In 1897, British forces launched a “bloody and devastating” military occupation of Benin Kingdom, and thousands of artifacts were stolen and transported to the United Kingdom as “spoils of war,” the museum said.
Horniman’s Benin collection includes other brass objects looted during the occupation, such as altar pieces, bells, fans and baskets.
“We welcome this decision by the trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens,” said Abba Tijani, Director General of the National Museums and Monuments Commission of Nigeria.
“Following the recommendations made by the Charity Commission, we look forward to productive discussions on the loan agreement and cooperation between the National Museum and Monuments and Horniman,” Tijani said.
The decision comes as a victory for Nigeria and other African countries that have struggled to recover cultural artifacts seized during military occupations and kept in museums, mostly in Europe, but also in the United States and Australia.
A bronze sculpture called Okuoba (Messenger of the Oba) is one of the items being brought back to Nigeria. Credit: Horniman Museum and Gardens
Nigeria’s national commission requested the return of the items in January, Horniman said. Some items may still be given to Horniman for display and research, according to the release.
Eve Solomon, chairman of the museum’s trustees, called the transfer “ethical and appropriate.”
“The evidence that these items were obtained by force is very clear and external consultation supports our view that it is ethical and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria,” Solomon said in the release. “Horniman is pleased to be able to take this step, and we look forward to working with NCMM to provide long-term care for these precious artifacts.”
Horniman follows in the footsteps of several other museums that returned their looted Benin bronzes to Nigeria.