Dozens Benin of bronzes that once adorned the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin in southern Nigeria will be on display in Berlin for the last time on Saturday, before being returned to their original homes.
The Ethnological Museum in Berlin currently houses 530 objects originating in the Kingdom of Benin, including around 440 bronzes, and is considered to be the largest collection behind the British Museum in London.
Thousands of Benin bronzes, as they are called, are scattered alongside metal plaques and local sculptures in European museums after they were looted by the British in the late 19th century.
The attempt to return some of Africa’s famous artwork is the latest in a series of attempts by Germany to take responsibility for its colonial-era crimes.
In May 2021, it officially acknowledged the genocide committed in Namibia between 1904 and 1908 and pledged more than a billion euros ($1.2 billion) in financial support for infrastructure projects in the country.
A pair of thrones and a commemorative bust of the monarch are among the pieces on display at the Humboldt Museum in Berlin starting this weekend. They used to decorate the walls of the royal palace in the city of Benin in southern Nigeria.
Two rooms in the extensive museum are dedicated to the art and history of the Kingdom of Benin, an exhibition which, according to the German side, is being held “in close cooperation with partners in Nigeria”.
The removal of valuables is explained in the gallery, and educational workshops are also planned around the exhibition.
Recognition of colonial injustice and the subsequent return of the objects “will continue to define our work in the future,” Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees state museums in the German capital, said in a statement.
According to the director of the Berlin museum, Lars-Christian Koch, some of the objects will be returned soon, another third will be on loan and the rest, which is not on display, will be examined by researchers.
Germany is not the only country starting to return stolen artifacts. In November 2021, France returned 26 artifacts from the royal treasures of Abomey to the country of Benin alongside Nigeria.
Pressure also mounts at the British Museum, which has around 700 bronzes. It has long been argued that this is where its vast hoard of foreign artifacts, such as the Elgin Marbles extracted from the Parthenon in Athens, are best housed.