Nigeria’s traditional ruler in southern Benin city hosted a day of celebrations on Monday in anticipation of the long-awaited return of two bronze treasures looted during colonial times.
Dancers and musicians performed in King Uku Akpolokpolor Ewuare II’s palace, which was decorated with banners of the artefacts: a bronze cockerel and a king’s bust.
“Today marks a watershed in our efforts to retrieve the bronzes, ivories and other works of arts which were removed from this palace,” said the Oba, or king of Benin, whose ancestors reigned over the region when it was ransacked by British soldiers in 1897.
In a formal ceremony attended by royal guests and traditional chiefs, the king signed the official document transferring full possession of the works from the UK’s Aberdeen and Cambridge universities – even though the pieces themselves were not to be seen.
“At the appropriate time, the bronzes… will be delivered to us here in the palace,” the king said, without giving further details.
Thousands of Nigeria’s so-called Benin Bronzes – 16th to 18th century metal plaques and sculptures – were looted from the palace of the ancient Benin Kingdom and ended up in museums across the US and Europe.
Nigeria has been negotiating their return and plans to build a museum in Benin City in southern Edo state, where it hopes to house the bronzes, some of the most highly regarded works of African art.
Apart from Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany have also received requests from African countries to return lost treasures.
Experts estimate that 85 to 90 percent of African cultural artefacts were taken from the continent.
Last month, neighbouring West African country Benin welcomed back nearly 30 royal treasures looted by colonial France more than 130 years ago.