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British Museum likely to return looted Asante gold treasures to Ghana

Otumfuo Osei Tutu II met with Tristram Hunt, the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum

After Tristram Hunt, the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), recently visited the West African nation Ghana, it is expected that the V&A will return with Asante gold regalia, The Art Newspaper has reported. These artifacts had been taken during an 1874 British expedition.

With a permanent collection of more than 2.27 million items, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London—often referred to as the V&A—is the largest museum in the world devoted to decorative, applied, and design arts. It was established in 1852 and given the names of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

“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,” in the director’s introductory statement in the museum’s annual evaluation for 2021–2022, Hunt wrote.

Treasures from the Asante Kingdom are perhaps of similar importance to the Benin Bronzes that have been returned to Nigeria from collections in Europe and America, which are currently the center of interest on a global scale.

The civilizations of Asante and Benin are the two largest in West Africa (now in Ghana). The British Museum, which has a considerably larger Asante collection, will inevitably come under threat if the V&A returns artifacts to Ghana.

Thirteen items of Asante court regalia that were stolen make up the majority of the V&A’s Asante collection. Through the London royal jeweler Garrard, the British army offered these for sale.

There are significantly more Asante artifacts in the British Museum‘s collection, including 105 artifacts that were taken in 1874. Of these, 83 were bought through the crown’s agents in the colonies; 12 were from Garrard; and ten were bought somewhere else. 12 further pieces were acquired following a raid in 1896.

In 1872, the British colony of Gold Coast grew as tensions with the Asante Kingdom to the north worsened. British troops arrived at Kumasi, the Asante county’s capital, in January 1874. Then Asantehene Kofi Karikari’s palace was ransacked and destroyed by Queen Victoria’s troops. Then, to make up for the expense of the retaliatory raid, they sought a nominal 50,000 ounces of gold.

The Asante king‘s insignia of authority were taken away by the confiscation of the golden regalia. Long-lasting tensions led to the confiscation of additional valuables during subsequent campaigns in 1896 and 1900.

An official claim was received in 1974, according to a British Museum spokesperson who spoke with The Art Newspaper.

The spokesperson revealed that there have been a number of formal requests, most notably from the current Asantehene in 2010 during the deputy director of the British Museum’s visit to Kumasi. According to the spokesperson, the Asantehene and the Manhyia Palace Museum committee have a friendly working relationship with the Asante Royal Court.


Both sides expressed a desire that artefacts from the British Museum collection would travel on loan to the Kumasi museum during discussions with the Asantehene. Due to limitations imposed by the National Heritage Act of 1983, the V&A is an exception to the rule for most national museums in the UK. Hunt desires a debate on deaccession for the law’s 40th anniversary next year, as well as a relaxation of the ban.


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