Cambridge University to Repatriate Historical ‘Benin Bronzes’ to Nigeria

Cambridge University has been given permission to repatriate their collection of Benin Bronzes to Nigeria, declaring they had a “moral obligation” to do so.

The Benin Bronzes, a selection of mostly brass artifacts used to decorate the royal palace in Benin City, now in modern-day Nigeria, were taken by British forces during an attack in 1897, which Cambridge University described as a response to a “violent trade dispute.”

Thousands of artifacts were eventually sold off in order to “recoup the costs of the military mission,” ending up in museum collections around the world, including the Smithsonian and the British Museum.

The Nigerian government has repeatedly demanded that the Bronzes be returned to them. The University of Cambridge, along with Oxford University, and the Smithsonian, have all pledged to do so, with Cambridge being given the go-ahead by the Charity Commission this week. The Benin Bronzes in the British Museum cannot be returned, with legislation preventing such a move.

“We have granted the required consent allowing Cambridge University to transfer the title of 116 artefacts (Benin Bronzes) to the Nigerian National Commission for Museum and Monuments,” the Charity Commission said in a statement. “The trustees (of Cambridge) made the decision to transfer the artefacts, concluding that they were under a moral obligation to take this step.”

However, some have criticised the repatration of the Benin Bronzes, given that the Kingdom of Benin were only able to make the artifacts due to profiting from the slave trade. Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, an American lawyer, wrote to the Charity Commission to reject the repatriation on those grounds.

“Cambridge recently took a bold step to atone for its slavery benefits by addressing the ‘legacies of enslavement’,” Paellmann said. “Now they take a step backward by discriminating against descendants of enslaved people by ignoring our role in the making of the Benin Bronzes, and giving them away to slave trader heirs. This is tragic.”

Some Brits were concerned with the fact that the Bronzes were even being returned to Nigeria in the first place, with one describing the push for Western institutions to “shed all of [their] great historic art and artifacts” as being part of a “manic air.”

This news and commentary by Jack Hadfield originally appeared on Valiant News.


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