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Netherlands to return nearly 500 looted objects to Indonesia and Sri Lanka in a historic moment

The Dutch government has announced the return of 478 looted objects of cultural significance to Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Netherlands to return nearly 500 looted objects to Indonesia and Sri Lanka in a historic moment
Cover Image Source: The Cannon of Kandy | Rijksmuseum

The Dutch government has announced that it will return 478 objects of cultural significance looted during colonial times to Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The Dutch Secretary of State for Culture and Media Gunay Uslu announced the decision to repatriate numerous objects, including the 18th-century Cannon of Kandy, a ceremonial weapon from Sri Lanka made of bronze, silver, gold and rubies as well as a looted cache of jewels from the "Lombok treasure." The items were housed in the collections of the National Museum of World Cultures and the Rijksmuseum.



 

According to BBC, the "Lombok Treasure" was looted by Dutch soldiers in 1894 from a royal palace on Indonesia's Lombok island and is now being returned to Indonesia. Moreover, the lavishly decorated 18th Century bronze cannon, currently on display at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, will be returned to Sri Lanka. Dutch troops got a hold of the item when they attacked the Sri Lankan kingdom of Kandy in 1765.



 

The decision to return the items comes after a 2020 report from an advisory committee that called on the Netherlands to "unconditionally return" objects that were taken under Dutch colonial authority. The report had urged the government to return items if countries request them. "The Netherlands must assume responsibility for its colonial past by making the recognition and redress of this injustice a key principle of the policy on colonial collections," it said.

Cover Image Source: The Cannon of Kandy – Rijksmuseum
Image Source: The Cannon of Kandy | Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has been investigating colonial objects in its collection since 2017, and the resulting repatriation will be the very first in the museum's history. According to the website, the Netherlands' national museum of Arts and History "is set to return six objects currently in its collection to Sri Lanka this year. It marks the first time colonial objects from the Rijksmuseum collection will be returned. The objects concerned are two swords, two rifles, a dagger and the Cannon of Kandy decorated with precious stones."



 

Valika Smeulders, head of the Rijksmuseum's Department of History, told The Art Newspaper there has been a clear shift in perspective, "I think the way that the museum world used to look at this debate in the 20th century was very much about the concern to preserve objects for generations to come and obviously, museums in Europe have the facilities to do that," she said.



 

She added, "What changed is our viewpoint: these objects are to tell the stories of our countries, of our shared history of peoples. So what we see now as our mission is to have the objects in the places where they are best able to tell the stories that are important."

Dutch Secretary of State for Culture and Media Gunay Uslu said in a press statement, "This is a historic moment. It's the first time we're following recommendations to give back objects that should never have been brought to the Netherlands. But more than anything, it's a moment to look to the future. We're not only returning objects; we're also embarking on a period of closer cooperation with Indonesia and Sri Lanka in areas like collection research, presentation and exchanges between museums."



 

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