Thousands of Benin Bronzes are found in several museums worldwide after being robbed by Britain in the late 19th century.
A bronze sculpture of a king belonging to West Africa called the Head of a King, or Oba that was kept in a Rhode Island museum for more than 70 years is among 31 culturally valuable objects that have been returned to the Nigerian government during a ceremony at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC on Tuesday.
The Benin Bronzes were stolen in 1897 when British colonial forces plundered and looted the kingdom of Benin, which is now in present-day Nigeria.
“In 1897 the ‘Head of an Oba’ was stolen from the Royal Palace of Oba Ovonranwmen,” RISD Museum Interim Director Sarah Ganz Blythe said in a statement. He added, “The RISD Museum has worked with the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments to repatriate this sculpture to the people of Nigeria where it belongs.”
The sculptures that were stolen in the late 19th century included 29 that the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents voted in June to hand it back to Nigeria and one object from the National Gallery of Art, officials said.
“Today, we address a historic injustice by returning the Benin Bronzes, magnificent examples of Benin’s culture and history,” Lonnie Bunch III, founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, stated.
The repatriation is part of a global movement by cultural institutions to return artifacts robbed during colonial wars.