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British Museum likely to return looted Asante gold treasures to Ghana

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King Osei Tutu II, the Asante king, met with Tristram Hunt, the director of the V&A, in Ghana earlier this year, during which they discussed the objects taken from his predecessors that are in the museum Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is likely to return Asante gold regalia to Ghana after a recent visit there by its director Tristram Hunt. These treasures had been seized during a British punitive raid in 1874.

Although international attention is now focused on the restitution of Benin bronzes to Nigeria from European and American collections, items from the Asante kingdom are arguably of equal significance. Together, Benin and Asante (now in Ghana) represent two of the greatest West African cultures. A return of treasures to Ghana by the V&A will inevitably increase pressure on the British Museum, which holds a much larger Asante collection.

The British colony of the Gold Coast was expanded in 1872 and conflicts then intensified with the Asante kingdom, which lay to the north. In January 1874 British troops entered Kumasi, the Asante capital. Queen Victoria’s forces looted and blew up the palace of the king (Asantehene), Kofi Karikari. They then demanded 50,000 ounces of gold, nominally to recover the expenses of the punitive raid. The seizure of the gold regalia stripped the Asante king of his symbols of government. Tensions continued over many years and further treasures were seized during later military campaigns in 1896 and 1900.

Tristram Hunt, the director of the V&A, wants to see restrictions eased on deaccessioning objects in his museum Peter Dewhirst/Alamy Stock Photo

Hunt, in the V&A’s latest annual review, writes: “I visited Ghana to begin conversations about a renewable cultural partnership centred around the V&A collection of Asante court regalia, which entered the collection following the looting of Kumasi in 1874. We are optimistic that a new partnership model can forge a potential pathway for these important artefacts to be on display in Ghana in the coming years.”

On his visit in February, Hunt held discussions with both the Ghanaian ministry of tourism, arts and culture and the current Asante king, Osei Tutu II.

Most UK national museums are not normally able to deaccession, in the V&A’s case because of restrictions incorporated in the 1983 National Heritage Act. Hunt favours a loosening of this prohibition and with next year’s 40th anniversary of the act, he would like to see a debate over deaccessioning.

Long-term loans

For the present, the V&A can only offer a long-term loan of Asante treasures, but eventually such loans might lead to a transfer of legal ownership. We can report that the V&A-Ghanaian discussions were partly facilitated by Ivor Agyeman-Duah, a Kumasi-born historian of Asante art and architecture. He served as an adviser to John Kufuor, a former president of Ghana (2001-09), and was a former director of the Ghana Museums & Monuments Board.

One of the sensitive issues that needs addressing is whether treasures returned from Britain should be displayed in the national capital, Accra, or the Asante capital, Kumasi.

Agyeman-Duah tells The Art Newspaperthat he believes it is important that looted Asante objects should be returned to where they were seized: “It is appropriate that they go to the palace in Kumasi.”

The venue there would be the Manhyia Palace Museum, a building erected in 1925, which served as the royal residence until 1970. In 1995 it became a museum. It has been closed since last year for refurbishment, including upgrading security and environmental conditions, which will pave the way for international loans.

Golden fleeced: works in UK museums

The greatest part of the V&A’s Asante collection comprises 13 pieces of looted Asante court regalia. These were sold by the British army through the London crown jeweller Garrard.

Gold pectoral “soul” disc in the V&A’s collection © V&A London

They include a decorated gold pectoral “soul” disc, shaped like a flower, which would have been worn by priests involved in the ritual purification of the king’s soul. There is a also a pear-shaped pendant, either worn or possibly attached to a state sword or stool. The remaining pieces of regalia are of gold.

The British Museum’s collection of Asante objects is much larger, including 105 items that were seized in 1874. Of these, 83 were purchased from the crown agents for the colonies, 12 from Garrard and ten elsewhere. A further 12 pieces were acquired after an 1896 raid.

