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African Prince calls on UK to return museum artefacts

One of the ‘Benin Bronzes’ resides at Bristol Museum.

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Presenter Nosipho Ledwaba-Chapman with the Benin Bronze (BBC/PA).

Presenter Nosipho Ledwaba-Chapman with the Benin Bronze (BBC/PA).

Presenter Nosipho Ledwaba-Chapman with the Benin Bronze (BBC/PA).

An African prince has called on a British museum to “blaze the trail” in returning one of thousands of priceless artefacts looted during the colonial era.

The sculpture, currently residing at Bristol Museum, is one of the “Benin Bronzes”, a group of heirlooms stolen during a bloody invasion of Benin City by the British in 1897.

Speaking in an episode of BBC Inside Out West airing on Monday, Prince Edun Akenzua of the Royal Court of Benin said: “They were not originally made as museum objects.”

The man in charge of Bristol Museum said he is open to sending the sculpture back after hearing what he called the prince’s “impassioned plea”.

The Benin Bronzes are a group of more than 1,000 plaques and sculptures that adorned the royal palace of the Oba – or king – of Benin.

But for more than 100 years the collection has been dispersed around the world, mostly in European museums and private collections.

The highly detailed, cast bronze bust at Bristol Museum has not been valued but a similar sculpture sold for more than £1 million.

Prince Edun said the museum could set a trend by returning it.

Prince Edun Akenzua of the Royal Court of Benin wants to see the artefacts returned to his country (BBC/PA).
Prince Edun Akenzua of the Royal Court of Benin wants to see the artefacts returned to his country (BBC/PA)

He told the programme: “We are aware of the Benin Bronze at Bristol Museum.

“We are appealing to Bristol Museum to blaze the trail for the international community or private holders of the Benin cultural property to get them returned.”

Jon Finch, head of culture at Bristol City Council, which runs the museum, said when they took on the sculpture they had not known it was stolen.

He said it had been used to educate tens of thousands of children about other cultures.

He added: “We’re very happy to explore with the prince the opportunity of returning the object.

“We’d like to have correspondence with him to see what the specific request is and how we can progress that.

“I’ve seen the impassioned plea from the prince so we’re very willing to explore that option with him and others.”

The museum is running a project with local university students called Uncomfortable Truths, in which labels reveal the often troubling and sometimes unpleasant journey that exhibits took to get there.

– BBC Inside Out West will air on BBC One West at 7.30pm on Monday. It will be available afterwards on iPlayer.

PA