28.02.2024 Feature Article

British Museum And Victoria And Albert Museum Loan Looted Asante Artefacts To Asante /ghana: Where Is The Morality?

Repouss gold ornament, disk-shaped.Repoussé gold ornament, disk-shaped.
28.02.2024 LISTEN

“Gold gleams throughout the Ashanti story: one wonders in retrospect whether the punitive expedition would have been quite so dedicated if the significant product of Ashanti had been anything else but the potent lure. - Russell Chamberlin, Loot: The Heritage of Plunder (1)

There has recently been a lot of excitement about the ‘returns’ of looted Asante/Ghanaian artefacts to Ghana. (2) These artefacts were looted by the British Army in invasions of Kumasi, the Asante capital, especially in the so-called punitive expedition of 1874. (3)

What have the British done? Two British museums, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum have agreed to return to Asante/Ghana respectively 15 and 17 looted objects. (4) The return of thirty-two objects from the 10,000 thousand objects looted in 1874 leaves nine thousand and sixty-eight objects in Britain. How long will it take, at the rate of thirty-two objects per 150 years, to return all our Asante artefacts?

The returned artefacts are on loan to Asante/Ghana for three years after 150 years of exile in Britain. Should those who admittedly stole our artefacts not be generous, at least on the loan term? When Nigeria loaned Benin artefacts to Germany, the ten-year term was to be automatically renewed unless there was an objection. (5)

Loans instead of outright restitution will affect the demands of Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, and other African countries for their looted artefacts in Britain. We have for a long time argued that Britain will use such an acceptance by one African country or people against subsequent African demands. Ghana’s acceptance will be used against Nigerian demands. In their usual concern for fairness, the British will tell the Nigerians that we cannot give you a better deal than Ghana. This will not be fair. We have to maintain the principle of equality. (6)

Having halfway done what many consider, despite all criticisms, the right thing to do, British museum officials have gone to disabuse anyone who may think that Britain is joining the number of European and Western States that have accepted that looted colonial artefacts must be restituted. It is almost as if the British feared the world would commend them for returning some looted artefacts to Ghana.

Tristram Hunt, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who told the BBC that the gold items of court regalia are the equivalent of "our Crown Jewels," stated that this new arrangement was ‘not restitution by the back door" - meaning it is not a way to return permanent ownership back to Ghana. The British government said the Ghana deal did not set a precedent for the Parthenon Marbles, the subject of a long-running diplomatic battle between the U.K. and Greece.

But why are the British authorities at pains to explain that the loan agreement with Asante/Ghana does not constitute restitution and does not set a precedent? They have the Parthenon Marbles in mind. But surely everybody knows that the circumstances under which the notorious Lord Elgin managed to persuade the Ottoman Authorities to allow him to dismantle and ship the Parthenon Marbles to London cannot in any way be compared to the Anglo-Asante war that led to the looting of the Asante gold artefacts in 1874.

As most readers know by now, the Musée du quai Branly- Jacques-Chirac, Paris, has returned some twenty-six artefacts to the Benin Republic, Germany has also returned legal rights in 1300 Benin artefacts to Benin/Nigeria, the Dutch are preparing to return Benin artefacts to Benin/Nigeria, and Belgian is preparing to return looted artefacts to the Republic of Congo. American museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art have returned artefacts to Benin/Nigeria. Jesus College, Cambridge, and Aberdeen University have also returned each a Benin bronze to the Oba of Benin. Horniman Museum has also returned legal rights in 72 Benin Bronzes to Benin/Nigeria.

Following the restitutions above, where full ownership rights were returned to Nigeria, it became clear that the Western museum world had operated a fundamental shift of ideology concerning the restitution of looted colonial artefacts. This change in attitude has been accompanied by a shift in the role of morality in questions of restitution. Previously, most Western museums and scholars declared that morality had no role in restitution.

It was argued that colonial loot had been acquired in accordance with International Law, even though this assertion was rejected by those who argued that after the Napoleonic spoliations in Europe and the restitutions imposed on the French State in 1815, looting of cultural artefacts of defeated enemies was no longer legal after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Professor Vrdoljak has stated: “By mid-1815, there was broad agreement that the French confiscations of cultural objects were contrary to contemporary rules of law and that objects could not remain in Parisian collections.” (7)

President Emmanuel Macron declared at Ouagadougou University Burkina Faso on 29 November 2017: “I cannot accept that a large part of cultural heritage from several African countries is in France. There are historical explanations for that, but there are no valid justifications that are durable and unconditional. African heritage can’t just be in European private collections and museums. African heritage must be highlighted in Paris, but also in Dakar, in Lagos, in Cotonou. In the next five years, I want the conditions to be met for the temporary or permanent restitution of African heritage to Africa. This will be one of my priorities.”(8)

