German officials returned 20 of the treasured Benin Bronzes on Tuesday in the Nigerian capital Abuja, a move that has attracted international attention amid a debate about returning stolen art.
The valuable objects were handed over to Nigeria in a solemn ceremony with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Culture Minister Claudia Roth.
“It was wrong to steal these bronzes. It was wrong to keep these bronzes. And it is more than overdue for these bronzes to be returned to their homeland,” Baerbock said after a meeting with her Nigerian counterpart, Geoffrey Onyeama, earlier on Tuesday.
The treasures – looted by colonial powers in the 19th century – previously belonged to collections of museums in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Dresden, Leipzig and Stuttgart.
“This is a story of European colonialism,” in which Germany played “a dark role, causing tremendous suffering in different parts of Africa,” Baerbock said.
The return of the bronzes is “a crucial step towards addressing this chapter in the way that it should be addressed: openly, frankly, with the willingness to critically assess one’s own actions.”
The return will also open a new chapter in the further deepening of cultural cooperation between the two countries, she added.
The Green Party politicians travelled to the crisis-ridden West African country on Sunday to personally hand over the artefacts to the Nigerian side. Baerbock and Roth are accompanied by the heads of several museums.
More than 1,100 of the works from the palace of the then kingdom of Benin, which is now part of Nigeria, have so far been in the possession of around 20 German museums. The objects, which are made of ivory and other materials in addition to bronze, mostly come from British looting in 1897.
The five museums now involved and their sponsors had already transferred the ownership rights to all Benin Bronzes prior to the returns. At the same time, agreements on loans had also been concluded so that some of the art treasures could continue to be shown in Germany. (dpa)