V&A and British Museum to loan Asante gold to Ghana - Museums Association

V&A and British Museum to loan Asante gold to Ghana

Cultural partnership will see regalia return to country for the first time in 150 years
Loans Repatriation
Band or fillet of gold embossed with foliage and scrolls with holes for fastening to leather or other material. Asante, Ghana, probably 19th-century
Band or fillet of gold embossed with foliage and scrolls with holes for fastening to leather or other material. Asante, Ghana, probably 19th-century © Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and the British Museum have agreed to loan a number of significant cultural objects to a museum in Ghana.

The agreement between the two London institutions and the Manhyia Palace Museum, which is in Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti Region, relates to items of gold and silver associated with the Asante royal court. Many of these items will be seen in Ghana for the first time in 150 years.

The agreement for a long-term loan of the objects follows an official visit to London by the Asantehene (King of Asante) Otumfuo Osei Tutu II in May last year.

His two technical advisers, the Ghanaian historian Ivor Agyeman-Duah and the British professor of African and Asante history, Malcolm McLeod, have led the discussions and negotiations during the past nine months.

The objects are of cultural, historical and spiritual significance to the Asante people. They are also linked to British colonial history in West Africa, with many of them looted from Kumasi during the Anglo-Asante wars of the 19th century. 

Some of them formed part of a British indemnity payment forcibly extracted from the Asantehene at the time, while many others were sold at auction and later dispersed among museums and private collectors worldwide, including the British Museum and the V&A.

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The V&A is lending 17 items in total, while 15 objects have been selected by the Manhyia Palace Museum from the British Museum’s collection.

The loans will form part of an exhibition planned to celebrate the 2024 silver jubilee of the Asantehene, as well as commemorating the 150th anniversary of the 1873-74 Anglo-Asante war and the 100th anniversary of the return of the Asantehene Prempeh I from exile in the Seychelles.

V&A director Tristram Hunt said: “150 years after the attack on Kumasi and looting of court regalia, the V&A is proud to be partnering with the Manhyia 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 the Asantehene for his leadership, and look forward to further collaboration.”

Lissant Bolton, keeper of Africa, Oceania and the Americas British Museum, said: “We are privileged to have built a long-standing cultural partnership with the Manhyia Palace Museum, 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 and the 150th anniversary of the Anglo-Asante war, and to be doing so through a collaboration with Manhyia Palace Museum and the V&A.”

Comments (2)

  1. Sophie Williams says:

    Why can these items not be returned to Ghana permanently? They aren’t ours to loan, and it would be a fantastic step forward in decolonisation to return these cultural artefacts.

  2. J Michael Phillips says:

    This article shows a staggering ignorance of the facts. In 1873 the Ashanti army, about 12,000 strong, crossed the River Pra (the boundary agreed with the Ashantis in the 1831 Treaty) into the British Colony of the Gold Coast and set about laying it waste. This formed no part of the Ashanti kingdom and was inhabited by the Fanti people. A military expedition to prevent further Ashanti incursions was mounted under General Wolseley. Attempts to repel the Ashantis with local levies failed, so troops had to be sent out from England. Wolseley had 4,000 troops, so was outnumbered by three to one. Battles ensued at Amoaful (31 January 1874) and Ordahsu (4 February 1874). On arrival at Coomassie (Kumasi) it found the King and the Ashanti army had abandoned it. The soldiers found clear evidence of human sacrifice, with thousands of skulls piled up in a sacred grove. There was significant plundering on the first night by the released Fanti prisoners and camp followers, to halt which the captain commanding the military police had one looter hanged and others flogged, but much disappeared that night. The valuables discovered on the following day were collected up by the Prize Agents and auctioned off at Cape Coast, realizing about £5,000. The Ashanti signed the Treaty of Fomena in July 1874 to end the war. Among articles of the Treaty was an undertaking by the Ashantis to end human sacrifice. This was not a colonial war: Ashanti territory was not annexed until 1901, and in January 1902 Britain designated the Ashanti Kingdom as a protectorate. By then 25 years had passed since the items now to be ‘returned on loan’ had been removed from a former enemy. Although Ghana is now a Member of the Commonwealth and a former Colony, Ashantiland was at the time of the Ashanti Campaign of 1873-74 a hostile state.

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