After the historic Declaration of President Emmanuel Macron and the subsequent report he commissioned, Felwine Sarr and Benedicte Savoy, The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage, Toward a New Relational Ethics, 2018, it was obvious that attempts to justify colonial confiscations were no longer tenable. Moreover, the United Nations and UNESCO had since 1973, in numerous resolutions entitled ‘Return of Cultural Property to its Country of Origin, urged the Western States to return looted artefacts but to no avail. (9)

Recent restitutions are based on a solid moral conviction that it is time and right to return looted African artefacts. There are many declarations on this moral paradigmatic revolution.

Many speakers referred to ethics and morality at a ceremony on 12 October 2022, transferring legal rights in 29 Benin artefacts from the Smithsonian to Nigeria. Lonnie G. Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, declared:

Not only was returning ownership of these magnificent artefacts to their rightful home the right thing to do, but it also demonstrates how we all benefit from cultural institutions making ethical choices.” Bunch highlighted the Smithsonian’s new collection policy, which authorizes the repatriation of objects for moral reasons: “We hope that today’s ceremony sets an example for all cultural institutions,”

There is a growing understanding at the Smithsonian and in the world of museums generally that our possession of these collections carries certain ethical obligations to the places and people where the collections originated. 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.” (10)

Ngaire Blankenberg, then Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, stated at the ceremony:

We’re not the guardians of the world. Western museums are not the custodians of all things of the world, There’s so many false premises around the debate. People are like, ‘Oh, no, if you give everything back, there’ll be nothing in this museum.’ Honestly, we have 12,000 [objects in our] collections. And if

our whole museum is based on stolen objects, then frankly we shouldn’t exist.” (11)

Lai Mohammed, Culture Minister of Nigeria, told The Guardian, recalling how British MPs told him the museum was bound by law not to deaccession items in its collection: “They used the law as a shield. This is not about law; this is about ethics. (12)

Monika Grütters, former German Federal Minister for Culture, commented on the German decision to return 1130 artefacts to Benin, Nigeria, as follows:

‘We are facing the historical and moral responsibility to bring Germany's colonial past to light and to come to terms with it. Dealing with the Benin bronzes is a touchstone for this. The declaration passed yesterday is a historic milestone in dealing with the colonial past. I am happy and grateful that we could agree on the common goal of developing a coordinated position in Germany and reaching a common understanding with the Nigerian side. In addition to the greatest possible transparency, substantial returns are sought above all. We want to contribute to understanding and reconciliation with the descendants of the people who were robbed of their cultural treasures during the colonial era’’.

Monika Grütters and Michelle Müntefering stated in their guest article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper: "How can museums and collections justify having objects with colonial contexts in their collections

, whose [past] transfer to Germany contradicts our present-day values system?" (13)

Ingrid van Engelshoven, former Dutch minister of Culture, said in a statement that, because of the imbalance of power during the colonial era, many cultural objects were “effectively stolen” from former colonies:“There is no place in the Dutch State Collection for cultural heritage objects that were acquired through theft. If a country wants them back, we will give them back.” (14)

Eve Salomon, Chair of the Trustees of the Horniman Museum has stated:

‘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. The Horniman is pleased to be able to take this step, and we look forward to working with the NCMM to secure longer-term care- for these precious artefacts. (15)

Belgian scholars declared in a report entitled Ethical Principles for the Management and Restitution of Colonial Collections in Belgium

‘Although the existing legal framework is not favourable to the original 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.’ (16)

Prof. George Boyne, University of Aberdeen, commenting on the decision of his university to return a Benin commemorative head to Nigeria, declared:

It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural importance that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances. We therefore decided that an unconditional return is the most appropriate action we can take and are grateful for the close collaboration with our partners in Nigeria." (17)

Neil Curtis, Head of Museums and Special Collections, University of Aberdeen, supporting the decision to return a Benin artefact, said:

“An ongoing review of the collections identified the Head of an Oba as having been acquired in a way that we now consider to have been extremely immoral, so we took a proactive approach to identify the appropriate people to discuss what to do.” (18)

His Royal Majesty, Oba of Benin, Omo N'Oba N'Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, welcoming the decision of the University of Aberdeen, expressed his thanks as follows: ‘We thank the University of Aberdeen for this noble act of returning our bronze work. We hope that other institutions worldwide will see the injustice when they insist on holding on to items which in fact should be a reminder to them of the great injustice that was inflicted on a people so far away and so long ago “(19)

