Smithsonian votes to return most of its Benin bronzes to Nigeria

The Smithsonian Board of Regents voted to return 29 Benin bronzes to Nigeria on Monday.

According to a news release, the bronzes will be returned to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

The Smithsonian Institution had already decided to return most of its collection of Benin bronzes to Nigeria back in March. The decision was first reported by The Washington Post.

The Benin bronzes are in a collection of thousands of items stolen during a British raid of the Benin Kingdom in 1897. The collection is composed of sculptures, plaques, ceremonial objects, alters, and other pieces dating from the mid-16th century to the early 17th-century, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

The Smithsonian adopted an ethical returns policy on April 29, which requires each of its museums to return collections “based on ethical considerations.”

In the case of the Benin bronzes, the board is required to approve the removal of the collection from the museum and return the items “when they are of significant monetary value, research or historical value, or when the deaccession might create significant public interest,” the release said.

The Smithsonian had a collection of 39 Benin bronzes, most of which were housed in the National Museum of African Art on the National Mall. They were taken off display in 2021, according to Smithsonian Magazine. There is no word on what will happen to the other 10 bronzes.

This is the most recent return by the Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Magazine reported the institution formally returned a pre-Inca chest ornament that dates back to between 800 B.C. and 1 A.D. last year. It had been on display at the National Museum of the American Indian.

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