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150th Anniversary of Sagrenti War: US Museum Returns Looted Asante Royal Artefacts

Representatives of the Fowler Museum at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) were in Kumasi to hand over the artifacts - a gold jewellery and ornaments, an asipim (ornamental chair), and a sika mena (elephant tail whisk).

A US museum yesterday returned seven looted royal items back to their original owners – the Asante royal family – after 150 years since the 1874 Sagrenti War.

Representatives of the Fowler Museum at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) were in Kumasi to hand over the artifacts – a gold jewellery and ornaments, an asipim (ornamental chair), and a sika mena (elephant tail whisk).

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“Even though we have legal title to these objects, we don’t own these objects. They are objects that we have in custody, not just for UCLA and the public, but also we have a responsibility, which is an ethical responsibility to the community of origin,” Silvia Forni, the director of the Fowler Museum is quoted by the Art Newspaper to have said.

The arrival of the items coincides with a commemorative event happening today and in the days ahead at the Manhyia Palace, the seat of the Asantehene in Kumasi. The Kingdom today is marking 150 years since the Third Anglo-Ashanti War, which was fought between the British Empire and the Ashanti Empire specifically from 1873 to 1874.

The war resulted in the capture and destruction of the Ashanti capital, Kumasi, by the British and the imposition of a harsh treaty that demanded the payment of a large indemnity and the cessation of human sacrifice by the Ashantis.

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But lately, the issue of returning plundered loot from the colonial era back to African nations has become a controversial one. While African governments have taken on the fight for restitution and called for their cultural property to be returned home, European and Western museums where these relics are kept in the thousands, have always invoked legitimacy in their rebuttal to still hold on to some of those items.

Just last month, the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum said it could only “loan” back about 39 Crown Jewels looted from the Asante Kingdom because national museums there are banned by law from “permanently giving back contested items in their collections.”

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