Echoes of History.. Ghana’s Sacred Artifacts Return Home After 150 Years

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A poignant moment unfolds as sacred Ashanti artifacts, looted by British colonialists 150 years ago, make a temporary return from museums in the United Kingdom. Their display at the Manhyia Palace Museum in Kumasi evokes emotions and sparks hopes for broader and more enduring restitution efforts.

In Ghana, sacred artifacts stolen by British colonizers 150 years ago have made a triumphant return to Kumasi, the heart of the former Ashanti kingdom. Thirty-two artifacts in total, lent by two British museums for a renewable three-year period, are being exhibited for the first time to Ghanaians in their homeland.

This event has stirred deep emotions among visitors, including Moses Nigande, a professor from northeastern Ghana, who, with starry eyes, emerges from the Manhyia Palace Museum. “It’s incredibly impressive,” he enthuses. “I wish such exhibitions were organized nationwide so that people could continue learning more.”

Among the artifacts are items steeped in history, such as the Ashanti kingdom’s sword, known as “Mpomponsuo,” and golden insignia used for the purification of the king’s soul. Leading the initiative for their return is the current Ashanti king, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II. “These objects stolen in 1874 carry the spirit of the Ashanti people within them,” he declares. “Today is a day for the Ashanti people, but also for black Africa. The spirit we have carried and shared is finally back among us.”

Directors from British museums are present to emphasize their responsibility towards the dispossessed populations. This is an important first step, according to Edmond Moukala, UNESCO’s representative in Ghana. The aim is not just to remember but also to safeguard the identity of peoples and to promote peaceful societies where solidarity is strengthened.

However, these artifacts will return to England within a maximum of six years, as British law prohibits permanent restitution. Ivor Agyeman-Duah, chief negotiator for the Ashanti king, explains, “In the UK, two main laws are preventing the permanent return of objects to their countries of origin. This has been a topic of debate for fifty years. Therefore, if we have the opportunity to have these objects in our country, at least for six years, it allows us to achieve a certain objective.”

Agyeman-Duah expresses hope for the remaining objects yet to be recovered, stating, “This first step has gone very well. We hope it will open the door for the remaining objects, for which we are currently negotiating. This includes negotiations with individual art collections and certain institutions in South Africa. We are also in discussions with three major museums and galleries in the UK. In the next two weeks, we will be going there to begin the next round of negotiations. Overall, we hope to recover around a hundred objects stolen from us in 1874 and beyond.”


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