Germany and Nigeria are expected to sign an agreement in Berlin on Friday paving the way for the return of centuries-old sculptures, known as the “Benin bronzes”, which were stolen from Africa in the 19th century and displayed in German museums.
Governments and museums in Europe and North America are increasingly seeking to resolve ownership disputes over objects that were looted during colonial times.
In 1897, a British colonial expedition stole the bas-relief bronzes, along with a large number of other treasures, from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now southern Nigeria.
The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, an authority that oversees many of Berlin’s museums, announced last year that it was entering formal negotiations for the return of pieces from its collection. Many of them date from the 16th to the 18th century.
The MoU will be signed by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Culture Minister Claudia Roth, as well as Nigerian Culture Minister Lai Mohammed and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Zubairo Dada.
Final details of the return have yet to be announced, but the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation says it intends to keep some of the bronzes on loan from Nigeria.
The Smithsonian removed ten Benin bronzes from display at its National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC, and this year announced a new ethical restitution policy. Other U.S. museums have also begun discussions about returning the objects, while France said last year it would return the “treasures of Abomey” to Benin as part of a broader effort to the reparation of colonial wrongs.
Many of these objects are still in the British Museum, which has resisted calls for their return.