Sonita Alleyne, Master of Jesus College, which returned a Benin cockerel sculpture to Nigeria, said: “This is a historic moment … it is the right thing to do out of respect for this artefact's unique heritage and history. (20)

The British elite, the British Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum recognize the historical and fundamental change of attitude towards restitution as exemplified by French, German, Dutch, and American practices. British institutions such as Aberdeen University, Jesus College, Cambridge, Horniman Museum, London, Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford, and Archaeological and Anthropological Museum, Cambridge Museum have embraced the new attitude toward restoring looted colonial artefacts. However, the British and Victoria and Albert museums supported by the British government remain recalcitrant and advance untenable reasons for their reluctance to join the rest of humankind in this historical march towards decolonization and reparative justice.

The prominent British museums allege that they are prevented by the British Museum Act, 1963 from returning objects, including looted artefacts in their museums. We have argued that the 1963 Act does not prohibit restitution but clearly defines the circumstances in which such restitution would be acceptable. The museums have read their own restrictive policy interpretation into the Act. According to Section 5(1) of the Act, the British Museum can dispose of articles under its control if:

1. the object is a duplicate of another such object,

2. in the opinion of the Trustees, the object is unfit to be retained in the collections of the museum,

3. if satisfied that it has become useless for the museum because of damage or physical deterioration.

Thus, if it wanted, the museum could declare some Asante artefacts and Benin bronzes as duplicates or unfit to be retained. The museum chooses to put a strict and limiting interpretation on its powers. Alexander Herman of the Art and Law Institute has expressed a similar view after studying the Act with regard to Ethiopian tabots:

''The British Museum seems to enjoy telling the world about its statutory restrictions. Whenever would-be claimants approach the museum seeking restitution of an object from the collection, the almost mechanical response from the museum is that its trustees are prevented from doing so, even if they wanted to, because of the onerous restrictions on deaccessioning collection items found within the British Museum Act 1963.

The trustees should honour Parliament's decision and use their powers appropriately. In this case, that should lead to only one result: the permanent restitution of the tabots to the Ethiopian Church.'' (21)

But even assuming that the 1963 Act prohibits the museum from returning an object even though it may want to do so, the question is why has the museum not asked Parliament to amend the 1963 Act? A specific law, the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009, has been passed to make it possible for museums to restitute Nazi-looted artefacts. Why can a similar law not be passed for African artefacts looted in colonial times? Is there here a colour differentiation? The majority of owners of valuables confiscated by the Nazis were white but victims of colonial confiscations are in the majority of Africans.

Those who go about declaring that the British Museum Act 1963 forbids the British Museum from returning looted artefacts should stop advancing an argument that does not derive explicitly and directly from the text of the Act:

'The Trustees of the British Museum may sell, exchange, give away or otherwise dispose of any object vested in them and comprised in their collections if '—' does not sound like a prohibition. It sounds more like permission subject to certain conditions. Moreover, what efforts have British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum made to have the British law amended since the Asante demand for restitution in 1974? They simply have no interest to see changes in the law.

We should compare the British plea that the British Museum Act1 963 prevents restitution with the French attitude to the doctrine of inalienability which prevents objects that have become State property from being restituted. Most museum objects in France, especially from former French colonies, are State property. President Macron was faced with this prohibition and persuaded the French Parliament to pass a law permitting the restitution of twenty-six looted colonial artefacts to the Republic of Benin and two to Senegal. In the meanwhile, the French Parliament is working on a draft law based on the Luc Martinez report that would make resort to legislation for each artefact unnecessary. (22) Why can Britain not follow the example of her sister imperialist France, with whom it colonised Africa and looted African artefacts? The British, including many who support restitution, often speak, and write as if laws were immutable and God-given. They expect us to understand their difficulties with British law, but do they understand our difficulties in having the best of our art looted with violence and kept in Britain for one hundred and fifty years? The British should not be allowed to advance the restriction of their laws as excuse for failing over decades to restore artefacts they should have returned at the latest at the independence of their former colonies.

