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British Museums to return looted Ghana royal treasures on loan

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The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum have agreed to return gold and silver artifacts looted from Ghana’s Asante royal court during colonial times on a long-term loan agreement.

The artifacts were looted from the Asante people during Britain’s colonial battles in West Africa nearly 150 years ago.

The British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, in conjunction with the Manhyia Palace Museum in Ghana, jointly announced the cultural collaboration on Thursday.

“Items of gold and silver regalia associated with the Asante royal court will be displayed in Kumasi later this year as part of a long-term loan commitment by the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Many of these items will be seen in Ghana for the first time in 150 years.”

“These objects are of cultural, historical, and spiritual significance to the Asante people. They are also indelibly linked to British colonial history in West Africa, with many of them looted from Kumasi during the Anglo-Asante wars of the 19th century,” the museums stated in a joint press release.

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The partnership allows for the return of 17 items, including 13 pieces of Asante royal regalia that the Victoria & Albert Museum had acquired at an auction in 1874.

These artifacts were originally seized by British troops during the Anglo-Asante wars of 1873-74 and 1895-96.

The artifacts, taken include a 300-year-old Mponponso sword used in Asantehene swearing-in ceremonies, a gold peace pipe, and cast gold soul-washers’ badges, among other treasures.

The items will be displayed in Kumasi, the seat of the Asantehene kingdom, at the Manhyia Palace Museum for up to six years.

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The repatriation coincides with significant milestones in the Ashanti kingdom, including the 150th anniversary of the 1874 war, the centenary celebration of the return of Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh I from exile, and the silver jubilee of the current king, Asantehene Osei Tutu II.

The repatriation follows nearly 50 years of discussions between the Manhyia Palace and the British Museum.

Asantehene Osei Tutu II appointed two technical advisors, Ghanaian historian Ivor Agyeman-Duah and Scottish historian Malcolm McLeod, to facilitate the return.

Nana Oforiatta Ayim, special adviser to Ghana’s culture minister, views this agreement as a “starting point” in the larger conversation about repatriation. She emphasized the importance of acknowledging historical injustices and expressed her perspective through a poignant analogy: “I’ll give an analogy, if somebody came into your house and ransacked it and stole objects and then kept them in their house, and then a few years later said, ‘You know what, I’ll lend you your objects back,’ how would you feel about that?”

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The return of these treasures to Ghana aligns with ongoing negotiations by Nigeria to repatriate thousands of 16th to 18th-century metal plaques, sculptures, and objects looted from the ancient Kingdom of Benin.

The move is part of a broader global movement seeking the return of cultural artifacts to their places of origin.

The return of the treasures to Ghana also occurs amid persistent pressure on Britain from Greece over the Parthenon Marbles, which were removed from the Parthenon temple at the Acropolis in Greece in the early 19th century by British diplomat Thomas Bruce, the earl of Elgin.

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