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Britain loans royal loot back to former colony

Despite museums announcing the ‘repatriation,’ the illegally extracted golden items will only temporarily be returned to Ghana

The UK is lending a collection of gold artifacts to Ghana, one-and-a-half centuries after they were looted from a king in the West African nation in the 19th century.

The repatriation of more than 30 “crown jewels” belonging to the Asante royal, traditionally known as Asantehene, was announced by the British Museum and Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum on Thursday following a loan deal with the Manhyia Palace Museum in Ghana.

Under the long-term agreement, the British Museum will lend 15 of the objects, consisting of a gold-plated ceremonial cap stolen from Kumasi, the Ashanti regional capital, during the Anglo-Asante wars, which were sparked by resistance to British rule. The V&A Museum intends to offer 17 items, including a gold peace pipe and gold discs worn around the necks of palace officials in charge of performing a customary rite to cleanse the king’s soul.


“They will be exhibited this April to celebrate the 2024 Silver Jubilee of His Royal Majesty, the Asantehene, Osei Tutu II. These items will go on display in Kumasi, Ghana for the first time in 150 years through a long-term loan from the British Museum and the V&A,” V&A wrote on X (formerly Twitter) on Thursday.

Museums in the UK have been facing growing pressure to return items stolen during the colonial era to their countries of origin. Ethiopia and Nigeria have both demanded that Britain repatriate looted ceremonial artifacts. Last July, Oxford University offered 196 cows to Maasai families in Kenya and Tanzania as compensation for artifacts stolen and exported to the UK over a century ago.

Last year, the Asantehene opened negotiations for the return of the royal jewels to Ghana when he attended the coronation of King Charles.

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However, in a joint statement issued on Thursday, the British Museum and V&A said the items would only be loaned to the Ghanaian palace under two separate three-year contracts. This arrangement was made due to British laws banning museums from permanently returning contested artifacts to their original owners.

Obadele Kambon, an associate professor at the University of Ghana, told Reuters that, while the decision to return the objects is “monumental,” there is still a battle to be fought for the “true and proper restoration… of all the things stolen, not loaned back to us.”

Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, told the BBC that the deal with the Manhyia Palace Museum “doesn’t solve the problem, but it begins the conversation.”

January 26, 2024 at 06:47PM


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