With a change of attitude towards restitution of colonial loot and the new emphasis on morality, the British Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum could determine that, for example, the looted Asante artefacts are unfit to be retained in the museum collections because of the violent circumstances under which they were acquired. This will be in accordance with the moral standards of today. Stolen colonial items should not be kept in respectable museums of the West. We are discussing the objects that are at present in the museums and not concerned with apportioning blame for past acts. We apply standards of today in dealing with objects that are now in museums and we do not worry about standards of bygone decades. Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, has stated we must use our contemporary moral norms in determining what objects should be in our museums. (23)

The text of the Agreement between Victoria and Albert Museum, British Museum, and Manhyia, has not been made available to the public and we have to rely on the press release issued by the parties, and newspaper reports. We notice that unlike many such agreements, this agreement is not with the central government, the Government of Ghana. Apparently, a text had been sent to the government of Ghana which was rejected. What are the implications of an agreement that was not signed by the government of Ghana but by another body? Will the government be bound by the obligations contained in the agreement? Will the financial implications be borne by the Government of Ghana without the representatives of other parts of the country being consulted? We have no information on whether Manhyia paid insurance to a British insurer and what premium, monthly, yearly, or lump sum, was paid. Packaging and transport costs would generally be paid on loan of objects from museums. Does the agreement by Manhyia imply that in the future, other peoples of Ghana, for example, Fante, Ga, or Ewe, who claim looted artefacts, would have to sign agreements on their own and not by the central government of Ghana? Is this a new policy of the Ghana government or a colonialist divide and rule method?

Obviously, the British government will be content to be kept out of such restitution discussions and arrangements. After all, it was the British government which ordered the violent attacks on Magdala (Ethiopia,1868), Beijing (China,1860), Kumase (Ghana,1874), and Benin City, (Nigeria,1897). Questions of apology and reparation become irrelevant since the museums, even the so-called universal museums are not responsible for the massacres and attacks that always brought them thousands of artefacts. If Ghana has to discuss with all the museums and institutions in Britain that have looted Ghanaian artefacts in their collections, we will need many years. Restitution will take ages and be complicated. I believe Ghana should request the British government to assume its responsibility of ensuring that the various institutions return the stolen objects. In the case of the Benin objects, it was the German government that organized their restitution.

Asante made artefacts, including the gold artefacts for our daily and normal usage: headwear earrings, necklaces, pendants, chest badges, armbands, bracelets, leg bands, anklets, sandals, footrests, chairs, stools, pots, and pans. The British stole these artefacts and put them in museums behind glass and in other containers. Often these artefacts are not available to the British public. They are hidden in storerooms, and one needs permission from the museum director in order to view the Asante objects. We made this experience when we visited the BritishMuseum and then Victoria and Albert Museum. Their homepages still indicate that Asante gold items can only be viewed with permission. Where then is the educative and informative functions of the museums?

Many people in Ghana are disappointed that the British did not return full legal ownership of artefacts to Asante/Ghana and are perplexed by the very notion of owners borrowing their artefacts from those who stole them. Discussions in social media point to a great degree of anger and frustration over this aspect. (24) I have expressed my views on the difficulty with loans of this nature (25). Some may see the short-term loan as a good beginning and hope that a loan can be transformed into the transfer of legal ownership of the artefacts. But there is no evidence to support this optimism, and the remarks of Tristram Hunt and other British authorities make it clear that there is no such intention of transformation. Hunt told the BBC reporter Katie Razzall that ‘the new cultural partnership "is not restitution by the back door" - meaning it is not a way to return permanent ownership to Ghana.(26)

Those who still have hopes or illusions that the British Museum will convert loans to restitution, despite all contrary evidence, must bear in mind the attempts in Britain to put pressure on the small museums and institutions to return their looted African artefacts so that the major museums may keep their loot. The UK Government excludes major museums from the application of sections 15 and 16 of the Charities Act 2022 that would have allowed them to seek authorisation from the Charity Commission if they felt compelled by a moral obligation to make a goodwill gesture to transfer of charity property. The Arts and Heritage minister, Lord Parkinson declared that ‘The potential consequences of those provisions were not made clear by the Law Commission when the bill was introduced and were not the subject of parliamentary scrutiny or debate during the passage of the bill. (27) This is an interesting attitude towards parliamentary procedure. How would the British react if a Minister in Africa took such an action that would be to the disadvantage of the British?

Pan-Africanism has undoubtedly failed in negotiations for the restitution of looted artefacts. Despite African Union conferences and various Pan-African meetings in Accra and elsewhere, there appear to be no agreed positions. Each African country deals with the former colonial masters without regard for consultations with other African countries. Nigeria refused loans of its looted Benin artefacts from the Germans, but Ghana seems unworried by short-term loans of looted Asante artefacts from Britain.

A Nigerian friend said to me: Ghanaians are so used to borrowings and loans to such an extent that even your own artefacts could only be returned to you in the form of loans. Nigerians made it clear they would refuse a British offer of loans for Benin artefacts.

If the British elite had respect for Asante/Ghana, this could have been a

excellent opportunity for reconciliation of Asante/Ghana with Britain.

