Benin bronze restitution ceremony takes place
An ‘historic moment’ for the University
By Rory Buccheri
Caption: Prince Aghatise Erediawa and Neil Curtis. Courtesy of Rory Buccheri
After announcing the repatriation of the Benin bronze in 2019, the University of Aberdeen has finally given the artifact back to its rightful owners. The restitution was marked by a ceremony that took place at the King’s Conference Centre on Thursday evening.
The ceremony saw the University officially transfer ownership of the Benin bronze to Nigeria. The bronze in question, a head of the Oba dating to the eighteenth century, has been at the centre of media attention in the last year.
Principal George Boyne spoke at the event, commenting that this was ‘a very special event for the University’, in which the object was to be ‘rightfully returned’ to Nigeria.
The principal stressed how this was ‘not a moment of celebration’, highlighting that a sense of truth and justice should be the prime reason behind the restitution. The AUSA Student President and the president of the BAME forum commended Boyne’s words as ‘a great message’ and, together with Boyne, both wish to see other universities follow Aberdeen’s example.
Caption: Boyne and His Highness Erediawa.
Professor Abba Isa Tijani, representing the National Commission of Museums in Nigeria, also said it was a ‘historic moment’ for the University of Aberdeen and for Nigeria, in their active campaign to see the Benin bronzes repatriated. Tijian added that the bronze was going back to Nigeria safely, and that ‘it will be greatly welcomed by the people of Benin’. He further assured the audience that necessary facilities were being put in place, including a new museum in Benin to host royal artifacts.
While commenting on a similar ceremony that took place yesterday in Jesus College, Cambridge, where another bronze was handed over, Tijiani commented: ‘Jesus College may be the first university to engage in this conversation, but Aberdeen is undoubtedly the first Museum in the UK’ to repatriate bronzes to Nigeria. On behalf of the National Commission, he finally stated how this is a momentous time for restitution, an ‘active trend’ and an ‘opportunity to press on to the British Museum’. The British Museum, which has chosen not to engage in talks of repatriation so far, holds over 900 Benin bronzes in its collection.
Caption: Student president (l), president of BAME forum (c) and AUSA Communities officer (r).
His Royal Highness, Prince Aghatise Erediawa, agreed that the example set by UoA will give people in Nigeria ‘a sense of truth and justice’, but felt also compelled to address earnestly the colonial atrocities that brought the bronze to the UK. He spoke openly of the immoral acquisition of the bronzes, how they were displayed as ‘spoils of war’ while innocent people suffered. He said: ‘the theft of the bronzes… it is in our history, we grew up with a sense of carnage’.
His Royal Highness, Prince Aghatise Erediawa, agreed that the example set by UoA will give people in Nigeria ‘a sense of truth and justice’, but felt also compelled to address earnestly the colonial atrocities that brought the bronze to the UK.
The ceremony was a private, invitation-only event, the size of attendance being restricted because of COVID-19 regulations. The event ended with the signatories of the restitution document handing over the bronze officially, transferring property from the University of Aberdeen to the Nigerian government. Mr Neil Curtis, Head of Museums and Collections, ended the ceremony with wise words about our impact in the present of colonial legacy: ‘we deserve to be judged by the decisions we make, by the legacies we create’.
Caption: Ownership of the Benin Bronze is signed.