Germany to return hundreds of Benin artifacts stolen by colonial British soldiers

The artifacts were stolen from Nigeria over a century ago.

Three bronzes from Benin in the Hamburg Museum of Arts and Crafts [Daniel Bockwoldt]

Thousands of artifacts were looted when British forces sacked Benin City during an expedition in 1897, and many of them have been scattered all over the world ever since.

In a joint statement on Thursday, April 29, 2021, Germany's Minister of State for Culture, Monika Gruetters, said a 'substantial' amount of artifacts in German museums will be returned to Nigeria starting from 2022.

"We want to contribute to a common understanding and reconciliation with the descendants of the people who were robbed of their cultural treasures during the times of colonialism," she said.

Thursday's announcement was jointly released alongside the management of the German member museums of the 'Benin Dialogue Group', a multilateral group working on the cultural restitution of stolen West African art.

The museums have been members of the Benin Dialogue Group with other European museums and representatives of Nigeria since 2010.

The group in 2019 agreed to support the construction of the planned Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) in Nigeria to aid the return of the looted artifacts.

"We are facing the historical and moral responsibility to bring Germany's colonial past to light and to come to terms with it.

"Dealing with the Benin bronzes is a touchstone for this," Gruetters said.

Thursday's announcement continues a trend of custodians of stolen artifacts returning them to their places of origin.

The University of Aberdeen last month announced its intention to return to Nigeria a Benin sculpture also stolen by British forces.

The bronze sculpture depicting an Oba of Benin was acquired by the university in 1957, decades after it was looted.

The university said the theft of the sculpture was one of the most notorious examples of the pillaging of cultural treasures associated with 19th century European colonial expansion.

The Church of England also announced earlier in April that it would return two Benin Bronzes which had been gifted to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1982 by the former governor of the defunct Bendel State, Ambrose Alli, and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN).

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