The occasion of the 150th commemoration of the end of the Anglo-Asante war of 1874 could have been the moment for the great historical gesture of restituting a large number of the famous Asante artefacts, signifying the definite reconciliation of Asante and Britain after decades of wars. There cannot be full reconciliation without the restitution of looted artefacts that signified Asante defeat by superior arms.

If there had been less mercantile calculations-fees, insurance premium, possible tourist attractions in Ghana—the occasion could have contributed to solidifying relations between Ghana and Great Britain to the benefit of all, and especially, for those born and bred in the colonial era. They would have been freed from resentments and irritations created by the colonial system with its evident discriminations and glaring inequalities.

The Asante artefacts have deep spiritual connotations but their absence from Asante for 150 years surely requires cleansing and resocialization that will reconnect the Asante/Ghanaians to their ancestral spiritual support. But how can such resocialization be effected and consolidated if the loan must be approved by the conquerors every three years as required by the loan arrangements? How can Ghanaians rely on spiritual support that is traveling every three years to the land of the conquerors whose primary aim in seizing those artefacts was precisely to break finally the spiritual strength of the Asante and thus, make them subservient, with other neighbouring peoples, to British colonial rule? After the defeat of Asante in the Sagranti war, the control of other areas in the Gold Coast became easier for the British colonialist.

How can we expect Ghanaians born after colonial rule to develop any spiritual connections to those artefacts that demonstrate the strength of their cultures in the face of hostile foreign cultures if they are subject to the approval of the British every three years?

We may as well forget about any spiritual or cultural connections to artefacts that depend on the goodwill of foreign authorities for their very presence in our country. This is testing the credibility of African religion and our religious beliefs. We would have to modify our cosmology to accommodate the influence of this foreign element and assess what attributes can be reasonably assigned

to our ancestral deities.
How would the British feel if the presence of their saints and angels in Britain depended on three-years renewals by Ghanaian authorities, taking into account insurance premiums and other payments?

Loans reinforce the pre-existing neocolonial relationship between Britain and Asante/Ghana, whereas restitution would have freed both countries from the shackles of the past. Some persons have suggested that the three years may be converted into permanent ownership or restitution. We should have no illusions no matter what a certain press may suggest or say. As we have often stated a loan of an artefact is not half-way or pre-step to restitution. There is no evidence for the belief that those who are now not ready to accept restitution will somehow change their minds in due course and accept restitution. This can be a misunderstanding or under estimation of the determination of the British not to part with artefacts they have looted and kept for one hundred and fifty years. The nervousness created by the thought or mention of the Parthenon Marbles alone testifies to the British resolve not to give the impression that they will follow the current trend of restitution. Restitution signifies the beginning of a new era; a loan guarantees the continuation of the existing relationship of power and powerlessness, with all the possibilities of disputes not about the previous relationships but about the contract for the recent loan.

Hunt and other British officials may travel to Kumase in April or May to participate in festivities. But what will they be celebrating or commemorating? The defeat of Asante by the British in 1874 or the second humiliation

in 2024, one hundred and fifty years after looting and the return of thirty-two artefacts, out of thousands of looted objects, on a three-year loan, instead of restitution, which would have signified their willingness to apologize for constant British invasions, destruction of Kumase and the loss of countless lives and properties in the decades of wars? Could they honestly participate in the commemoration of 100th anniversary of the return to Kumase of Prempeh I whom the British sent into exile for 28 years in Seychelles? They could perhaps pay compensation for the wanton destruction of Kumase instead of making Asante/Ghana pay for the transport of artefacts to Ghana, transportation made necessary by their looting our artefacts and detaining them for one hundred and fifty years.

Now is the time for us to reclaim our artefacts looted by the colonialists and imperialists. There has never been a better time for this since Independence. Nigeria has set a good example in rescuing the Benin bronzes from German possession, and most Western countries and museums have shown their interest in enabling restitution. The three-year loan is not SANKOFA-take back but SANFAKO-send back; this is ‘bosea,’ loan, as the Asantehene said during the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Sagrenti War.

Readers will no doubt notice that the recent returns do not include the famous Asante gold head trophy and other gold items still in the Wallace Collection, London. The Collection describes this trophy as ‘One of the largest historic gold objects from Africa outside Egypt.’ This head is among the most important and famous works of Asante art.’’ Are the British not worried that they are keeping the best work of art of a people outside their country ? Is this attitude acceptable for persons of culture as the museum officials are supposed to be? Is there no obligation for museums to assist in developing culture or, at least, a moral obligation not to prevent the development of other peoples’ cultures? Hijacking the cultural objects of another people is surely no help for developing cultures unless one thinks like the former Director of the British Museum who said that Lord Elgin’s wrenching of the Parthenon Marbles from the Acropolis, Athens was a creative act.

