Thu, 19 Jan 2023 Feature Article

Reclaiming Looted Asante Gold (Ghana): Triumph Of Morality Over Brutality?

Gold mask, 20 cm in height, weighing 1.36 kg. of pure gold, seized by the British from Kumase, Ghana, in 1874 and now in the Wallace Collection, London, United Kingdom.Gold mask, 20 cm in height, weighing 1.36 kg. of pure gold, seized by the British from Kumase, Ghana, in 1874 and now in the Wallace Collection, London, United Kingdom.

“The town burnt furiously, all these three days of rain failing in any way to impede the progress of the devouring element. The thick thatched roofs of the houses, dry as timber except just on the outside, blazed as though they had been ready prepared for the bonfire, and the flames ran down the framework which supported the mud walls. In the larger houses, more substantially built, only the roofs caught fire; but the destruction was practically complete. Slowly huge dense columns of smoke curled up to the sky, and lighted fragments of thatch drifting far and wide upon the wind showed to the King of Ashanti, and to all his subjects who had fled from the capital, that the white man never failed to keep his word.” - Henry Brackenbury and Harry Cooper, The Ashanti War . (1)

Our readers are no doubt aware that in 1974 the Asantehene, late Otumfour Nana Opoku Ware II, with the support and endorsement of the Ghana Government petitioned the British authorities to return finally, the Asante regalia, which the British army had looted from Kumasi in 1874,1896. and 1900 and which are now in the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, the Wallace Collection, and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. (2) The petition was not successful. The British attitude towards such demands was demonstrated in a debate on the matter that took place in the British House of Lords reproduced in below. (3) The usual British upper-class arrogance and condescending attitude towards those they consider inferior or unworthy of their attention shine through the debate, during which there was much laughter. Will there now be a better chance of securing the return of our artefacts now than in 1974? There have been events since 1974 pointing to the advancement of the restitution movement. We can now expect a more thoughtful consideration.

  • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007.
  • Plea by Ahmadou M'Bow for Return of Artefacts to those who created them 1978.
  • Exhibition Benin: Kings and Rituals-Court Arts from Nigeria, 2007, Vienna.
  • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007.
  • -Several General Assembly Resolutions on Return of Cultural Property to the Country of Origin.
  • Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museum(DIVUM),2004.
  • Ouagadougou Declaration by President Macron of France 2017.
  • Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy. The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics,2018.
  • Return by France on 10 November 2021 of 26 Royal Dahomean artefacts to Republique du Benin.
  • Decision by Germany to return 1300 Benin artefacts to Nigeria in 2021
  • Return of Benin artefact by Jesus College, Cambridge.2021.
  • Return of Benin Artefacts by University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom, 2021.
  • Neil McGregor, former director of the British Museum,2002-2015, in his latest book, À monde nouveau, nouveaux musées,2021, suggests that the museums should change their attitude towards restitution.
  • Return of 26 Benin artefacts to Nigeria by the Smithsonian, Washington, and the inauguration of the policy of ethical returns, 2022.
  • Return of 3 Benin artefacts by Metropolitan Museum, New York, USA, 2022.
  • Return of 72 Benin artefacts to Nigeria By Horniman Museum, London, 2022.
  • Return of 116 Benin artefacts to Nigeria by Cambridge University Archaeological and Anthropology Museum,2022.
  • Visit of Tristram Hunt, Director, Victoria and Albert Museum to Kumase,2022.
  • Return of Benin artefacts to Nigeria by Oxford University, Pitts Rivers Museum. 2022.
  • Return of Parthenon Marbles fragments by Pope Francisco from the Vatican to Athens 2022.
  • Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, Cologne, returned 92 Benin artefacts to Nigeria. 2022.
  • France returns to Cote d'Ivoire, Djidji Ayôkwé, a talking drum stolen by France during the colonial period in 2022.
  • Inadequate and unacceptable but significant offer of apology for the role of the Dutch State in slavery by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
  • Hardliner Herrmann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Foundation for Cultural Heritage, Berlin, and uncommitted Hartmut Dorgerloh, Director-General of Humboldt Foundation, rally to restitution.
  • Goethe Institute announces roundtable discussions on Germany's successful restitutions.
  • Announcement by Berlin State Secretary Saraya Gomis that she would like to return the bust of Nefertiti and the Pergamon Altar.

