Ghana rejoices at display of ‘crown jewels’ looted by British

One of the looted objects on display. One of the looted objects on display.

Artefacts looted from the Asante kingdom are finally on display in Ghana, 150 years after British colonizers took them.

Ghanaians flocked to the Manhyia Palace Museum in Kumasi, the capital of the Asante region, to welcome the 32 objects.

“This is a day for Asante. A day for the black African continent. The spirit we shared has returned,” said Asante King Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.

So far, the items have only been loaned to Ghana for three years.

However, this loan can be extended.

The agreement is between two British museums – the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) and the British Museum – and the Asante king, not the government of Ghana.

The Asante king, or Asantehene, is seen as a symbol of traditional authority and is believed to be invested with the spirits of his predecessors. But his kingdom is now part of Ghana’s modern democracy.

“Our dignity has been restored,” Henry Amankwaatia, a retired police commissioner and proud Asante, told the BBC to the hum of jubilant drums.

Some of the items, described by some as “the crown jewels of Ghana”, were looted during the Anglo-Ashanti wars of the 19th century, including the famous Sargrenti War of 1874.

Other items, such as the golden harp (Sankuo), were given to a British diplomat in 1817.

“We recognize the very painful history surrounding the acquisition of these objects. A history stained by the scars of imperial conflict and colonialism,” said Dr Tristam Hunt, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who traveled to Kumasi for the ceremony .

Among the artifacts returned were the sword of state, the gold peace pipe, and the gold insignia worn by officials tasked with cleansing the king’s soul.

“These treasures have witnessed the triumph and trials of the great kingdom and their return to Kumasi is a testament to the power of cultural exchange and reconciliation,” Dr Hunt said.

One of the returned items, the state sword, also called the “mpompomsuo sword”, has great meaning to the Asante people.

It serves as a sword of office used to take the oath of office to the kingdom by the paramount chiefs and the king himself.

Royal historian Osei-Bonsu Safo-Kantanka told the BBC that when the objects were removed from the Asante, they took “a part of our heart, our feeling, our whole being”.

The return of the artifacts is as controversial as it is significant.

Under UK law, national museums such as the V&A and the British Museum are prohibited from permanently returning disputed items from their collections, and loan deals like this are seen as a way of allowing objects to return to their countries of origin.

Some countries claiming disputed artefacts fear the loans could be used to imply they accept UK ownership.

Many Ghanaians believe that the ornaments should remain permanently. However, this new agreement is a way to overcome British legal restrictions.

African countries have repeatedly called for the return of looted items and some have regained ownership of valuable historical artifacts in recent years.

In 2022, Germany returned more than 1,000 Benin bronzes to Nigeria. The German Foreign Minister said at the time that it was a step to address a “dark colonial history.”

The necklace or ‘kanta’ (R) was worn by the king at important funerals

The exhibition is part of the silver jubilee celebrations of Asante King Otumfo Osei Tutu II.

This gold headdress known as “krononkye” was worn when royalty mourned

The midnight knife (L) was used for covert operations. The gold insignia (R) were worn by the king’s soulwashers.