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Current Affairs

Benin bronzes of Nigeria

Date: 11 March 2022 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

The Smithsonian museum has decided to return most of its collection of Benin Bronzes to their homeland Nigeria. 

 

Background

The museum has recently launched a wide review of its practices and ethical code to identify looted artefacts.

 

Details

After the results of its review, the museum has taken off its entire collection of Benin Bronzes from National Museum of African Art in Washington DC.

 

The Benin bronzes

  • Benin bronzes are a group of over 3,000 sculptures and artworks from the ancient Kingdom of Benin, dating back to 16th century.

  • They are intricately decorated cast plaques to animal and human figurines, which were sourced from present-day Nigeria.

  • These artefacts were looted by the British colonial forces during the infamous raid on Benin City in 1897.

 

Significance of artefacts

They were specially commissioned for the kings or Obas, and Queen Mothers of the kingdom.  Some of them gave insight into the culture of the Benin Kingdom.

 

Benin City raid

  • British trade delegates visiting Benin City were killed in 1897. The colonial army launched a retaliatory military expedition which ultimately resulted in the city being captured.

  • The royal palace of Benin was looted and partially destroyed. The artefacts were taken back to the UK.

 

The collection

Nigerian historians have been looking for the artefacts, which have been scattered across the globe. Smithsonian will return 39 pieces from its collection.

 

Reasons for returning

  • Since implementing a new policy of ethical returns, Smithsonian museum is working on repatriation of colonial artefacts 

  • The new ethical guidelines will be applied to over 155 million artefacts housed in the Smithsonian’s 19 museums and research centres.

  • Similar move was also announced by Germany to return Benin bronzes from its own collection, owing to international pressure.