An equally crucial factor is the emphasis on morality or ethics found in all recent restitutions. Contemporary museum directors are moving from the position of their predecessors, who refused to consider any demand for restitution of looted artefacts because the conqueror had legally acquired these objects in a war; and because the law recognized the right to booty. Recent decisions contain direct or indirect condemnation of violence in acquiring cultural artefacts.

The Secretary-General of the Smithsonian expressed this view while launching the new policy of ethical returns:

"There is a growing understanding at the Smithsonian and in the world of museums generally that our possession of these collections carries with it certain ethical obligations to the places and people where the collections originated," said Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch. "Among these obligations is to consider, using our contemporary moral norms, what should be in our collections and what should not. This new policy on ethical returns is an expression of our commitment to meet these obligations.’ (4)

Eva Salomon, Chair of the Horniman Museum, justified the Horniman's decision to return 92 Benin artefacts to Nigeria on moral grounds:

The evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired through force, and external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria.' (5)

Lai Mohammed, Nigerian Minister of Information and Culture, has declared that the question of restitution is one of ethics and not law. He said people in London used the law as a shield when they alleged the law prohibited deaccessioning objects. (6)

In its decision to approve Cambridge University Archaeological and Anthropological Museum to transfer 116 Benin artefacts to Nigeria, the Charity Commission concluded the university was "under a moral obligation" to return the artefacts. (7)

Prof. Nicholas Thomas, director of the Cambridge museum, said: ‘Across the international museum sector, there is growing recognition that illegitimately acquired artefacts should be returned to their countries of origin (8)

A group of Belgian scholars and practitioners who examined issues of restitution of artefacts looted by Belgium from the Congo – made the following recommendation:

'Although the existing legal framework is not favourable to the owners of the objects in colonial collections, there are opportunities for change. Indeed, the law should try to be in tune with the social and ethical issues of its time, reflecting the demands for equity and reconciliation with the past that are increasingly resonating within society. A moral duty to return the colonial heritage is emerging, inviting us to go beyond the limitations of the existing legal framework in order to make an ethical responsibility heard in law.' (9)

Germany has made remarkable progress in the area of restitution if one considers the earlier opposition in Germany to discussions of restitution fuelled by NGOs' such as Postkolonial Berlin who underlined the inherent links between the colonial system and looting of artefacts. The discussions also contributed to Germans waking up from the amnesia of the colonial period and all atrocities, including the genocide of the Herero and the Nama. The large amount of Benin artefacts that the Germans are transferring to Nigeria,1130 is very impressive when compared to the number other countries are willing to transfer. Equally noticeable is that the German transfers are led by two female ministers, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Culture. This may be sheer coincidence, but in an area, where up to now, male chauvinism in the form of male colonial brutality has dominated the acquisition of artefacts and the refusal to restitute, this may be significant. In any case the fact that women have made progress to the extent that they are effective in high political matters reflects the progress made by their society since the brutal colonial time

Given the above-mentioned factors and the overwhelming evidence of this shift of history from violent and brutal acquisition to morality-based restitution, it is obvious that a new demand for the return of the Asante regalia must be given a more reasonable consideration and will not be a laughing matter in the House of Lords as it was in December 1974. The violent way in which Britain invaded Asante several times and carried away as much golden treasures as it could find clearly puts a moral obligation on the present holders to return the precious gold artefacts to the owner, the Asantehene in Manhyia, Kumase. There is already a royal museum there waiting to receive the returned treasures.

The transfer by the Pope of three Parthenon Marbles fragments from Rome to Athens may be seen as support of the Vatican for restoring artefacts acquired under dubious circumstances to the place of origin. One also gains the hope that the Vatican will soon be sending back some of the substantial number of African artefacts found in the Vatican's Museum of Ethnology. Many were sent to Rome for an exhibition in 1936 but were never returned after the presentation. (10)

Some have pointed out it was precisely to avoid the impression that the Vatican was supporting a general restitution that the Pope sent the Parthenon Marbles not to the Greek State but to the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Ieronymos II as a religious act of donation. But can the Catholic Church arbitrarily limit the growing support or morality to relations between churches?

Does the growing consensus that looted objects or objects acquired under dubious circumstances be returned to their owners or place of origin be split in its application by a religious body into religious and non-religious spheres? Different morality within church and outside the church? Would the moral theology of the Catholic saints support such a distinction? This would be a dangerous path for the church.

The Vatican should not be surprised when the light is turned on the number of African artefacts in its Ethnology Museum in Rome.

