BERLIN (Reuters) – German authorities on Friday returned to Nigeria the first two of more than 1,100 priceless sculptures known as the Benin Bronzes that were looted by Europeans in the 19th century.
British soldiers looted some 5,000 artifacts – intricate carvings and plaques dating back to the 13th century – when they invaded the Kingdom of Benin in what is now southwestern Nigeria in 1897.
The loot has been incorporated into museums in Europe and the United States.
“It’s a story of European colonialism. We must not forget that Germany played an active role in this chapter of history,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told a ceremony in Berlin marking the transfer.
The first two bronzes, one representing the head of a king, the other showing a king and his four servants, will be taken personally by the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Zubairu Dada and the Minister of Culture Lai Mohammed, present at ceremony.
“I am delighted to be part of this auspicious event which I believe will go down as one of the most important days in the celebration of African cultural heritage,” Dada said.
Germany’s decision to carry out one of the largest ever repatriations of historical artifacts reflects a burgeoning awareness in Europe of the continued political relevance of plunder and colonial violence in the past.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has sought to rally emerging nations against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a task complicated by the widespread view in the Global South that anger over the invasion is hypocrisy on the part of former imperialists who themselves experienced episodes of violence and plunder in their past.
“We recognize the atrocities committed under colonial rule,” said Culture Minister Claudia Roth. “We recognize the racism and slavery…the injustice and trauma that left scars still visible today.”
Germany will help fund a museum to be built in Benin City to house the repatriated bronzes.