German FM to Personally Return 20 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

December 16, 2022

BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister will personally take 20 artifacts looted by Europeans during colonial times back to Nigeria when she visits to Africa’s most populous country next week, her spokesman said Friday.

The symbolic gesture follows an agreement earlier this year between Berlin and Abuja that will see all 514 so-called Benin Bronzes held in German museums handed back to Nigeria.

“With her trip Foreign Minister (Annalena) Baerbock is fulfilling this pledge,” her spokesman Christofer Burger told reporters in Berlin.

Baerbock, who departs for Abuja on Sunday, will be accompanied by representatives from the German museums with the biggest collections of Benin Bronzes.

“It shows how serious Germany is about working through its colonial history,” Burger said.

The bronzes were among a vast trove of treasures stolen in 1897 by a British colonial expedition from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now southwestern Nigeria.

The objects, including numerous bas-reliefs and other sculptures, later found their way to collections around Europe, including the Ethnological Museum in Berlin. It has one of the world’s largest groups of historical objects from the Kingdom of Benin, many dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

As part of the agreement, Nigeria will regain ownership of the bronzes but loan scores of them to German museums, ensuring that some can remain on display in Berlin and elsewhere.

Museums in France and the United States have also begun a process of handing back items looted from Africa during colonial times.


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