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Ghana's Ashanti king receives looted royal artefacts from US museum

By AFP
Africa The Ashanti king Otumfuo Osei Tutu II is a revered figure in Ghana.  By Nipah Dennis AFP
FEB 8, 2024 LISTEN
The Ashanti king Otumfuo Osei Tutu II is a revered figure in Ghana. By Nipah Dennis (AFP)

A California museum on Thursday returned seven royal artefacts to Ghana’s traditional Ashanti king to commemorate his silver jubilee in the first planned handovers of Ashanti treasures looted during colonial times.

The ceremony came as pressure grows for European and US museums and institutions to restore African artefacts stolen during the rule of former colonial powers Britain, France, Germany and Belgium.

The Ghana royal treasures from the Fowler Museum, including a gold necklace, an ornamental chair and an elephant tail whisk, were presented during a ceremony of chiefs at the Manhyia Palace in the city of Kumasi in the Ashanti region.

Royal Ashanti gold objects are believed to be invested with the spirits of former rulers.

The Ashanti monarch Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, who holds an important ceremonial role in Ghana, said their return would help unite his people.

"What just happened confirms what occurred so many years ago when the British attacked us and looted our treasures," he said. "Let’s remain united to bring about peace and development in the kingdom."

Ivor Agyeman Duah, an advisor to the king, said the objects were sacred.

"Their homecoming signifies a pivotal moment of reconciliation and pride for our kingdom," Duah told the AFP.

The event, held close to the 150th anniversary of the 1874 Anglo-Asante war, gathered traditional leaders, politicians and diplomats, most adorned in red and black to symbolise mourning.

The returned items have been part of the Fowler Museum's collection since 1965.

The returned treasures include a necklace, an ornamental chair and an elephant tail whisk. By Nipah Dennis AFP The returned treasures include a necklace, an ornamental chair and an elephant tail whisk. By Nipah Dennis (AFP)

Unlike other institutions negotiating with Ghana, the Fowler Museum imposed no conditions, leaving it to the discretion of their Ghanaian stewards to decide their use for museum displays, palace treasuries, or public celebrations.

Speaking to AFP at the palace grounds, Ghanaian royal historian Osei-Bonsu Safo-Kantanka said: "This is a special moment for the Asante people because it strengthens the bond between us and our ancestors."

The objects will be displayed at the Manhyia Palace Museum as part of the year-long celebration.

The move follows recent announcements by the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to lend gold and silver treasures looted from the Asante kingdom back to Ghana in a six-year deal.

Neighbouring Nigeria is also negotiating the return of thousands of 16th to 18th century metal objects looted from the ancient kingdom of Benin and currently held by museums and art collectors across the United States and Europe.

Two years ago, Benin received two dozen treasures and artworks stolen in 1892 by French colonial forces.

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