Nigeria’s stolen artefacts recovered from Europe a century later

The traditional palace in Benin City has received two Benin bronzes that were looted by British troops more than a century ago.

This has raised hopes that thousands more artefacts could finally be brought back to their ancestral home.

Mostly in Europe, the artefacts which are among Africa’s most notable heritage objects, were pillaged by explorers and colonisers from the Benin Kingdom, now southwestern Nigeria.

According to the British Museum, they were created as early as the 16th century.

A palace spokesman Charles Edosonmwan during a colourful ceremony in Benin City on Saturday to commemorate the return of a cockerel sculpture and head of an Oba (king),  said some of the bronzes had been taken as far away as New Zealand, the United States and Japan.

The two artefacts were handed over to the Nigerian High Commission in October by the University of Aberdeen and Cambridge University’s Jesus College but have yet to return to their ancestral home.

“They are not just art but they are things that underline the significance of our spirituality,” Edosonmwan said during an interview on the sidelines of a ceremony attended by traditional leaders.

Some 90 percent of Africa’s cultural heritage is believed to be in Europe, French art historians estimate.

Musee du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris alone holds about 70,000 African objects and London’s British Museum tens of thousands more.

The return is another milestone in the years-long fight by African countries to reclaim stolen works, as several European institutions are scuffling with the cultural legacies of colonialism.

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