British museums could perhaps learn from the Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, USA, which has recently returned to the Asantehene Asante artefacts in the possession of the museum.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Fowler Museum returned seven objects to Asantehene, Kumase, on Monday, 5 February. The museum had done provenance research on its artefacts and concluded that the seven objects were among the British loot in 1874 from the Asantehene’s Palace, Manhyia. The seven objects had been donated to the museum in 1965 by the Wellcome Trust in London. A senior curator at Fowler Museum said, “In the case of pieces that were violently or coercively taken from their original owners or communities, it is our ethical responsibility to do what we can to return those objects. It is a process that will occupy generations of Fowler staff, but it is something that we are unwavering in our commitment to accomplish.” (28)

It is interesting to consider two of the methods of returning looted African artefacts in Western the museums: Bloomsbury Way and Fowler Way

Bloomsbury Way Here, the holders of looted artefacts seek to use every possible means to delay restitution to the original owners. Arguments are advanced based on legal obstacles and the inability of the original owners to take proper care of objects. The original owners will have to bear insurance premiums and other costs and may wait a half-century for a response, which is, at best, a short-term loan. The holders may fear reparation as accomplices if they participated in the original acquisition as the British Museum did in the invasion of Magdala, Ethiopia,1868, or as accomplices after the fact in keeping artefacts known to have been violently acquired. Morality does not function in the Bloomsbury way. The Bloomsbury Way rejects 3D Scanning for replicas of the artefacts.

Fowler way
Efforts are voluntarily made to contact original owners, without demands for restitution, if objects are proved to have been acquired with violence or under objectionable conditions. This way is based on ethical principles and advances no legal obstacles. Morality takes precedence over law here. This approach accepts the idea of 3D scans and commissions artists to produce replicas for teaching purposes.

The massive violations of our human rights since contact with the West must cease. Implementing the UNITED NATIONS/UNESCO resolutions since 1973 on the return of cultural property to its country of origin could be a sign of a genuine change of attitude regarding respect for human rights of humanity outside the Western world.

The struggle for the recovery of looted Asante artefacts must include the 400,000 ounces of gold that the British stole . Professor Thomas Mccaskie mentioned this in his lecture during the 150th anniversary of the Sagrenti War. The massive transfer of wealth to the British through looting cannot be ignored: ‘The amount of gold contained in Adakakese alone at Kwaku Dua’s death was in excess of 400,000 ounces. This in 1867 was worth 1.2 million pounds sterling. The current value of the Adakakese is somewhere over two billion pounds.’ (29)

It is remarkable that such a large amount of gold dust could disappear from the loot of the residences of Asante royals and the Manhyia Palace in 1874 without much notice or any record. Henry M. Stanley, who gave us a comprehensive

account of the looting of Manhyia Palace and the houses of Asnate nobles, ends his extended inventory of looted items with the observation: ‘Had Sir Garnet Wolseley planted a cordon of guards around Coomassie when he first arrived and ordered every person desirous of leaving the city, to be searched, he might have been able to have secured much wealth of gold dust and valuable plunder.’ (30) The question of lost gold dust must be pursued further.

In what world are we living in which looters determine under what conditions owners may view their artefacts? Many wonder whether Ghana is truly independent or whether the old colonial structures, both physical and mental, are still in place and determine the direction of the development of our culture in the service of imperialism. Sixty-seven years of Independence have apparently not enabled us to shake off the domination of the former colonial masters.

The intransigence of Western museum on the question of restitution of looted African artefacts has driven many young Africans to think about alternative ways of rescuing our artefacts from Western detention. A good example is Mwazulu Diyabanza. (31)

We call on Western museums to follow the Fowler Way to restitution, adopting the Smithsonian ethical returns policy, shed their established reputation as citadels of imperialist loot of cultural objects of others as described by Geoffrey Robertson in Who own history? And to ponder Nii seriously over the thoughts of Neil MacGregor in his Louvre lessons in À monde nouveau, nouveaux musées. (32)

‘The question of the meaning of the ‘Benin bronzes’ or ‘Elgin Marbles’ in London-1900 or 2000-is inseparable from the issue of British attitudes towards Africa and the Orient as sites, once for direct military and political colonization, and now for their post-imperial economic exploitation and indirect manipulation. To return them would imply the belief, on the part of the British that the peoples of those parts of the world were now capable of competently looking after artefacts that were removed because the local inhabitants were unfit, because of the ‘degeneration, of their societies, to act as curators. Their return would also imply admission of their illegal possession by the British. Both implications remain unthinkable because post-imperial racism continues to be a highly significant aspect of British foreign policy. Though British society may be relatively ‘multicultural’ now, its ruling elite, like that of the US, is still predominantly white, middle-class, and male.’

