Two British museums are returning gold and silver artifacts to Ghana under a long-term loan arrangement — 150 years after the items were looted from the Asante people during Britain’s colonial battles in West Africa.
The British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, together with the Manhyia Palace Museum in Ghana, on Thursday announced the “important cultural’’ collaboration, which sidesteps U.K. laws that prohibit the return of cultural treasures to their countries of origin. Those laws have been used to prevent the British Museum from returning the Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, to Greece.
Some 17 items in total are involved in the loan arrangement, including 13 pieces of Asante royal regalia purchased by the V&A at auction in 1874. The items were acquired by the museums after they were looted by British troops during the Anglo-Asante wars of 1873-74 and 1895-96.
“These objects are of cultural, historical and spiritual significance to the Asante people,’’ the museums said in a statement. “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 items covered by the loan agreement represent just a fraction of the Asante artifacts held by British museums and private collectors around the world. The British Museum alone says it has 239 items of Asante regalia in its collection.
Nana Oforiatta Ayim, special adviser to Ghana’s culture minister, said the deal was a “starting point,” given British laws that prohibit the return of cultural artifacts. But ultimately the regalia should be returned to its rightful owners, she told the BBC.
“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?” she said.