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A London museum agrees to return more than 70 pieces of looted Nigerian art

The Horniman Museum's collection of artifacts from the ancient kingdom of Benin includes 12 brass plaques, ceremonial objects and a key 'to the king's palace'.
Horniman Museums and Gardens
The Horniman Museum's collection of artifacts from the ancient kingdom of Benin includes 12 brass plaques, ceremonial objects and a key 'to the king's palace'.

A British museum says it will return dozens of artifacts to the Nigerian government that were taken forcibly more than a century ago.

The Horniman Museum and Gardens in London plans to hand over 72 objects — which notably include a share of sculptures known as Benin bronzes — that were looted from Benin City in southern Nigeria during a British military invasion in 1897, according to the museum's Board of Trustees.

"The evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired through force, and external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria," the board's chair Eve Salomon said in a news release.

A work known as Oku'Oba (Oba's Emissary) from the Horniman Museum's collection is pictured.
/ Horniman Museum and Gardens
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Horniman Museum and Gardens
A work known as Oku'Oba (Oba's Emissary) from the Horniman Museum's collection is pictured.

The museum agreed to return the artifacts after receiving a request in January from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, a Nigerian body that oversees the preservation of the country's historic and cultural properties.

The Horniman said it carefully researched the objects in its possession that originated from the kingdom of Benin — an ancient region separate from modern-day Benin — to identify which pertain to the NCMM's request.

The artifacts that will be returned include 12 brass plaques — better known as Benin bronzes — ceremonial objects, brass bells, commonplace items from the time like fans and baskets, and a key "to the king's palace."

Despite their name, Benin bronzes are a series of thousands of sculptures and plaques that are mostly made of brass, reported The New York Times. The elaborate works once adorned the king's palace in the ancient Kingdom of Benin.

"We very much welcome this decision by the Trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens," Abba Tijani, NCMM's director-general, said in the news release.

He added that he looks forward to future collaborations between his organization and the Horniman, including the possibility of lending artifacts to the British museum.

The agreement is part of a larger effort to repatriate African artifacts plundered during Europe's colonial conquests. Many of the objects ended up in museums throughout Europe and the U.S. As NPR has reported, some museums haven't followed through on similar promises to return artifacts.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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