BERLIN (AP) – Germany is returning hundreds of artifacts known as Benin bronzes, mostly looted from West Africa by a British colonial expedition and subsequently sold to collections around the world, including German museums, authorities said on Friday .
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas welcomed an agreement reached with museums and authorities in Nigeria to draw up a restitution plan for a considerable number of artefacts and called it a “turning point in dealing with our colonial history”.
The German Minister of Culture Monika Gruetters said the Benin bronzes were an important test of the country’s handling of its colonial past.
“We face our historical and moral responsibility,” she said.
Gruetters said the goal is to contribute to “understanding and reconciliation” with the descendants of those whose cultural treasures were stolen during the colonial era. The first returns are scheduled for next year, she said.
One historian welcomed the plans but said they did not go far enough.
“Unfortunately there is neither a precise schedule nor an unconditional obligation to restore all looted artifacts,” said Jürgen Zimmerer, Professor of World History at the University of Hamburg.
He also noted that it is not yet clear how many items will be returned or whether the efforts of the civil society groups who requested the refund will be recognized.
A British colonial expedition in 1897 looted a variety of treasures from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin, including numerous reliefs and sculptures.
While hundreds of artifacts ended up in the British Museum, hundreds have also been sold to other collections, such as the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, which has one of the world’s largest collections of historical objects from the Kingdom of Benin, comprising an estimated 530 objects. including 440 bronzes.
The British Museum currently has no plans to return any part of its collection.
“The devastation and pillage wrought in Benin City during the British military expedition in 1897 is fully recognized,” the British Museum said in a statement, adding that the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of Benin objects are explained on gallery boards and on its website become.
“We believe that the strength of the British Museum’s collection lies in its breadth and depth, enabling millions of visitors to understand the cultures of the world and how they connect over time – whether through trade, migration, conquest or peaceful exchange” , it was said .
However, Zimmerer, who has done extensive historical research on the Benin bronzes, said Germany’s decision would likely affect the wider debate about how institutions in former colonial countries should deal with such artifacts.
“The pressure will increase because the UK position of simply not addressing the refund problem is no longer sustainable,” he said.
Jill Lawless in London contributed to the report.
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