Germany to return looted Benin Bronzes starting from 2022

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The Benin Bronzes looted by British soldiers and sailors in the late 19th century are scattered in museums and private collections around the world, including in France. /Michel Euler/AP

Germany has said it aims to start returning Benin Bronzes looted by British soldiers in the late 19th century to Nigeria next year.

It is one of the first countries to do so amid a growing trend to return cultural artifacts seized during the colonial era to their places of origin.

The Benin Bronzes looted by British soldiers and sailors in the late 19th century are scattered in museums and private collections around the world, including in France. /Michel Euler/AP

“We want to contribute to a common understanding and reconciliation with the descendants of the people who were robbed of their cultural treasures during the times of colonialism,” Germany’s culture minister Monika Gruetters said in a joint statement issued with the foreign ministry and German museums late on Thursday.

“In addition to maximum transparency, we primarily aim for substantial restitution,” Gruetters added.

In 1897, Britain’s soldiers seized thousands of metal castings and sculptures during a raid on the Kingdom of Benin, then separate from British-ruled Nigeria.

The “bronzes” – actually copper alloy relief sculptures, many showing court figures – were auctioned off and then spread among institutions from New Zealand to Germany and the U.S., with the biggest collection in London’s British Museum.

The Ethnological Museum in Berlin has more than 500 historical artifacts from the Kingdom of Benin in its collections, mostly bronzes.

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