Most of the objects in this museum have contested origins. Pragmatic decisions will not save the Vatican from increasing demands. The Vatican must make a moral decision in an important aspect of colonial and imperialistic injustice. The church must show leadership here and not be seen as trailing States such as Germany that have decided to return objects acquired with force or threats.

Whatever may have been the intention of the Vatican in returning Parthenon fragments to Athens, we believe this is the time for Ethiopia to relaunch its claim for the looted Maqdala artefacts and the religious objects, such as Christian crosses, in many Western museums, such as the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museums. (11) We should also want to know about Ethiopian artefacts and manuscripts in the Vatican institutions and Italy. Does the Vatican have any better justification for holding Ethiopian artefacts and manuscripts than the British Museum? Is the Vatican's holding of the property of other people justified on moral grounds? Should the church not lead by example?

The return of fragments of Parthenon Marbles will soon open up the question of the role of the Vatican in past violent acquisitions, the part of Catholic missionaries in Africa, the artefacts collected to be burnt as heathen symbols but later turned up in European museums such as in Lyon.

Tristram Hunt, in his report on his visit to Kumase, mentions loans. We have no official statement from the Ghanaian side. Ghanaian papers reported the visit but did not refer to the reaction of the Asantehene or the Government. Moreover, we do not know whether the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum proposed directly to his Ghanaian interlocutors the idea of a loan of the looted Asante artefacts to the Asantehene or the Ghanaian authorities. Whatever the case, we wish to clearly state our fundamental objection to the idea of a loan of Asante artefacts to the Asantehene by the illegal holders who, since 1874, have been holding these precious Asante treasures and refuse until now to return them. Asante is authentic living culture that cannot work in its essential elements with borrowed elements from those who stole from us.

What are we to tell our children? Should we tell them that those elements are genuine Asante objects or borrowed elements from our former British colonial masters, who attacked us and stole them? Can the soul of the Asantehene be protected or reflected by a soul watcher disc borrowed from the British Museum?

Can British institutions transfer ownership of Benin bronzes to the Oba and Nigeria but refuse to transfer legal ownership in Asante regalia to the Asantehene and Ghana?

We are not against African States making loans of artefacts to Western museums or governments. What we are saying is that restitution and loan must not be mixed up or done at the same time. Restitute our artefacts, and we can then make loans afterward. The practice of making loans to former illegal holders before restitution or at the same time must be rejected. We should not subject ourselves to extortion or undue pressure. Promise loans before restitution or no restitution cannot be accepted.

Artefacts that have been away for over a hundred years should return home before they are loaned again for another stay abroad. Or what is the home for the restituted artefacts?

Even if the majority of recent decisions would support the restitution of the Asante regalia, it is also well-known that the British Government and the British Museum cannot be trusted to follow any consistent policy here. They are known for surprises. The British Parliament and the British Museum do not seem to have decided on who has the final word on this matter. Parliament states that it is for the British Museum to decide cases of restitution. British Museum states that they need a parliamentary decision to return any object in the museum. Prime Minister Boris Johnson declares that British Museum decides restitution. The next Prime Minister Lis Truss declares that restitution is out of question. British Museum Board of Trustees, George Osborne declares he is talking with Greece about restitution, Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Michelle Donelan declares restitution is out of question. Added to this game of ping pong between Parliament and the British Museum, is the recent instability of governments that does not allow us to know which Government will be in power at any time. The path to restitution of the Asante regalia is therefore not straightforward. Demanders of restitution will have to bring more pressure on this matter, Lethargy, indifference, and inconsequential policies would not secure the restitution of our looted artefacts. Since the Sarr-Savoy published in 2018 a comprehensive list of African artefacts in the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, few African States have put in a demand for restitution from France. (12) We are aware of demands by the République du Bénin, Côte d'Ivoire, Chad, Senegal, and Nigeria. But what about the other African States?

As in the case of the Benin artefacts, nobody knows exactly the number of Asante artefacts looted by the British. The list of stolen articles made by Henry M. Stanley, the embedded. reporter with the British Army, is not sufficient for our purposes. (13) Various British institutions give their estimates. Victoria and Albert Museum states:

'Garrard's is the source given for thirteen items of Asante court regalia acquired by the V&A in June 1874.The V&A's collection includes a pipe, three pectoral discs (plus another acquired in 1883), a pair of silver anklets and a number of beaten gold pieces which were probably used to decorate state stools or swords.' (14)

Can we accept this statement as covering all the looted Asante items in the venerable museum? What about the gold weights?

