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African Prince calls for Bristol Museum to return stolen artefacts

AN AFRICAN prince is calling on Bristol Museum to return a Benin Bronze sculpture – one of thousands of priceless artefacts stolen by colonists in the 19th century – back to Nigeria. 

Benin Bronzes refer to thousands of artworks which once decorated the palace of the oba, or king, of the west African empire of Benin.

Many of the finely carved artefacts were stolen from the kingdom’s capital Benin City — now in modern-day Nigeria — by the British army in a punitive 1897 expedition. 

They remain scattered across the world, mainly in museums and private collections in Europe, including 1,000 pieces at the British Museum.

A bust believed to be worth £1 million is currently on display in Bristol Museum. 

Speaking in an episode of BBC Inside Out West airing today (7.30pm, BBC1 West Midlands), Prince Edun Akenzua of the Royal Court of Benin said: “We are appealing to Bristol Museum to blaze the trail for the international community or private holders of the Benin cultural property to get them returned.”

Jon Finch, head of culture at Bristol City Council, which runs the museum, said he was open to returning the bust.

“I’ve seen the impassioned plea from the prince, so we’re very willing to explore that option with him and others,” he said.

The Benin royal family has been trying for many years to get its cultural heritage returned. 

Last year Jesus College, Cambridge agreed to return a Benin Bronze, a cockerel – the first such item to be sent back home. 

But the British Museum has refused to comply with the prince’s demands, arguing that their collection of bronzes cannot be returned because they are protected by the Heritage Act.

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