Germany Sets Out Plans to Return Benin Bronzes
Germany will begin returning a “substantial” number of the priceless artifacts known as the Benin Bronzes from its museums to Nigeria next year, its culture ministry said earlier this month.
The artifacts, which the British army looted in an 1897 raid on Benin City in what is now Nigeria, are scattered through museums and private collections around the world. Germany’s announcement, the first by a national government with a timetable attached, comes as momentum is growing on both sides of the Atlantic to return the stolen objects.
An online meeting of government officials, regional legislators and museum administrators reached an agreement that German institutions —which own hundreds of the bronzes — would step up talks with Nigerian partners and strive to make the first returns next year.
“We are facing the historical and moral responsibility to bring Germany’s colonial past to light and to come to terms with it,” Monika Grütters, Germany’s culture minister, said in a news release. “Dealing with the Benin Bronzes is a touchstone.”
The bronzes (which, despite the name, include items made from ivory, brass and wood) will probably be housed in the planned Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City, which architect David Adjaye is designing on behalf of the Legacy Restoration Trust, a group that represents Nigeria’s government, regional authorities and the royal court of Benin.
The trust hopes to open the museum in 2025, although the timeline has already been pushed back several times.Victor Ehikhamenor, a trustee, welcomed the German announcement.“If this works, it will create a blueprint for others,” he said in a telephone interview.
Germany will publish an inventory of all the Benin Bronzes in its museums by June 15. Details of those items’ provenance, including if they were looted, will be made available by the end of the year. However, Germany hopes some bronzes will remain in the country.
Ehikhamenor said he had no problem with items being on display in Germany, as long as their legal ownership was transferred to the museum in Benin City.
Germans have long struggled to atone for the country’s Nazi past, but in recent years, the public debate has also shifted to examine Germany’s role as a colonial power in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. In 2019, Germany’s 16 regions, which are responsible for cultural policy, signed an agreement saying they would work toward returning artifacts taken from former colonies.
此外，末段動詞片語atone for表示「為某事物贖罪、補償」，bring sth to light意指「揭露某事情」，come to term with sth為「面對、接受某事情」之意，step up則指「加速、增強」。
文／Alex Marshall 譯／陳韋廷、核稿／樂慧生