The Nigerian government signed an agreement with the German government on Friday, July 1, to begin the repatriation of hundreds of Benin bronzes back to the country.
The German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock and Culture Minister Claudia Roth signed the deal with their Nigerian counterparts in Berlin after Germany first announced that it would begin returning the bronzes last year.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, the Minister of Culture, Lai Mohammed, thanked Germany for having “taken the lead in correcting the wrongs of the past”, hailing “the dawn of a new era of cooperation”.
The first two artworks, the head of a king and a plaque depicting three warriors, were on Friday July 1, handed over to representatives from Nigeria.
“Today we have reason to celebrate, because we have reached a historic agreement, the Benin bronzes are returning home. These pieces are not only magnificent artifacts, they are some of Africa’s greatest treasures. But they are also telling a story of colonial violence” she said
Thousands of Benin bronzes, metal plaques and sculptures that once decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin are now scattered around European museums after being looted by the British at the end of the 19th century.
Germany has around 1,100 of the 16th- to 18th-century artefacts, split between some 20 museums. The biggest collection is held by the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, which has 440 pieces considered the most important collection outside London’s British Museum.