Gold “soul” disc inserted into a decorated surround by Marquis of Exeter © The Trustees of the British Museum

Among the most poignant objects in the British Museum’s collection is a large gold “soul” disc. When acquired by the Marquess of Exeter in 1874 he had it framed by Garrard in an impressive gold surround, made in London. On the reverse it is inscribed, along with the aristocrat’s crest: “The gold ornament in the centre of this dish is a portion of the indemnity paid by the Ashanti King Coffee Calcalli to Her Majesty’s Forces.” This transformed a sacred Asante religious object into an English war trophy. Perhaps surprisingly, the object was bought by the British Museum from the owner’s descendants in 1973, nearly a century after the looting.

The Wallace Collection has a stunning gold Asante trophy head which is the largest known piece of historic goldwork made in Africa, outside Egypt. This was bought by Richard Wallace in 1874.

Gold trophy head in the Wallace Collection © The Wallace Collection

Ceremonial brass bowl in the National Army Museum © National Army Museum

London’s National Army Museumowns an important ceremonial bowl which stood outside the royal mausoleum. This was once erroneously said to have ben used to collect the blood of beheaded sacrificial victims, a reflection of British colonial attitudes in the 19th century.

The Royal Regiment of Artillery is believed to own an important Asante gold ram’s head. It is set on an elaborate stand, made in London in 1875, which includes three Atlantean figures of Africans.

When The Art Newspaper asked for further information, we were told that the regiment “do not circulate details relating to their private property”.

Other Asante pieces are in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, Leeds Museumand the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford.

In 1974, the centenary of the looting, the then Asante king, Opoku Ware II, asked for “the return of regalia and other items removed from our country by British expeditionary forces in 1874, 1896 and 1900”. Although that claim was made nearly 50 years ago, it now looks likely that the V&A will be taking the bold step of leading the way in acceding to this request.

The V&A is not commenting further, although an announcement is likely later this year.

A British Museum spokesperson says that a formal claim was received in 1974. Since then “there have been several spoken requests, most notably by the current Asantehene, during the visit of the deputy director of the British Museum to Kumasi in 2010”. The spokesperson says that there is “a cordial working relationship with the Asante Royal Court through the Asantehene and the Manhyia Palace Museum committee”.

Discussions have been held with the Asantehene, with both parties expressing the “ambition that objects from the British Museum collection might travel on loan to the Kumasi museum”.

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AU official calls out Germany over leopard jibe that left some offended

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A Leopard 2 tank is pictured during a demonstration event held for the media by the German Bundeswehr in Munster near Hannover, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. - Copyright © africanews Michael Sohn/AP2011

Germany apologized on Thursday (Jan. 26) for using a leopard emoji in a tweet refering to the Russian Foreign Minister’s visit to Africa. The post that was regarded as offensive by some users was called out by the spokeswoman for the African Union chairman Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat.

The German foreign ministry attempted to poke fun at Russia’s top diplomat during his tour of Africa when it tweeted that he wasn’t there looking for leopards, but using the trip to try and justify Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The tweet, and the leopard emoji the foreign ministry used on its official account, apparently sought to play off Germany’s decision to send some of its advanced Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine to back its military fight off Russian forces.

An African Union official questioned the use of emoji, pointing it could be interpreted as the continent being portrayed once again as only about wild animals.

Ebba Kalondo, the spokeswoman for AU Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, tweeted back to the German government account questioning if Africa, its people and its wildlife was “just a joke to you?”

“Foreign policy is not a joke nor should it be used to score cheap geopolitical points by illustrating an entire Continent with colonial tropes,” Kalondo wrote in a follow-up tweet.

The German foreign ministry apologized and said that the tweet wasn’t meant to offend, but rather “to call out the lies that Russia uses to justify its imperialist war of aggression against Ukraine.”

Lavrov has visited South Africa, Eswatini, Angola and Eritrea this week, where he has repeated his claims that the United States and its Western allies are using Ukraine as a tool in a “hybrid war” against Russia.

