Looted Benin bronzes returned to Nigeria more than a century later

Two Benin bronzes stolen by explorers and colonizers in Nigeria were returned to a traditional palace in the country more than a century after they were taken.

The artifacts were taken from the Benin Kingdom, now southwestern Nigeria, and are among Africa’s most significant heritage objects.

The return of the cockerel sculpture and head of an Oba or king raises hopes that thousands more artifacts in Europe could finally be returned to their ancestral home.

The two artifacts were handed over to the Nigerian High Commission in October 2021 by the University of Aberdeen and Cambridge University’s Jesus College but had yet to be returned to their ancestral home.

It is noted that some of the bronzes, which were created as early as the 16th century onwards, were kept as far away as New Zealand, the United States and Japan.

The return is another milestone in the years-long fight by African countries to recover looted works, as numerous European institutions are grappling with the cultural legacies of colonialism.

Some 90% of Africa’s cultural heritage is believed to be in Europe, French art historians estimate. Musée du quai Branly — Jacques-Chirac in Paris alone holds around 70,000 African objects and London’s British Museum tens of thousands more.