The British Museum's homepage shows that the museum has 225 Asante objects, all golden artefacts. What about the gold weights and other objects? There is nowhere indicated a total addition of Asante objects in the museum, so we have to do our addition and subtraction. It should be borne in mind that it was the fabulous Asante gold that attracted many European nations, Portuguese, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Dutch German (Brandenburg) and the British to establish themselves in the Gold Coast for years. We should remember that gold dust was the currency in Asante until the British gained control over Asanteman. How much gold dust did the British steal in their various invasions of Asante and extorted from the Asante rulers? ­­­­Incidentally, many of the golden objects on the British Museum website are said to have been excavated, so where are objects the British looted ? Where are the treasures they collected from Manhyia, where the Asantehene’s palace has always been and the neighbouring houses of the Asante nobles­­ were situated? Henry Morgan Stanley has written about this.

What would be helpful is to have a list of numbers looted from Kumase. We may have to aim at a Digital Asante that would give full details about the various objects found in the museums, including date, source of acquisition, and location. One has learned that when giving figures of looted African objects in Western museums, one cannot be complacent. A letter must go from the Ghana Government and the Asantehene to the British government with copies to the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Wallace Collection, requesting the restitution of the Asante regalia looted by the British in their invasion and destruction of Kumasi in 1874, 1896, and 1900.

The letter should refer to the earlier demand of 1974 and the changed circumstances of our times should be mentioned as grounds for optimism for a favourable consideration this time. A definite office should be made responsible for the successful outcome of the demand. In the case of the Benin bronzes, the Nigerian Minister of Culture managed the matter and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, under the able leadership of Prof Abba Isa Tijani managed the actual implementation.

The Ghana High Commission in London or other office should be charged with task of coordination between Accra and London in this matter. As prospects for restitution of Asante artefacts appear likely, we will no doubt be faced with a question that Nigeria also had to answer, namely where should the restituted artefacts go, whether to the central government at the capital or to the traditional ruler from whose area the objects were looted by the British. We had no doubt that the Benin artefacts belong to the Oba of Benin and should be returned to where they were looted. The Nigerian president issued a statement that settled the issue. (15)

As far as concerns negotiations with foreign governments, that was the work of the Foreign Ministry and the National Commission on Museums and Monuments. But once the legal ownership and the objects are transferred to Nigeria, the artefacts should be returned to where they were before they were looted.

In the case of the Asante regalia, I do not doubt that the restituted objects should be returned to Kumase, to the Manhyia palace where they were looted.

Asante culture, has a greater chance of further development at the Asantehene's palace than at a museum or institution controlled by the central government. The culture that produced the original artefacts before they were looted has a better chance of starting a renaissance than an institution that will receive the returned objects for the first time.

The rich diversity of cultures in Nigeria and Ghana suggests to me that all cultures should be given equal opportunity to develop in their natural and historical environments. Constitutional requirement of equality of treatment of all persons would also suggest the avoidance of the impression that one culture was more important than others. One should not worry about the tourists that usually visit our major cities.

NGO's such as Postkolonial and AFRIMUHERE that are active in heritage matters as well as the African diaspora in Britain should be consulted and informed, following a policy of transparency and the need for public education.

Historians and other intellectuals should be involved and their vast knowledge of our history should be used.

Relevant documents should be published, and the public should be told precisely where to address its questions and which website to send inquiries. The secrecy shown by Nigeria and Germany in such matters should not become standard practice. Memoranda of Understanding signed by Nigeria and Germany concerning restitution have not been published. Again the letter from Nigeria to the British Museum in October 2021 demanding restitution of Benin artefacts has not been made available to the public. We should do everything possible to bring to the attention of the Western public the case of the looted Asante regalia. Few westerners are familiar with this case, and we cannot hope that Britain will bring this to the attention of the British public.

Another issue that has to be clarified is whether there should be compensation from the British for all the wanton destruction they caused. They burnt Kumase in 1874 even though the Asante had indicated they did not want to fight.

Asantehene Kofi Karkari and his soldiers had left the City before the arrival of the British troops in the City. Attempts had been made to persuade the British not to continue to Kumase by offering them guarantees. Having determined that their interests would be best served by removing the Asantehene, the British demanded guarantees they knew could not be accepted by the Asante.