Many African nations hold historical ties with Moscow. South Africa was one of several to abstain from a U.N. vote last year condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Eritrea voted against the resolution alongside Russia, Belarus, North Korea and Syria.

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Bomb injures at least a dozen people near a market in north-eastern DR Congo

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Congolese Defense Forces soldiers inspect the scene of an attack near the town of Oicha, 30 kms (20 miles) from Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo, Friday July 23, 2021.

A bomb exploded at a market in eastern Congo on Wednesday (Jan. 25), injuring at least a dozen people, authorities said.

An unknown person detonated a bomb inside a bag in North Kivu’s Beni town, said Tharcisse Katembo, a local official.

“Damage was documented (and) at least 12 people were injured. They were injured in the lower limbs, others in their upper limbs and others were hit in the head,” he told reporters in Beni.

The victims were taken to the hospital and an investigation was underway, Katembo said.

No one claimed responsibility for the bomb. However, attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces, which is believed to be linked with the Islamic State extremist movement, have been increasing in North Kivu, according to the United Nations.

Deadly violence

Earlier this month, at least 14 people were killed and dozens injured in an attack on a church in Kasindi town, which was claimed by Islamic State. It said in its Aamaq news outlet that it planted an explosive device inside the church and detonated it while people were praying.

Since April, attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces have killed at least 370 civilians, and the group has abducted several hundred more, including a significant number of children, the U.N. says.

The explosion Wednesday (Jan. 25) occurred in a local market next to a cassava mill, witnesses said.

Danny Syaghuswa, 16, said he was sitting on his motorcycle when a man in a striped shirt put a small bag behind a door, saying he would come back for it, according to an interview with local reporters heard by The Associated Press. “Less than five minutes after he left the bomb exploded,” Syaghuswa said.

Images of the attack circulating on chat groups show people lying on the floor. One woman in blood-stained clothes was carrying a small child.

Violence has wracked eastern Congo for decades as more than 120 armed groups and self-defense militias fight for land and power. Nearly 6 million people are internally displaced, and hundreds of thousands are facing extreme food insecurity, according to the United Nations.

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Somalia: Al-Shabaab terrorists storm mayor’s office, killing six

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Al-Shabaab terrorists set off a bomb and stormed a government building in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.  The Al-Qaeda-backed terror group has stepped up bombings in the country.

At least six people were killed on Sunday in an attack by Al Shabaab militants at the mayor’s office in central Mogadishu, police said.

A suicide bomber set off a huge blast that tore through building near the office complex with gunfire erupting afterwards, Somali police spokesman Sadik Dudishe said at the end of the four-hour siege.

“All the six attackers died. Five of them during the fire exchange with the security forces and one of them detonated himself,” Dudishe told reporters.

“Six civilians also died during the attack and the situation is back to normal.” All the staffers at the mayor’s office were rescued, the police added.

Al 0Shabaab, a militant group allied with Al Qaeda claimed, responsibility for the attack via its communication channels, saying its fighters “made their way inside the targeted building after killing the security guards.” Witnesses said the initial explosion damaged nearby buildings and gunfire could be heard in the vicinity of the mayor’s office.

The area was quickly cordoned off by security officers, a witness who runs a business near the offices said.

Another witness, Omar Nur, said he was inside a nearby mall when the explosion went off and “was lucky to have escaped safely.” The Al Shabaab militants have been waging a bloody insurgency against the frail internationally backed central government for 15 years, carrying out attacks both in Somalia and neighbouring countries.

The latest attack comes days after seven soldiers were killed on Friday at a military camp in Galcad, a town in central Somalia about 375 kilometres north of the capital Mogadishu. The US military said the attack — in the Somali town retaken by the army this week — involved more than 100 Al Shabaab jihadists.

“The combined actions by partner forces on the ground and the collective self-defence strike is estimated to have resulted in three destroyed vehicles and approximately thirty Al Shabaab terrorists killed” the US military command for Africa (AFRICOM) said in a statement.

Source: Dawn

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