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Museum returns ancient royal objects back to Ghana that were taken away by the British

Unlike other museums that temporarily loaned artifacts to where it was taken from, they committed to unconditional ethical return.

Museum returns ancient royal objects back to Ghana that were taken away by the British
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Una Laurencic; Fowler Museum at UCLA | Erica P. Jones

One can learn a lot about a nation's history from the vintage artifacts that people preserve. They act as windows to the past and offer priceless information about how they used to live back then. So, such artifacts discovered in a country or procured from other countries become treasured assets of the museums. But, recently, the Fowlers Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles, California, gave away some valuable objects they were holding back to where they came from. The royal antiquities were repatriated to the Republic of Ghana and the return was purely based on ethical grounds, per Fowler Museum's press release.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Martin Pechy
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Martin Pechy

On February 5, the renowned Los Angeles museum announced that the royal artifacts would be permanently and voluntarily returned to their home, the Asante Kingdom in the Republic of Ghana. The museum specializes in the exhibition of art and culture highlighting Asia, Africa, the Pacific and the Indigenous Americas. So, the Asante Kingdom artifacts were of great help to the Fowler researchers in examining the objects and discovering their histories. As the research came to an end, the museum decided to return the antiquities to their homeland, the place from where they were looted by the British in the 1874 Sagrenti War. On the 150th anniversary of the British pillaging of Kumasi, a city in the Asante Kingdom, the museum directors and curators personally returned the objects to the 16th Asante King (Asantehene), Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.

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Silvia Forni, the Shirley & Ralph Shapiro Director of the Fowler Museum, stated, "We are globally shifting away from the idea of museums as unquestionable repositories of art, as collecting institutions entitled to own and interpret art based primarily on scholarly expertise, to the idea of museums as custodians, with ethical responsibility for the collection and towards the communities of origin of these collections." The Fowler Museum, in an Instagram post, listed the ancient artifacts that they returned: ten large beads worn as bracelets or anklets, a strand of seed or bug-shaped beads, a single whole bead and a gold disk worn as a bracelet or anklet, Sika Mena (elephant tail whisk), Asipim (ornamental chair), royal necklace (gorget) and royal stool ornaments.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Andrew Neel
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Andrew Neel

What makes Fowler Museum stand out is, unlike other museums that impose certain conditions before loaning back the artifacts to the home country, Fowler Museum made an unconditional, permanent return. As per the press release, the museum has no concern regarding where the returned antiquities would be placed, be it lodged in the museum, placed in the palace treasury or used in public celebrations. They set an example by committing to "responsible stewardship," which not only explores but also preserves global art and history.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Teddy Yang
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Teddy Yang

Erica P. Jones, Senior Curator of African Arts and Manager of Curatorial Affairs, stated that the Fowler was just a "temporary custodian" of the vintage artifacts. "In the case of pieces that were violently or coercively taken from their original owners or communities, it is our ethical responsibility to do what we can to return those objects. It is a process that will occupy generations of Fowler staff, but it is something that we are unwavering in our commitment to accomplish," added Jones. But people won't miss the colonial-era African collections. The objects were 3D scanned with approval before returning and Ghanaian artists are working on the replicas that will continue telling the glorious stories of the Asante Kingdom.

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