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Updated January 26th, 2024 at 11:45 IST

British Museum Agrees to Loan Ghana Gold and Silver that UK Looted From The African Nation

The treasures, some unseen in Ghana for 150 years, were mostly looted from Kumasi during the Anglo-Asante wars in the 19th century.

Sagar Kar
AP
An Asante head-dress | Image:British Museum
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In a historic move, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) have announced a three-year deal to lend gold and silver treasures, looted from west Africa during colonial wars, to Ghana. The valuable regalia, once belonging to the Asante royal court, is considered part of Ghana's "national soul." According to a report from The Guardian, as part of the agreement, 17 objects from the V&A and 15 from the British Museum will be exhibited at the Manhyia Palace Museum in Kumasi, the capital of the Asante region, later this year.

The treasures, some unseen in Ghana for 150 years, were mostly looted from Kumasi during the Anglo-Asante wars in the 19th century. Some were taken as indemnity payments extracted from the Asantehene (king) at the time. Notable among them is a gold lute-harp presented to the British diplomat Thomas Bowdich during a trade treaty in 1817.

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A good starting point?

Nana Oforiatta Ayim, a special adviser to Ghana's culture minister, praised the deal as a "good starting point" in addressing the historical wrongs of the UK's violent colonial past. 

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Not just objects, says advisor to Ghana's culture minister 

Speaking to the BBC, Ayim emphasized the spiritual importance of these objects, stating, "They're not just objects; they have spiritual importance as well. They are part of the soul of the nation. It's pieces of ourselves returning." She sees the agreement as a sign of healing and commemoration for past violence.

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Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, likened the items to "our crown jewels." 

Here is what else you need to know

However, UK museums are legally prevented from permanently returning contested treasures in their collections. This includes artifacts like the Parthenon sculptures, the Benin bronzes, and the Asante gold.

Hunt clarified that the three-year deal with the Asante king, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, is not a form of restitution but a temporary loan. The British Museum and V&A hope this initiative will contribute to a broader conversation about the restitution of cultural artifacts.

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The announcement coincided with renewed calls from Greece for the return of the Parthenon marbles, adding to the ongoing global discourse surrounding the repatriation of cultural heritage.

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Published January 26th, 2024 at 11:45 IST

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