The University of Aberdeen in Scotland has decided to return a Benin bronze sculpture to Nigeria, saying it was acquired by British soldiers in 1897 in “reprehensible circumstances”.
The University of Aberdeen will be the first institution to agree to the full repatriation from a museum of a Benin bronze.
Hopefully this will move other institutions, including the British Museum, to follow suit.
The university acquired the bronze sculpture depicting an “Oba” (king) of Benin at auction in 1957, and it is considered a classic example of Benin Late Period Art.
The sculpture was taken from Benin in 1897, when a British military expedition attacked and destroyed Benin City, looting thousands of metal and ivory sculptures and carvings, from the royal palace.
The Vice-Chancellor University of Aberdeen, George Boyne, called the pillaging “one of the most notorious examples of the pillaging of cultural treasures associated with 19th-century European colonial expansion.
“It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural importance that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances.”
Head of Museums and Special Collections, Neil Curtis, said a review of its collections identified the work “as having been acquired in a way that we now consider to have been extremely immoral.
“So, we took a proactive approach to identify the appropriate people to discuss what to do.” he concluded.
A panel of academic specialists and curators unanimously recommended its return to Nigeria and the university’s governing body supported the unconditional return.