Maverick Life


Benin bronzes: What is the significance of their repatriation to Nigeria?

A military commander sculpture looted by British soldiers from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 hangs on display in the "Where Is Africa" exhibition at the Linden Museum on May 05, 2021 in Stuttgart, Germany. The Linden Museum is among several museums in Germany that have items known as Benin Bronzes in their collections, as do other museums across the world. (Photo by Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images)

After years of pressure, western countries are finally returning priceless artefacts and artworks that had been looted from Nigeria during colonial times and were on display in foreign museums.

Commonly called the Benin Bronzes, because the objects originated from the Kingdom of Benin (today’s Nigeria), these beautiful and technically remarkable artworks have come to symbolise the broader restitution debate.

Two British universities – Cambridge University and the University of Aberdeen – recently returned two of the artefacts. And, in mid-October, Germany and Nigeria signed a memorandum of understanding setting out a timetable for the return of around 1,100 sculptures from German museums.

Jos van Beurden – an expert on the protection, theft and smuggling of cultural and historical treasures of vulnerable states – offers his insights into this wave of repatriation. He also suggests a way forward for Nigeria to handle and harness the benefits of the artefacts.

Benin bronzes: What is the significance of their repatriation to Nigeria? Released: 2021. Audio: The Conversation.

Music: “Happy African Village” by John Bartmann, found on licensed under CC0 1.

“African Moon” by John Bartmann, found on licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal License.


This story was first published in The Conversation.

Jos van Buerden is a researcher, at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Joey Akan is a freelance Arts & Culture Editor. Usifo Omozokpea is an Audience Development Manager.


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