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Silver Jubilee of Otumfuo Osei Tutu II; Asante artefacts returning home after 150 years to boost tourism

Gradually, African artefacts looted during the colonial era, are finding their way back to their countries of origin as discussions on restitution hit a crescendo, reports Graphic Online’s Kwame Asare Boadu.

In the Republic of Benin, 26 royal artefacts that were looted from the Dahomey Kingdom by the French colonial army in 1892 have been repatriated.

Elsewhere in Ethiopia, 13 of the country’s treasures stolen in 1868 after the battle of Maqdala between the British and Ethiopian empires have been returned home following months of negotiations.

Officials said, the items, which include an intricately latticed processional cross, a richly coloured triptych depicting Jesus’ crucifixion, and an ornate red and brass imperial shield, are part of the largest act of restitution in Ethiopia’s history.

Asante artefacts

Here in Ghana, the Asantehene had been pushing for the return of Asante gold regalia from museums in Britain and expectations are that something positive will come out in 2024 to coincide with the silver jubilee coronation of the 16th Asante monarch, reports Graphic Online’s Kwame Asare Boadu.

Already, the Manhyia Palace Museum, which has undergone massive transformation, is being prepared to receive the items, which will eventually boost tourism.

The return of the Asante artefacts will also coincide with two other important activities in Asanteman in 2024.

One of the activities is the celebration of 150 years of the third Anglo-Asante war of 1874.

It was a war in which a British expeditionary force, retaliating a crushing defeat by Asante two years earlier, marched into Kumasi, destroyed the palace of the Asantehene, Kofi Karikari and took away his insignia of authority and other valuables, most of which later found their way into museums in Britain.

An article titled, “Asante Gold”, published by the world’s leading museum of arts and culture, Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum said, “The British ransacked the palace of the Asantehene, Kofi Karikari, and imposed an indemnity of 50,000 ounces of gold, part of which the Asante managed to pay by handing over gold beads and other worked jewellery. On return to Britain, some of this gold was auctioned by the London crown jewellers, Garrard’s, to provide pensions for the wounded and next of kin. Garrard’s is the source given for thirteen items of Asante court regalia acquired by the V&A in June 1874.”

“The V&A’s collection includes a pipe, three pectoral discs (plus another acquired in 1883), a pair of silver anklets and a number of beaten gold pieces which were probably used to decorate state stools or swords.”

The V&A museum itself has indicated that it is developing a programme to mark the 150th anniversary of the 1874 war in London.

According to the museum, a group of Ghanaian and British artists would jointly be engaged in a memorial in the British capital.

A third significant event that will also take place in Kumasi is the centenary of the return of the 13th Asantehene, Prempeh I from 28 years of exile in the Seychelles archipelago.

Clearly, 2024 will be a loaded year recognising the distinguished reign of Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, reports Graphic Online’s Kwame Asare Boadu.

Asante artefacts returning home after 150 years will boost tourism
Otumfuo (middle) with his technical advisors, Ivor Agyeman-Duah ( left) and Prof. Malcolm McLeod during the meeting with officials of the British Museum in London in May, this year.

Restitution

In his push for restitution, Otumfuo, during his visit to London in May 2023 to participate in the coronation of King Charles, took time to meet with the Director of the British Museum, Dr Hartwig Fischer who assured him that his outfit would consider granting his wishes through the established British laws.

A team constituted by the Asantehene made up of historian, museum economist and development specialist, Ivor Agyeman-Duah, and a former Keeper of Ethnography at the British Museum and Professor of History and Vice Principal of the University of Glasgow, Malcolm McLeod, has continued the discussions with the management of the British Museum and indications are that progress is being made.

Agyeman-Duah has also been holding discussions with the director of the V&A Museum, Dr Tristram Hunt in London and an agreement is expected to be signed before February 2024.

Importance

The return of the Asante artefacts, according to the Provost of the College of Humanities and Legal Studies, University of Cape Coast (UCC), Prof. Kwame Osei Kwarteng, holds a lot of significance for Asante and Ghana.

In a conversation with Graphic Online’s Kwame Asare Boadu, the Professor of History who studied at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, said the Asantehene has every right to demand repatriation of the precious items notwithstanding antiquity.

Prof. Kwarteng said once the artefacts were looted from the Asantehene’s palace, demanding them back is in order.

“It was a common practice that any war that was waged, the victors took away war booties.The Asante treasures were war booties, which were added to thtreasures of the British to indicate that they won a war against the Asantes,” he said.

Highlighting how important the items are to the history of Asante, he stated: “ It is very important, economically, socially, politically and academically. These treasure items will be kept in the Manhyia Palace Museum which will promote tourism. It will promote academic research, and above all it will showcase the rich culture of the Asante people.”

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