Today’s Solutions: June 26, 2022

Last year, Berlin’s Ethnological Museum agreed to return its collection of Benin Bronzes to their rightful home in Nigeria. In a similar act reflecting reconciliation with its colonial history, Germany will soon return Namibia’s ancient treasures that it stole during its colonial rule.

Reconciling with its colonial history

The move is part of a set of reparations that Germany agreed to pay Namibia back in 2021. The decision mirrors the European country’s coming to terms with its role in the genocide against the Namibian people between 1904 and 1908. During that period, Namibia was part of German South Africa, a colony of the German Empire.

“The collections reflect colonial, and in some cases extremely violent, processes of appropriation,” the Ethnological Museum stated. “They also show the creativity and ingenuity of the Namibian people.”

The restitution consists of 23 ancient items of jewelry and other treasures that were taken between 1884 and 1915. Additionally, Germany will pay €1.3 billion in reparations over the next 30 years. The returned artifacts were selected by Namibian experts, and include a three-headed vessel, a doll dressed in traditional attire, and various hair accessories and spears.

The effort represents a step in the process of reflecting upon “the long and complex history between Namibia and Germany,” said Esther Moombolah, director of the National Museum of Namibia. “We call on all our future partners to follow the example of this institution,” she added, saying that Namibians “should not have to fly to see our cultural treasures” kept by museums abroad.

Setting an example for other countries to follow

The German museum’s decision to return the looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria last year was followed by a similar move by the Met Museum. The Benin Bronzes represent a large collection of metal plates and sculptures that decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin. The bronze collection has become a symbolic representation of the huge amount of art stolen from Africa during colonial times.

Other efforts to return looted artifacts include the Brooklyn Museum’s decision to return a huge collection of 1,305 pieces to Costa Rica. As part of reconciliation efforts with more recent looting acts, the US announced that it will return more than 17,000 ancient treasures, including the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, back to Iraq.

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