Letter: British guilt over the Benin bronzes

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The Independent Online
Sir: Thomas Sutcliffe (article, 27 February) suggests that the restitution of another country's cultural treasures "should not be decided by reasons of politics ... but by a free competition of reverence".

Where the Benin bronzes are concerned it is indeed the issue of "reverence" that so exercises Africanists and the Nigerian government. Not only are the bronzes unique, but they are the finest example of casting in the "lost wax" technique anywhere in the world.

Sutcliffe then points out that they would have much less value in Lagos than they do here and that to send them to Lagos would be to "deplete their power". The bronzes were not taken from Lagos but from Benin City, capital of the once independent state of Benin. In that city stands a large, reverently maintained museum, many of its walls hung with photographs of the bronzes that adorn the walls of Western museums. A visit to Benin museum leaves any Western visitor with an overwhelming feeling of guilt and sadness.


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