After Britain, the US sends looted royal artefacts to Ghana’s Ashanti King

By Melissa Chemam with RFI
FEB 12, 2024 LISTEN

A California museum 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.

Ghana's royal treasures from the Fowler Museum include a gold necklace, an ornamental chair and an elephant tail whisk.

They 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.

'No conditions'

The ceremony was held close to the 150th anniversary of the 1874 Anglo-Asante war, gathering 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, part of the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA).

Unlike other institutions negotiating with Ghana, the 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.

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 Manhyia Palace Museum will hold a year-long celebration throughout 2024.

Traces of colonial looting

The move comes 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.

Late in January, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London announced they were to lend gold and silver treasures looted from the Asante kingdom back to Ghana in a six-year deal.

Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at University of Oxford Dan Hicks wrote the return to Ghana was "long overdue".

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.

Egypt and Ethiopia also want the British Museum to return a number of items taken during colonial conquests, while Algeria expects artefacts and even human remains to be returned from France. 

 (with AFP)