Wolseley demanded from the Asantehene, as hostages, pending negotiations, the following persons:

"Prince Mensah, your Majesty's heir

Your Majesty's Mother
The heir of the King of Juabin
The heir of the King of Kokofu
The heir of the King of Mampon
The heir of the King of Bekwai
and half of 50.000 ounzes
of gold dust". (16)

When we realize that the British who were not and are not neighbours of the Asante, came thousands of miles away from Europe to seek control of our land and resources, the question arises whether they should not pay compensation for the senseless destruction they caused in Kumase. Is it enough that they return some of our artefacts? What about the human lives and property they destroyed? What about depriving us of more than a hundred years from using our artefacts?

One of the presidential candidates for the coming Nigerian Presidential Elections Bola Tinubu, of the All-Progressives Congress (APC) has urged western museums to 'pay repatriation funds on the items to Nigeria, especially Edo State as compensation for the long years of denial.' 'The presidential candidate urged countries to pay some money to Edo State having made huge money from the returned artefacts through tourism and exhibitions. (17)

The museums holding the bulk of the looted Asante regalia in the United Kingdom, as the reader knows, are the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Wallace Collection and the British Museum. The director of the V and A Museum recently went to Ghana and had talks with the Asantehene and Ghanaian authorities about future partnerships. (18)

The Wallace Collection does not appear to have adopted any policy of restitution. But a statement on the museum's homepage indicates an unwillingness to repatriate any of the Asante gold treasures:'

‘ The issues around ownership and care for these objects are complex. The narratives and meanings ascribed to these objects by their original communities may be changed in a museum context or setting. Many of these objects are displaced and dispossessed, divorced now from their power and context as symbolic representations, and distanced from the religious transactions that existed between them and the people who revered them as spiritual and powerful elements.' (19)

As readers know from our previous articles, the British Museum is the most recalcitrant regarding the restitution of looted African artefacts. (20) This museum has the most extensive collection of looted artefacts. The total number of Asante regalia in this venerable citadel cannot be stated with any confidence.

We need reliable information that the museum that has refused adamantly to follow Dutch, French, and German positions regarding the restitution of African artefacts is about to move from its negative position.

It is good that the Bloomsbury museum has acknowledged that it received a demand for the restitution of Asante artefacts in 1974. (21) This means that the British Museum will no longer rely on the old argument of Western museums that no one has asked for restitution.

This attempt to secure the restitution of the Asante regalia must be accompanied by demonstrated seriousness of all concerned. All evidence points to a reasonable consideration, but if those primarily concerned do not show great interest in the demand, we should not expect the present illegal holders to be more enthusiastic about returning the precious treasures.

Recent moves by Western museums in restitution matters point to a new era in the relations of Africa-Europe, a new ethical relation as suggested by the Sarr-Savoy report.

The German Minister for Foreign Affairs, Analena Baerbock has rightly declared on returning Benin bronzes to Nigeria:It was wrong to steal these bronzes. It was wrong to keep these bronzes; it is long overdue to return them to their home. We see this as a first step. Many bronzes have been looted and stolen, so many will come back. This step is also important because we are dealing with our dark colonial past.’ (22)


1. Narrative Prepared From The Official Documents By Permission of Major-General Sir Garnet Wolseley 91874,V II.

2. K. Opoku, When will Britain Return Looted Ghanaian Artefacts? A History of British Looting of more than one hundred Objects,

3. Annex I


6. ‘It’s about ethics’: Nigeria urges British Museum to follow US and repatriate bronzes.

7. Cambridge University will return Benin Bronzes to Nigeria in move that piles pressure on British Museum to follow suit

University of Cambridge given go-ahead to return its Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

8. Cambridge University to return Benin Bronzes to Nigeria - BBC News

9. Ethical Principles for the Management and Restitution of Colonial Collections in Belgium (June 2021)

10. K. Opoku, Could the Catholic Church's Ethnology Museum be holding artefacts with doubtful histories?

11. K. Opoku, When Will Western Nations Return Ethiopia's Stolen Treasures?

Loan Of Looted Ethiopia: Must Europeans Always Win?

Looted Ethiopian Tabot Concealed Permanently In Westminster Abbey, London. Is There Somewhere A Minimum Sense Of Shame?

British Museum To Loan Looted ‘invisible’ Ethiopian Tabots To Ethiopia: How Far Can Absurdities Go In Restitution?

