Asantehene at BM with his two advisors - Agyeman-Duah and McLeod and the Leadership of the Museum-Credit Ato Anderson

In a dramatic development, two of the world’s leading museums connected to the colonial past, The British Museum and the Victoria& Albert Museum in London, have agreed to return some looted objects of silver and gold from the Asante court palace in Kumasi following the third Anglo-Asante War of 1874.

In a joint statement in London yesterday, the two organizations said that “Items of gold and silver regalia associated with the Asante royal court will be displayed in Kumasi later this year as part of a long-term loan commitment by the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Many of these items will be seen in Ghana for the first time in 150 years.”

The thirty-two coming objects with fifteen from the British Museum and seventeen from the Victoria & Albert Museum, will be part of three commemorative events – the 150th year of the 1874 war, the centenary of the return from exile of the Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh I as well as the silver jubilee of the Asantehene Osei Tutu II. The peak of the last will be between April and May. They would afterwards be part of the Manhyia Palace Museum collection for possibly six years.

This development follows half-a century of discussions between Manhyia and particularly the British Museum. It was principally after a visit to them in London in May 2023 that the Asantehene Osei Tutu II re-opened discussions and appointed two technical advisors, the Ghanaian historian and museum economist, Ivor Agyeman- Duah and the Scottish historian and former Vice Principal of the University of Glasgow, Professor Malcolm McLeod. The latter was instrumental in the setting-up of the Manhyia Palace Museum in 1995.

The formal agreement lasted nine months including of the selection of returning objects personally approved by the Asantehene. This included from the British Museum, the 300-year-old original Mponponso sword by which Asantehenes swore their oath of office and used by the paramount chiefs of Asante to swear their oath of allegiance to the Asantehenes. Other objects go back to the Asantehenes Kofi Karkari (c 1837-1884) and Prempeh I (1870-1931).

The seventeen objects from the Victoria & Albert include 1gold peace pipe, 3 cast gold soul-washers’ badges, 7 sections of sheet-gold ornament, 1 silver straining spoon, 1 pair of silver anklets, 1 section of sheet-gold ornament purchased in 1874 from a military family and 1 cast gold soul-washer’s badge.

The Director of the V&A Museum Dr. Tristram Hunt said that the “V&A is proud to be partnering with the Manhiya Palace Museum to display this important collection of Asante gold work. As part of our commitment to sharing collections with a colonial past, we are excited to see these items on public show in Ghana, as part of Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. We thank him for his leadership, and look forward to further collaboration.’

The Keeper of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the British Museum, Lissant Bolton said: “We are privileged to have built a long-standing cultural partnership with Manhyia working together over the past five decades. This relationship is of great importance to us. We are delighted to be lending these beautiful and significant cultural objects for display in Kumasi in this the Asantehene’s Silver Jubilee year.”

The cultural cooperation which according to Mr. Agyeman-Duah goes beyond the year will see many directors of UK museums visiting with Otumfuo Osei Tutu II giving a major lecture at the British Museum in July.

In a related development, seven of the 1874 looted objects which were acquired from the Wellcome Trust in the UK in 1965 by the Fowler Museum at the University of California in Los Angeles, accordingly to sources, will be permanently presented to the Asantehene in the coming weeks. This was after the University’s policy changed for all looted items to be returned to their original owners.

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