The University of Aberdeen in Scotland has on Thursday said it will repatriate a Benin Bronze in its museum collection to Nigeria.
The bronze is expected to be given to an independent trust in the African country within weeks, which would officially make it the first Benin Bronze to be fully restituted from the West.
Neil Curtis, head of museums at the university, said in statement that an ongoing review of the collection identified the bronze as having been acquired “in a way that we now consider to have been extremely immoral, so we took a proactive approach to identify the appropriate people to discuss what to do.”
The sculpture, which depicts an Oba of Benin, was looted by British soldiers in a 19th-century punitive colonial mission. During the 1897 sacking of Benin City in present-day Nigeria, British forces stole thousands of cultural treasures including metal and ivory sculptures and carvings, which today live-in museums and private collections around the world.
The university acquired the bronze at auction in 1957, and calls it a “superb example of Benin Late Period art.”
The University of Aberdeen’s vice-chancellor, George Boyne, welcomed the decision in a statement. “It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural importance that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances,” he said.
Nigeria’s minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, praised Aberdeen for proactively reaching out and returning the object, calling it “a step in the right direction.”
“Other holders of Nigerian antiquity ought to emulate this to bring fairness to the burning issue of repatriation,” he added.
The university is now making practical arrangements and will work with Nigerian officials on a celebratory event to mark its return.
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