Ethiopian President Shows the Way in Demand for Restitution of African Artefacts

12. See annex II.
13. K. Opoku, Benin Bronzes Belong to Oba of Benin


15. K. Opoku, The Guild,Jan6, 2023,
Tinubu Recommends Repatriation Funds On Returned

Artefact Tinubu recommends repatriation funds on returned artefacts – The Guild (

16. Adu Boahen, The Adu Boahen Reader, p. 278.

17. The Guild, Jan 6, 2023 , Tinubu Recommends Repatriation Funds On Returned Artefact Tinubu recommends repatriation funds on returned artefacts – The Guild (

K. Opoku: The Benin Bronzes, Restitution and Decolonization. The Debate on Colonial Loot and Reparations, Keynote Address at University of Hamburg, 26 October, 2022.

18. Hunt:‘We also welcomed the opportunity to reinvigorate and build enduring transcultural partnerships around the world this year. I visited Ghana to begin conversations about a renewable cultural partnership centred around the V&A collection of Asante court regalia, which entered the collection following the looting of Kumasi in 1874. We are optimistic that a new partnership model can forge a potential pathway for these important artefacts to be on display in Ghana in the coming years.

19. p.25.

20. How Far Have We Gone In The Struggle For The Restitution Of African Artefacts?

K. Opoku, Even The Big Elephant In Bloomsbury Must Defend Itself: British Museum Reacts To Recent Wave Of Restitutions

21. A British Museum spokesperson told the that a formal claim was received in 1974. Since then “there have been several spoken requests, most notably by the current Asantehene, during the visit of the deputy director of the British Museum to Kumasi in 2010”. The spokesperson says that there is “a cordial working relationship with the Asante Royal Court through the Asantehene and the Manhyia Palace Museum committee”.

Discussions have been held with the Asantehene, with both parties expressing the “ambition that objects from the British Museum collection might travel on loan to the Kumasi museum”. V&A likely to return looted Asante gold treasures to Ghana


Ashanti Regalia Debate In House of Lords

HL Deb 10 December 1974 vol 355 cc534-5534

2.40 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, with a view to fostering Commonwealth relations, they will use their good offices to facilitate the early return of the Ashanti regalia to the Ghana nation.


My Lords, the regalia is not at the disposal of Her Majesty's Government. The majority of it forms part of the collections of the British Museum and the Wallace Collection. Neither body may legally dispose of its exhibits.


My Lords, are the Government aware that I was aware that these relics are in fact in the British Museum and the Wallace Collection, and that that is why I asked them to use their good offices to facilitate their return? In view of the fact that these relics are, and were originally, war booty captured by the British Army, are Her Majesty's Government aware of the very deep feelings of the Ashanti people about the return of these sacrosanct objects, which are supposed to contain the soul of the Ashanti people? Is it also a fact that a special Act of Parliament may be needed to release these objects from the British Museum; and, if so, will Her Majesty's Government facilitate the passage of such a Bill?


My Lords, I certainly could not give an indication that we would seek the passage of such legislation—nor, indeed, could I advise that this should be so—because of the very far-ranging complications that might ensue from dealing with a case of this kind, for thereupon a great variety of other cases would immediately arise for consideration. On the question whether the Ghanaian Government have approached us, the position is that the Kumasi Traditional Council of Chiefs have petitioned Her Majesty's Government on this matter. We have replied in the terms of my reply to the noble Lord's Question, and so far they have not commented on that reply.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend to tread very warily when it comes to returning booty which we have collected in this country, because the process might turn into rather a strip-tease?


My Lords, perhaps the term "booty" is not quite appropriate, especially in this case. This is part of an indemnity which was agreed by the former King of Ashanti, the proceeds of which were devoted to compensation for dependants of British troops killed in the rather horrific conditions in that part of the world at that time. I sympathise very much with the motives behind the Question—namely, that we should do everything possible to promote improved Commonwealth relations—but I do not think this is quite the best way of going about it.

Lord GISBOROUGH My Lords, would it not be possible to keep the booty and return the souls.


From Sarr-Savoy Report, figure 3, pp.149-150

Henry M. Stanley, Comasssie and Magdala. The Story of Two British Campaigns in Africa, Rediscovery Books,2006, pp. 233-234


Below is an interview in 2009 in which the Asantehene expressed his views on the continued illegal holding of Asante regalia by British museums.

A: Well, when I hear people talk about human rights, I question their sincerity, because I walk through the British Museum and see artefacts and ornaments belonging to my people, the Asantes, being showcased in London, and they won't give them back to me.

