Britain to return looted royal regalia to Ghana in loan deal

A cast gold badge, worn by the Asantehene's (king's) 'soul washer' as a badge of office in Ghana, before 1874.
A cast gold badge, worn by the Asantehene's (king's) 'soul washer' as a badge of office in Ghana, before 1874.

Britain is returning a selection of Ghanaian gold regalia looted from an Asante king in the 19th century, in a historic loan deal set out on Thursday.

Thirty-two artefacts from the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London will be loaned to the Manhyia Palace Museum in the Ghanaian city of Kumasi, 150 years after they were stolen, the museums said in a statement.

The objects, including a gold peace pipe and a sword of state, “are of cultural, historical and spiritual significance to the Asante people,” the statement said.

“They are also indelibly linked to British colonial history in West Africa, with many of them looted from Kumasi during the Anglo-Asante wars of the 19th century.”

Britain is at the centre of an impassioned debate over the repatriation of priceless objects appropriated in colonial times. Nigeria and Ethiopia are among countries seeking repatriation of looted artefacts.

However, some museums say they are banned by law from permanently returning contested items in their collections.

A dispute over the Parthenon sculptures, housed at the British Museum, escalated last year when Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cancelled a meeting with Greek premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis in a row over discussing their status.

Greece has repeatedly called on the museum to return the 2,500-year-old sculptures that British diplomat Lord Elgin removed from the Parthenon temple in the early 19th century.

The museum’s trustees have said they would consider a loan to Greece if Athens acknowledges its ownership of the sculptures, which Greek governments have refused in the past.

The partnership with the Ghanaian museum comes after Asante King Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, known as the Asantehene, visited London last May to attend the coronation of King Charles.

He met the leaders of the London museums, opening discussions which were followed by months of negotiations over the potential return of Ghana’s “crown jewels”.

The gold peace pipe and gold discs worn by officials responsible for cleansing the soul of the king are among 17 items V&A plans to lend to the Ghanaian museum.

Objects selected from the British Museum consist mostly of royal regalia looted from the palace in Kumasi during the Anglo-Asante wars.

The items will be loaned under two separate three-year agreements and are to form part of an exhibition planned for the Ghanaian king’s silver jubilee celebration later this year, according to the statement.

Asante kings grew powerful on local gold deposits and the palace in Kumasi became the focal point for lucrative international gold trade from West Africa, the statement said.



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