Glasgow welcomes Nigerian delegation for repatriation talks as return of cultural artefacts progresses

Glasgow welcomes Nigerian delegation for repatriation talks as return of cultural artefacts progresses

Glasgow has taken another step forward in its efforts to return more than 50 cultural artefacts to the descendants of their rightful owners – the largest-ever repatriation of objects from a single collection in Scotland.

Glasgow Life, which manages the city’s museum collections, welcomed a delegation from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum on Friday 24 June to discuss the repatriation of 19 Benin objects.

Professor Abba Isa Tijani, Director General of the NCMM, and Babatunde Adebiyi, the NCMM’s Legal Adviser, were invited to the city to discuss the transfer of ownership and future dates for the return of the artefacts.

The meeting was arranged after Glasgow City Council’s City Administration Committee approved a recommendation made in April by the cross-party Working Group for Repatriation and Spoliation to return 51 items to Nigeria, India and the Cheyenne River and Oglala Sioux Tribes in South Dakota, US.

Glasgow Life Museums has been working on the repatriation of the Benin bronzes since it was established the artefacts – acquired as gifts, bequests and from auction houses – were taken from sacred sites and ceremonial buildings during the British Punitive Expedition of 1897.

Duncan Dornan, Head of Museums and Collections at Glasgow Life, said: 

“The visit to Glasgow by the NCMM delegation marks an important milestone for the city, as it continues its positive history of repatriation by returning the Benin bronzes to their rightful owners.

“Glasgow Life Museums is committed to being transparent about such artefacts’ origins and how they came into the city’s possession. The meeting with the NCMM delegation presented an opportunity to build on the international relationships we have already developed, and lay solid foundations for the next stages of repatriation.

“By addressing past wrongs, we believe the returns will help to strengthen existing relations with these descendant communities.”

Bailie Annette Christie, Chair of Glasgow Life, said:

“It was an honour to host delegates from the NCMM in Glasgow for informative talks on how our city can best support the return of these cherished artefacts.

“Glasgow has led repatriation efforts in the UK since 1998, when the city agreed to hand back the Lakota Sacred Ghost Dance shirt to the Wounded Knee Survivors’ Association. We’ve since engaged with partners around the world to find a respectful and constructive outcome for all parties, and this latest round of conversations will play a pivotal part in helping the city to fulfil this agreement.”

Glasgow is also working with the High Commission of India in London, representing the Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India, to return seven Indian antiquities; a decision which is the first of its kind for a UK museums service. Six of the artefacts were stolen from temples and shrines in different states in Northern India during the 19th century, while the seventh was illegally purchased as a result of theft from the owner. All seven objects were gifted to Glasgow’s museum collections.

Twenty-five Lakota cultural items – sold and donated to Glasgow’s museums by George Crager, an interpreter for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show that visited the city in 1892 – will be handed back to South Dakota-based descendants of the late Marcella LeBeau, a Lakota elder, politician, nurse and military veteran who died last year. Some of these objects were taken from the Wounded Knee Massacre site following the battle of December 1890, while others were personal items belonging to named ancestors or are ceremonial artefacts. All of the items embody the belief, history and values of the Oceti Sakowin.

Picture caption: (left to right) Susan Deighan, Chief Executive, Glasgow Life; Babatunde Adebiyi, Legal Adviser, Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM); Bailie Annette Christie, Chair, Glasgow Life; Professor Abba Isa Tijani, Director General, NCMM; Pat Allan, Curator of World Cultures, Glasgow Life; Duncan Dornan, Head of Museums and Collections, Glasgow Life. Credit: Alan Harvey (SNS Group).