Professional pillagers AKA British museums have been facing heat for some time about the fact that most of their collections were stolen and looted from the countries they colonised. Now, one London museum will be returning its pilferage home to Nigeria. As it damn well should.
The Horniman Museum and Gardens in south-east London has said it’ll return a collection of 72 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria after they were looted during the colonial era. I say that like colonising was a thing of the past, but you get my drift.
The museum agreed to return the artefacts after Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) formally asked for them — so it didn’t decide to partake in this transition all on its own. But it’s still good to see a British museum actually confronting its violent history.
“The evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired through force, and external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria,” Chair of the museum’s board of trustees Eve Salomon said in a statement.
“The Horniman is pleased to be able to take this step, and we look forward to working with the NCMM to secure longer-term care for these precious artefacts.”
The Benin Kingdom was one of the oldest states in West Africa and was formed out of the previous Edo Kingdom of Igodomigodo around the 11th century AD. It existed for all those years as a successful nation before it was invaded and attacked by the British empire in 1897. Literally only 125 years ago.
The nation lost somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 cultural artefacts during the British occupation, and the British Museum — an IRL version of a dragon hoard — has about 900 of them.
Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Information and Culture formally asked the British museum to return its Benin Bronzes last year. The museum basically said “no❤️” but decided to “loan” them back as a little favour. Effectively extorting the rightful owners. The colonial greed is real.
The rest of the Benin Kingdom’s cultural artefacts are scattered across various museums, unsurprisingly most of which are in Europe.
The Horniman Museum’s decision to respect Nigeria’s rights to its own cultural artefacts is a good one and hopefully one we’ll see more of — especially here in Australia, where First Nations people are still pushing for our coloniser state to return pillaged goods and even human remains.
Until then, next time you meander through a western museum, make sure you question how, where and when it got hold of all those ancient treasures. Chances are the backstory is brutal.