I went to Windsor Castle some time ago and saw the gold cup of Nana Karikari and other artefacts being exhibited there. They still have our treasures there; and also at the British Museum. But when we talk about human rights, are we not saying that I, the Asantehene, also have things over which I have rights? And why can't I have the treasures and gold looted by the British from my people back?

Q: Have you brought up this issue with Queen Elizabeth II who is the overlord of Windsor Castle?

A: Not with the Queen personally, but the demand for the return of these artefacts and gold was started by my immediate predecessor, Otumfuo Opoku Ware II, and I also took it up by talking to people over there. Their whole argument is: "Oh, we can bring them back on a short trip like exhibiting them in a museum for a while, but we cannot give them back to you on a permanent basis because they are war artefacts." It smacks of rank hypocrisy

Interview of the Asantehene by Ankomah, Baffour, New African, Apr 2009 ; See also Freeonline Library

The late Asantehene Otumfuo Nana Opoku Ware II, with the support of the Ghana Government, made in 1974 a request for the return of the Asante regalia stolen by the British in 1874,1896, and 1900 from Kumasi that are now in the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Wallace Collection, all in London. Otumfou Asantehene Osei Tutu II has several times repeated this request. Asante gold belongs to Manhyia and not Bloomsbury. Will the present Asantehene recover the Asante regalia in 2023-24?

Two ceremonial swords, Asante, Kumase, now in Wallace Collection, London, United Kingdom.

Gold mask, 20 cm in height, weighing 1.36 kg. of pure gold, seized by the British from Kumase, Ghana, in 1874 and now in the Wallace Collection, London, United Kingdom.

Asante gold ceremonial head-dress or ceremonial hat, Kumase, Ghana, now in British Museum, London, United Kingdom.

Asante finger ring, Kumase ,Ghana, now in British Museum ,London, United Kingdom

.Necklace, Asante, Kumase, Ghana, now in British Museum, London, United Kingdom.

Disc pendant, soul disc, Asante, Kumase, now in British Museum, London, United Kingdom.

Pectoral disc, Kumase, Ghana, now in Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom.

Badge, Asante, Kumase, now in Victoria and Albert Museum, London ,United Kingdom.

Gold pendant, Asante, Kumase, now in Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom.

Looted stool of Kofi Karikari, Asante, Kumase, now in Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford, United Kingdom.

Sheet-brass box, Asante, Kumase, now at Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, United Kingdom

Amulet case, Asante,Kumase,Ghana,now in National Museum of Scotland, United Kingdom,

Trophy head,stolen by British Troops from King Karikari in 1884,now part of the Royal Collection Trust,Windsor Castle,United Kingdom.

Royal leather cap with gold decoration, stolen in the 1874 invasion of Kumase, now in the Royal Collection ,London, United Kingdom. On 2 April 1874, the queen recorded in her Journal that she 'looked at some gold ornaments, huge gold, Krobonkye masks, rings, bracelets & other ornaments brought from Coomassie [Kumasi], (all of pure gold), by officers & others, sent in as an indemnity. They are being sold for the benefit of the Army & I have bought some’.

Axe, sika akuma, Asante, Kumase, Ghana, in Royal Collection Trust, London, United Kingdom. This axe was used on extraordinary occasions by the Asante for negotiation with neighbouring peoples and foreign governments

Kuduo, Asante, Ghana now in British Museum ,London United Kingdom.

Ornament vessel, Asante, Ghana ,now in British Museum, London, United Kingdom.

Asante goldweights, Kumase, Ghana, now in National Museums of Scotland, United Kingdom.

Asante stool,Kumase,Ghana,now in Glasgow Museum. ‘This stool was taken from the Asante Royal Palace of Kumasi by Brigadier General Sir Archibald Alison, on 4 February 1874, when he led part of the British Army’s invading force against the Asante people.’

King Prempeh’s Royal Chair at Royal Signals Museum at Blandford, seized in 1896 by Baden Powell and the British Army.

Asante, Royal Stool, Ghana, taken from the palace of Asantehene Kofi Karikari (1837-1884)now in University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

Goldweights, Asante, Kumase ,Ghana, now in Pitts Rivers Museum,Oxford, United Kingdom.

Goldweight, Asante, Kumase, Ghana, nowin PittRivers Museum, Oxford, United Kingdom.

Drinking bowl of Asantehene,Kumase,Ghana,now in British Museum, London,United Kingdom.