After being taken by forceful means by British troops over 150 years ago, two prominent museums in the UK have decided to return some of Ghana’s valuable possessions, known as the “crown jewels.”
The objects, which are considered a significant aspect of Ghana’s cultural identity, are being lent out instead of returned due to a UK regulation that prohibits national museums from removing items from their collections.
Experts are optimistic that the temporary loan of 32 Asante gold pieces by the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum for a period of three years will initiate discussions, both nationally and internationally, regarding the proper return of cultural and religious artifacts to their countries of origin.
The Asante gold deal, made following a meeting between King Otumfuo Osei Tutu II and King Charles, will be closely monitored by Athens and Nigeria. Athens hopes to regain possession of the Parthenon marbles, while Nigeria has been advocating for the return of the Benin bronzes.
Professor Dan Hicks, an expert in modern archaeology at Oxford University, expressed his approval of the agreement concerning the Asante gold. He believes that this is a positive first step in a longer process that will ideally result in valuable items being returned to their rightful owners. However, it is unlikely that this process will be swift or uncomplicated. Further comments from Professor Hicks will be shared after the news headlines.
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They are making every effort to return the items while remaining compliant with the law.
“According to Nana Oforiatta Ayim, a special advisor to Ghana’s culture minister, the artefacts hold significant cultural and spiritual value. These include a sword of state and gold Akrafokonmu badges worn by officials responsible for purifying the king’s soul. Their return symbolizes the restoration of a piece of the nation’s identity.”
Ayim stated that lending the items to Ghana served as a positive beginning and a way to honor and remember the violence that occurred. The items will be exhibited at the Manhyia Palace Museum in Kumasi, the main city of the Asante region, in preparation for Osei Tutu II’s 25th anniversary celebrations in April 2024.
Why only take out a loan?
15 items from the British Museum and 17 items from the V&A will be exhibited at Manhyia Palace for a period of three years, with the possibility of extending for an additional three years. This is due to the restrictions set by the British Museum Act 1963 and the National Heritage Act 1983, which prohibit the trustees of prominent UK museums from permanently returning disputed artifacts in their possession.
According to Hicks, the museum community is pleased that there is progress being made in returning these items. However, this does not necessarily mean that loans will be the solution in every case, such as with the Parthenon marbles and Benin bronzes, and that returning stolen goods permanently and unconditionally may be the better option.
Many individuals in Ghana are dissatisfied with the current agreement, expressing their discontent through social media and local radio. They believe that the deal is comparable to a thief loaning back stolen items.
“A thief breaks into your house and steals your prized possessions. However, you are able to locate the thief and they reluctantly agree to ‘borrow’ them back to you. Can you believe it?” Lorraine King, a host on Colourful Radio in the UK, shared on X (formerly known as Twitter). “Interestingly, the UK will lend Ghana the crown jewels that were taken from them 150 years ago.”
Ayim recognizes that individuals are upset about the concept of taking out a loan, but remains optimistic that it will be the initial stage towards their eventual repatriation. “We are aware that the objects were forcefully taken and that they rightfully belong to the Asante people.”
Is it the British Museum or the Brutish Museum?
According to Hicks, he interprets the agreement as meaning that the British Museum and V&A are making every effort to return the items while still adhering to legal technicalities.
The UK is not following the trend of other nations, such as France and Germany, who have begun returning artifacts taken by colonial powers. In fact, France and Germany have teamed up to explore ways to return items from their national museums. Additionally, the Smithsonian in Washington has returned 29 Benin bronzes to Nigeria.
Although national museums are not able to give back their artifacts, private UK museums, such as those at the University of Cambridge, have returned Benin bronzes.
According to Hicks, in his recent publication The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence, and Cultural Restitution, the government’s unwillingness to modify the law to permit national museums to return stolen artifacts contradicts the opinions of the majority of the British population and museum directors. (The Labour party has not shown interest in altering the law, but Keir Starmer has indicated his support for lending the Parthenon marbles to Athens.)
“Some government officials may see this loan deal as a temporary solution to end the current debate,” Hicks states. “However, I believe it will have the opposite effect and bring attention to the matter, causing the public to question what is morally correct.”
“When can we expect the law to be revised and the valuable items to be rightfully returned?”
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The front pages
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The Times published an article titled “Police Chief Blamed for Stabbings”, and the Telegraph also covered the story, featuring quotes from families of the victims of Nottingham murderer Valdo Calocane on its front page: “He Has Escaped Punishment for Murder”. The Mirror also discussed the issue with the headline “They Were Let Down”.
The Sun has reported on Bill Roache, 91, with the title “Corrie Bill facing bankruptcy”.
Something for the weekend
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Bored at work?
Lastly, the Guardian’s puzzles are available to keep you amused all day long – with a variety of options on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. See you on Monday.