Jonathan Harris, The New Art History- A Critical Introduction. (33)

1. 1983, Thames and Hudson, London, p. 79.
2 Reuters UK to return looted royal regalia to Ghana in loan deal Guardian, V&A’s ‘return’ of looted Ghana gold is a new way to tackle Britain’s painful past Tristram Hunt

B.B.C NEWS, Asante Gold: UK to loan back Ghana's looted 'crown jewels'

Graphic Online’ Looted Asante gold artefacts on their way back to Kumasi from UK, USA

The Telegraph, British Museum to return gold artefacts to Ghana in historic loan deal

Forbes, British Museum Lends Ghana Looted Gold Artefacts—Here’s Why It Won’t Fully Return Them

ARTnews British Museum and V&A to Loan Asante Gold Looted from Ghana

3. Kwame Opoku, When Will Britain Return Looted Golden Ghanaian Artefacts? A History Of British Looting Of More Than 100 Objects British To Loan Looted Asante Gold Artefacts To Asante/Ghana?

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

4. See annex I

5. Agreement on the Return of Benin Bronzes between Stiftung Preussicher Kulturbesitz and the Federal Republic of

Nigeria,25 August 2022.

6. K. Opoku, Benin Dialogue Group Removes Restitution of Benin Artefacts from its Agenda,

7. Ana Filipa Vrdoljak, International Law, Museums and the Return of Cultural Objects, Cambridge, University Press, Cambridge, 2006, p. 26.

8. K. Opoku, Macron Promises to return African Artefacts in French Museums: A new Era in African-European Relationships or a Mirage?

9. Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin : resolution / adopted by the General Assembly UN. General Assembly (76th sess. : 2021-2022)

K. Opoku, Restitution Day: Remembrance and Reckoning

UK Rejection of Restitution of Artefacts: Confirmation or Surprise?

10. Smithsonian Adopts Policy on Ethical Returns

11.Washington Post, Smithsonian gives back 29 Benin bronzes to Nigeria: ‘We are not owners’

12. The Guardian, It’s about ethics’: Nigeria urges British Museum to follow US and repatriate bronzes

13. Monica Grütters, Erklärung zum Umgang mit Benin-Bronzen-Grütters: Wichtige Wegmarke für Verständigung und Versöhnung

14. Ingrid van Engelshoven, former Dutch minister of Culture;

15.Horniman to return ownership of Benin bronzes to Nigeria

16. Ethical Principles for the Management and Restitution of Colonial Collections in Belgium (June 2021). 2.3 Towards a New Legal Framework

17. University to return Benin bronze | News | The University of Aberdeen (

18. Curtis,

19. Town and Country, Smithsonian to Return Looted Collection of Benin Bronzes to Nigeria


21. Alexander Herman, ‘British Museum must recognize its own powers in matters of restitution’,

22. K. Opoku, Does The Martinez Report Constitute A Pre-Announced Burial Of African Cultural Artefacts In French Museums?


24. Kenneth Awotwe Darko, How Ghanaians are reacting to UK’s decision to ‘loan back’ looted gold artefacts

'Crown jewels' looted by British soldiers returned to Ghana on loan | BBC News (

Items LOOTED by the BRITISH from ASANTE KINGDOM do not belong to GHANA (

Kwado Sheldon Asante Gold: UK to loan back Ghana's looted 'crown jewels' - YouTube

Britain's plan to loan Ghanaian jewels back to Ghana comes under fire - YouTube

25. K. Opoku, Benin Dialogue Group Removes Restitution of Benin Artefacts from Its Agenda

26. BBC Katie Razzalia

27. National museums to be excluded from law enabling restitution on moral ground

28. Harrison Jacobs, UCLA’S Fowler Museum Returns Gold Objects to Asante King in Ghana,

The Fowler Museum at UCLA Permanently Returns Objects to the Asante Kingdom in the Republic of Ghana

Grand Durbar kuntunkuni in commemoration of 150th anniversary of the Sagrenti War

29. Thomas McCaskie, at 150TH Anniversary of the Sagrenti War

Looted artefacts from Asante Kingdom now worth £2B – Prof. McCaskie (

30. Henry M. Stanley, Coomassie and Magdala: The Story of Two British Campaigns in Africa, Rediscovery Books East Sussex, p.23431.31. Neil MacGregor, Éditions Hazan, Paris, 2021.

