An interim report by Dan Hicks, a curator at the University-owned Pitt Rivers Museum has discovered that 145 objects held by the University were originally taken by British troops during a military raid on Benin City in 1897. Another 15 artefacts are suspected to be looted from the same assault.
These looted artefacts include bronzed figures, musical instruments, and more — several of which date back to the 13th century.
The University has indicated that they plan on returning these items to Nigeria, in line with a statement the museum issued in March: “The Pitt Rivers Museum has been working with Nigerian stakeholders, including representatives of the Royal Court and the Legacy Restoration Trust, to identify best ways forward regarding the care and return of these objects from the Court currently in the museums’ care”. More information on their pledge to repatriate the stolen artefacts can be found here.
In returning these stolen artefacts, the University follows in the footsteps of Cambridge and Aberdeen University, who returned Benin bronzes to Nigeria last month.
Responding to these initiatives, Nigeria’s minister of information and culture Lai Mohammed has proclaimed that “We look forward to a similar return of our artefacts by other institutions that are in possession of them.”
Importantly, the artefacts held by the University comprise a mere 1.5% of the 10 000 looted objects from the raid. 900 of these artefacts are currently kept at the British Museum in London. The British Museum has stated that they are “collaborating with the Legacy Restoration Trust in Nigeria and Adjaye Associates on a major new archaeology project, linked to the construction of the Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA)”, which seeks to “reunite Benin artworks from international collections” (Museums Association). According to the Legacy Restoration Trust, the EMOWAA will be located in Benin City and serve to “collect, preserve, study and exhibit West African artworks and artefacts, past and present.”