UK to return looted royal regalia to Ghana in loan deal


LONDON, Jan 25 (Reuters) – Britain is returning a selection of Ghanaian gold regalia looted from an Asante king in the 19th century, in a historic loan deal set out on Thursday.

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Some 32 objects, including a gold peace pipe and a sword of state from London’s British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum, will be loaned to the Manhyia Palace Museum in the Ghanaian city of Kumasi, 150 years after they were stolen, the museums said.

“These are more than artefacts; they are the items that connect us to our history, our past and help us to understand who we are, how we’re relevant and relate to the world and one other,” Obadele Kambon, an associate professor at the University of Ghana, told Reuters.

The museums also acknowledged the “cultural, historical and spiritual significance” of the objects to the Asante people.

“They are also indelibly linked to British colonial history in West Africa, with many of them looted from Kumasi during the Anglo-Asante wars of the 19th century,” they said in a statement.

Britain is at the centre of an impassioned debate over the repatriation of priceless objects appropriated in colonial times. Nigeria and Ethiopia are among a number of countries seeking repatriation of looted artefacts.

However, some museums say they are banned by law from permanently returning contested items in their collections.

A dispute over the Parthenon sculptures, housed at the British Museum, escalated last year when Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cancelled a meeting with Greek premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis in a row over discussing their status.

Greece has repeatedly called on the museum to return the 2,500-year-old sculptures that British diplomat Lord Elgin removed from the Parthenon temple in the early 19th century.

The museum’s trustees have said they would consider a loan to Greece if Athens acknowledges its ownership of the sculptures, which Greek governments have refused in the past.

The partnership with the Ghanaian museum comes after Asante King Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, known as the Asantehene, visited London last May to attend the coronation of King Charles.

He met the leaders of the London museums, opening discussions which were followed by months of negotiations over the potential return of Ghana’s “crown jewels”.

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

Objects selected from the British Museum consist mostly 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 and are due to form part of an exhibition planned for the Ghanaian king’s silver jubilee celebration later this year.

“This (return) is monumental but there is a long way to go … There’s still a battle to fight and that is a battle for the true and proper restoration of our dignity and of all the things stolen, not loaned back to us,” Kambon said.

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