31. Britain's plan to loan Ghanaian jewels back to Ghana comes under fire

Times Radio

The Guardian, Five activists on trial in France for trying to seize African funeral staff from museum

The Art Newspaper, Man tries to take artefact from Louvre-just two weeks ago after being charged for the same crime at Quai Branly.

32. Neil Macgregor, À monde nouveau, nouveaux musées : Les musées, les

monuments, et la communauté réinventée, Éditions Hazan, Paris,2021.

33.Routledge, London, 2001, p. 275.
Objects from Victoria and Albert Museum,London

Repoussé gold ornament attached to headwear

Oblong gold bead with raised design of circles

Pair of silver anklets

Cast of gold badge worn by the Asantehene’s soul washer.

Pear-shaped gold pendant

Part of a repoussé gold ornament

Gold badge, worn by the Asantehene's (king's) 'soul washer known as a 'soulwasher's disk' ('Akrafokonmu')

Ornament, produced by the repoussé (hammering) technique

Repoussé gold ornament, disk-shaped.

Cast gold badge, worn by the Asantehene's (king's) 'soul washer.

Silver straining spoon with repoussé and punched decoration

Gold ring cast in form of three plain oval plaques with beaded edges

Cast gold ornament, in the form of an eagle, with a pierced tang at its feet for fixing as a furniture mount.

Cast gold badge, worn by the Asantehene's (king's) 'soul washer.

Band or fillet of gold embossed with foliage and scrolls with holes for fastening to leather or other material

Ceremonial pipe ('Abua') made up of hollow cast and repoussé gold sections, bound with gold wire

Repoussé gold ornament, U-shaped for attachment to furniture or clothing

Objects from the British Museum returned on loan.

Asante ceremonial gold hat won by courtiers.

Senkuo-gold lute harp

Soulwasher’s badge, Akrafokunumu

Asante gold -lost casting of a penannular bracelet.

Asante gold lost wax casting of a penannular neck torc in the form of a twisted knot

Silver-gilt dish with a centre of an Asante star-shaped pendant made of gold that inspired the European decoration around it.

Asante state sword (afena) with cast iron blade and carved wooden bar-bell-shaped hilt covered with gold leaf

Asante hollow lost-wax casting in gold of a bi-facial hexagonal bead (safi), purchased from the Crown Agents for the Colonies in 1874.

Kidney-shaped gun-bearer's cap (krobonkye) moulded from one piece of antelope hide, blackened on the outside, and embellished with alternating strips of sheet silver and gold in the shape of leaves (aya). .

Ceremonial knife and sheath, 18th or 19th century, British Museum© Trustees of the British Museum.


According to the British Museum, there are collections of Asante objects at the following institutions: the Wallace Collection, the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, the Science Museum and the National Army Museum in London, as well as at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Cambridge, Oxford, National Museums Scotland the York Army Museum, and the Royal Signals Museum in Blandford Forum, Dorset and regimental museums across the UK.,king%20of%20the%20Asant

Wallace Collection, London.

Gold Mask, 20 cm in height, weighing 1.36 kg..of pure gold, seized by the British from Kumasi, Ghana, in 1874 and now in the Wallace Collection, Asante_Gold_TN__latest_1.pdf (, United Kingdom

Curved ceremonial swords with gold-covered hilts and pommels.

Asante gold finger ring.

Knife with scabbard.

Glasgow Museum

Asante stool of Afua Kobi I, Asante queen-mother, 1857–1884, Royal Palace, Kumasi, Ghana, WestAfrica. (Glasgow Museums, 1874. How can anyone with some knowledge about Asante culture not realise the damage and insult involved in keeping the stool of a queen-mother ,especially a famous Queen-mother, and not understand the insult and damage involved?

Soulwasher’s badge.

Wooden stool of Asantehene Nana Kofi Karikari looted in 1874.

Sheet brass treasure box on wheels.

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

Krobonkye royal leather cap of dark brown leather, probably antelope skin, with applied bands of thin hammered gold affixed by wire.

On 2 April 1874, the British queen recorded in her Journal that she 'looked at some gold ornaments, huge gold 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.'


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


Amulet case.

Axe, sika akuma This axe was used on extraordinary occasions by Asante for negotiations with neighbouring peoples and foreign governments.

The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum, Winchester

Two chairs and two stools stolen from Palace of King Kofi Karikari in 1874.



Gold royal stool element>

Asante strand of seed beads and a gold disk, worn as a bracelet or anklet.

Asante ‘sika mena’ or elephant whisk.

Gold Asante royal stool ornament.

Asipim,ornamental chair.

Gold Asante royal necklace (gorget) or stool ornament.

Ten large beads worn as bracelet or anklet made of gold and cordage fiber.