Nigeria should do what it wants with the Benin Bronzes - WASHINGTON POST
MAY 25, 2023
Imagine thieves storming your house, stealing precious items, then burning your house down. Within a few years, the thieves start displaying your items and charging money for people to see them, claiming that only they can protect the items — because your house burned down.
For a long time, this has been the situation with artifacts plundered from the African continent during the colonial period — with Nigeria’s Benin bronzes being one of the most high-profile examples. In the past few years, some Western museums have agreed to give back the bronzes, which were looted in 1897 from the Kingdom of Benin, during a punitive raid by the British. Last October, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in D.C. returned more than two dozen bronzes to Nigeria. In December, the German government returned 20 bronzes.
Great, right? Well.
International repatriation of the bronzes has become a bit … complicated. The outgoing president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, announced in March that ownership of the bronzes would be transferred to the current Oba (or king) of Benin, Ewuare II; the Oba has said he would build his own museum, near his palace, to display and house them. This threw Western museums for a bit of a loop, as they had made agreements with Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments to take custody of the bronzes and house them in a state museum in Edo, yet to be built.