Germany and Nigeria have signed an agreement that paves the way for the return of hundreds of artefacts known as the Benin Bronzes that were looted and removed from Africa more than 120 years ago – an accord that Nigerian officials hope will prompt other countries to follow suit.
A British colonial expedition looted vast quantities of treasures in 1897 from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now southwestern Nigeria, including numerous bas-reliefs and sculptures.
The artefacts ended up spread far and wide. Hundreds were sold to collections such as the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, which has one of the world’s largest groups of historical objects from the Kingdom of Benin, estimated to include about 530 items, including 440 bronzes. Many of them date from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
“This is just the beginning of more than 1,000 pieces from the Kingdom of Benin that are still in German museums, and they all belong to the people of Nigeria,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Friday.
“It was wrong to take the bronzes; it was wrong to keep them for 120 years,” Baerbock said.
The bronzes “are some of Africa’s greatest treasures, but they are also telling the story of colonial violence,” she said.