UK returns looted Ghana artefacts on loan after 150 years

The objects were stolen from the court of the Asante king during the 19th century Anglo-Asante wars.

The United Kingdom has returned 32 gold and silver treasures stolen from the Asante Kingdom more than 150 years ago in what is today’s Ghana on a six-year loan, Ghanaian negotiators have said.

The artefacts, comprising 15 items from the British Museum and 17 from the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), were looted from the court of the Asante king during the turbulent 19th-century clashes between the British and the Asante people.

Ghanaian authorities have for years tried to reclaim gold treasures looted by British soldiers from the Asante kingdom, which is also known as Ashanti.

The accord will see the relics, including gold and silver regalia associated with the Asante Royal Court, showcased at the Manhyia Palace Museum in Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region, as part of the yearlong celebration honouring the king’s silver jubilee.

Ivor Agyeman-Duah, the chief negotiator, confirmed the items’ return, telling the AFP news agency on Saturday that they were given to the palace on loan.

It comes as international momentum and campaigning has grown for museums and institutions to have African artefacts returned from former colonial powers.

Nigeria is also negotiating the return of thousands of 16th to 18th-century metal objects looted from the ancient kingdom of Benin and currently held by museums and art collectors across the United States and Europe.

Two years ago, Benin received two dozen treasures and artworks stolen in 1892 by French colonial forces during the sacking of the royal Palace of Abomey.

A view of a Cast gold badge, worn by the Asantehene's
A view of a cast gold badge, worn by the ‘soul washer’ of the Asantehene (‘ruler’) as a badge of office, Asante, Ghana, before 1874 [Handout/The Trustees of the British Museum via Reuters]

“These cherished artefacts, which hold immense cultural and spiritual significance for the Ashanti people, are here as part of a loan agreement for an initial three years and renewable for another three,” Agyeman-Duah said.

“It marks a significant moment in our efforts to reclaim and preserve our heritage, fostering a renewed sense of pride and connection to our rich history,” he added, noting that the exhibition will be held from May 1.

The returned items include a 300-year-old Mponponso sword used in swearing-in ceremonies.

A gold peace pipe and gold discs worn by officials responsible for cleansing the king’s soul are also among 17 items the V&A plans to lend to the Ghanaian museum.

Objects selected from the British Museum consist mainly of royal regalia looted from the palace in Kumasi during the Anglo-Asante wars.

The items will be loaned under two separate three-year agreements.

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