A bronze sculpture of a West African king that had been in the collection of a Rhode Island museum for more than 70 years was among 31 culturally precious objects that were returned to the Nigerian government Tuesday.
The Benin Bronzes, including a piece called the “Head of a King” or “Oba” from the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, were transferred to the Nigerian National Collections during a ceremony at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
The pieces that were stolen by the British in the late 19th century included 29 that the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents voted in June to return, and one object from the National Gallery of Art, officials said.
The repatriation is part of a worldwide movement by cultural institutions to return artifacts that were often stolen during colonial wars. In August, the Horniman Museum and Gardens in London announced that it would transfer a collection of 72 Benin Bronzes to the Nigerian government.
“In 1897 the ‘Head of an Oba’ was stolen from the Royal Palace of Oba Ovonranwmen,” RISD Museum Interim Director Sarah Ganz Blythe said in a statement. “The RISD Museum has worked with the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments to repatriate this sculpture to the people of Nigeria where it belongs.”
Abba Isa Tijani, director-general of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, hopes the transfer inspires more museums to return African artifacts.
“We hope for great collaborations with these museums and institutions and we have already opened promising discussions with them concerning this,” he said in a statement. “The entire world is welcome to join in this new way of doing things. A way free from rancours and misgivings. A way filled with mutual respect.”