Germany has handed over 20 Benin Bronzes from its museums to Nigeria, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Tuesday, making it the latest European country to return cultural artefacts to their African homeland.
The handovers are the clearest sign yet of growing momentum towards the return of artefacts taken away from Africa by Europeans during the colonial period. Germany had agreed to start returning Benin Bronzes held in its museums last year.
Earlier this year, Germany signed a declaration with Nigeria to release all 1,130 Benin Bronzes – actually copper alloy relief sculptures, many showing court figures – in German public museums.
Nigerian foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama and information minister Lai Mohammed were present at the handover including Germany’s minister for culture and media Claudia Roth as well as directors of museums in Germany.
“Today we are taking a step that was long overdue: We are returning 20 Benin bronzes from German museums to where they belong, to their homeland,” Baerbock told reporters in Abuja.
Some of the Benin Bronze artefacts had been in German custody for nearly two centuries with some in private collections and casinos, Nigerian officials said.
British soldiers seized thousands of metal castings and sculptures during a raid on the then-separate Kingdom of Benin in 1897.
The Bronze’s were auctioned off and then spread among institutions from New Zealand to Germany and the United States, with the biggest collection in London.
The returns are likely to increase pressure on the British Museum in London, which holds by far the largest and most significant collection of Benin Bronzes.
Nigeria’s information minister called on the British Museum to release the more than 900 Benin Bronzes it has.