origin. The statues and a myriad of other artefacts are currently on display at the Ethnological Museum of Berlin.

Benin statues on display in the Humboldt Forum

Located in the East Wing of the Humboldt Forum, the Ethnological Museum of Berlin holds an eclectic collection of artefacts and art from places as diverse and far-ranging as the Sepik River in New Guinea, the Pacific Coast of North America, Hawaii, Mesoamerica and Africa.

Artefacts from the Kingdom of Benin, an old kingdom within what is now Nigeria and one of the African cultures represented in the museum, are currently on display across two rooms in the Forum. Benin artwork is often characterised by distinctive bronze statues, thousands of which can be found in museums around Europe, after being looted by the British at the end of the 19th century.

Around 530 artefacts from the Kingdom of Benin are currently being held in the museum in Berlin, including around 440 bronzes. Two thrones and a bust of a Benin monarch, which once adorned the royal palace in Benin City, are also included in the collection. This collection is considered to be the second largest in the world, only behind the British Museum in London.

Germany to return Benin artefacts to Nigeria

The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), which owned the museum’s collection, has transferred the property rights for the collection to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM). Most of the artefacts will soon be returned to Nigeria, where the construction of a museum in Benin City to house the pieces is being planned. Around a third of the artefacts will remain in Germany for a loan period of 10 years; 40 of them will remain on display, while the rest will be studied by researchers.

Germany has faced criticism in recent years over the origin of its museum collections, a lot of which include artefacts stolen during the colonial era. This was amplified after the initial opening of the new Humboldt Forum, which is in the Berlin Palace. The palace itself was the former residence of the House of Hohenzollern, which ruled Germany during the colonial era.

Taking responsibility for colonialism

The return of Benin artefacts is just one in a series of attempts made by Germany recently to make up for its colonial past. In May last year, Germany recognised the genocide it committed in Namibia, and pledged more than 1 billion euros to support infrastructure projects in the southern African country. 23 artefacts were also recently repatriated to Namibia. "When it comes to colonial injustice, I think we're on the right path," said Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, according to DW.

Other countries have also committed to returning stolen artefacts, with France returning 26 Benin artefacts to Nigeria at the end of last year. Pressure is growing on museums around Europe to follow suit, particularly the British Museum, which houses around 700 Benin bronzes, and a vast collection of artefacts from countries all over the world.

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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