The UK plans to return valuable treasures taken from the Ashanti kingdom 150 years ago on loan.
The United Kingdom is set to return a collection of significant artifacts, known as the “crown jewels,” to Ghana, which were looted from the court of the Asante king 150 years ago. Among the 32 items returning are a gold peace pipe, with 17 pieces lent by the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) and 15 by the British Museum.
The loan agreements, spanning three years with an option to extend, involve Otumfo Osei Tutu II, the current Asante king, rather than the Ghanaian government. This move aligns with legal restrictions preventing UK museums from permanently returning contested items, making long-term loans a solution.
Tristram Hunt, the V&A director, emphasizes that this cultural partnership is not restitution but aims to share artifacts more fairly. The items, including a sword of state and gold badges, will be displayed at the Manhyia Palace Museum in Kumasi to celebrate the Asante king’s silver jubilee.
Despite concerns from countries seeking permanent returns, the loan agreements are seen as a step towards cooperation. The Asante artifacts, imbued with spiritual significance, hold cultural importance for Ghana similar to the Benin Bronzes. Nana Oforiatta Ayim, special adviser to Ghana’s culture minister, sees the loan as a positive starting point for healing and commemoration.
The Asante kingdom, known for its military might and wealth, faced looting during 19th-century wars with the British. The return includes items acquired in 1874, such as soul washers’ badges, reflecting a political act to remove symbols of authority. The British Museum is also lending 15 items, highlighting a connection dating back almost 200 years.
While acknowledging the potential anger surrounding loans, both sides see this as a meaningful step in addressing historical wrongs and initiating a conversation about the eventual permanent return of these cultural treasures to Ghana.