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British museums to return looted royal Ghana treasures

The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum will give back gold and silver artefacts looted during colonial times from Ghana’s Asante royal court, the museums and the palace have said.

The Ghana agreement for a long-term loan of the items comes as international momentum grows for museums and institutions to restore African artefacts from former colonial powers Britain, France, Germany and Belgium.

The returning items include a 300-year-old Mponponso sword used in Asantehene swearing-in ceremonies, a gold peace pipe and cast gold soul-washers’ badges, among other treasures.

The artefacts were taken after the third Anglo-Asante War in 1874 and include a total of 32 items, 15 from the British Museum and 17 from the Victoria and Albert Museum, which are both in London.

They will be displayed in Kumasi, the seat of the Asantehene kingdom, at the Manhyia Palace Museum for up to six years, the royal palace said.

“Items of gold and silver regalia associated with the Asante royal court will be displayed in Kumasi later this year as part of a long-term loan commitment by the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum,” the museums said in a joint statement.

“Many of these items will be seen in Ghana for the first time in 150 years.”

The return of the treasures to Ghana comes amid ongoing pressure
on Britain from Greece over the Parthenon Marbles

The repatriation coincides with three milestones in the Ashanti kingdom: the 150th anniversary of the 1874 war, the centenary celebration marking the return of one king, Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh I, from exile after he was banished, and the silver jubilee of the current king, Asantehene Osei Tutu II.

It comes after almost half a century of discussions between Manhyia palace, especially with the British Museum.

Asantehene Osei Tutu II appointed two technical advisors to facilitate the return: Ghanaian historian Ivor Agyeman-Duah and Scottish historian and former vice principal of the University of Glasgow, Malcolm McLeod.

Nigeria is also negotiating the return of thousands of 16th to 18th century metal plaques, sculptures and objects looted from the ancient Kingdom of Benin and currently held in museums and with art collectors across the United States and Europe.

Two years ago, neighbouring Benin republic received two dozen treasures and artworks stolen in 1892 by French colonial forces from the capital of the former Kingdom of Dahomey.

The return of the treasures to Ghana comes amid ongoing pressure on Britain from Greece over the Parthenon Marbles.

The sculptures were removed from the Parthenon temple at the Acropolis in Greece in the early 19th century by British diplomat Thomas Bruce, the earl of Elgin.

Athens maintains the marbles were stolen, which Britain denies, and the issue has been a source of contention between the countries for decades.

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