By Jutta Wolf
BERLIN (IDN) — Germany has taken a historic step toward addressing colonial injustice. It has agreed to return valuable bronzes to Nigeria. More than 1100 fascinating bronzes pillaged from the former Kingdom of Benin (today’s Nigeria) are stored for some 125 years in the stockrooms and collections of 20 German museums. These are not only magnificent artefacts. They are some of Africa’s greatest treasures.
The works originate from the Royal Palace of the Oba of Benin, which was razed to the ground by British soldiers in 1897. Experts believe that more than 5000 bronzes were stolen and illegally brought to Europe. The proceeds from the subsequent sale of the stolen artworks helped to finance the high costs of the expeditions of the day.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Claudia Roth, signed an agreement in Berlin on July 1 with Nigeria’s Minister of Culture Lai Mohammed and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Zubairu Dada, to begin the return of two Benin bronzes.
These bronzes were carried to Berlin by the German consul and businessman Eduard Schmidt at the end of the 19th century. He bought these in Lagos.
Baerbock said: “Today we have reason to celebrate, because we have reached a historic agreement: the Benin Bronzes are returning home. But they also tell a story of colonial violence. This is a story of European colonialism. We should not forget that Germany played an active role in this chapter of history.”
She added: “We state clearly: The Head of a King belongs to the people of Nigeria. But this is just the beginning.” It was wrong to take the Bronzes, and it was wrong to keep them for more than 120 years.
The German Foreign Minister wants, “this occasion to be more than just a fleeting moment. We want it to usher in a new era of cooperation between our two countries”.
Accordingly, Germany and Nigeria have agreed to foster museum cooperation and join forces on archaeological projects so that people from both countries can appreciate pieces like the ones we see here today.
Germany is assisting Nigeria in establishing a new museum in Benin City, which will also display Benin Bronzes in the future. It is no coincidence that “this historic agreement” with Nigeria has been achieved. The West African country is Germany’s “key strategic partner” in Africa. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 July 2022]
Image: Two bronzes are being returned today: Commemorative head of a king; King with four attendants © Ethnological Museum of the National Museums in Berlin; Claudia Obrocki, Martin Franken
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