A number of artefacts from Glasgow Life Museums are to be returned to their country of origin following a vote by Glasgow City Council (GCC).

Bronzes from Benin, a ceremonial sword from India and belongings lifted from massacred Lakota people in the USA are to be given back to the descendants of their original owners.

Seventeen bronze Benin artefacts, taken from ancestral altars at the Royal Court of Benin during the British Punitive Expedition of 1897, are to be returned.

GCC’s Museums subsequently acquired the Bronzes from various sources in Britain as gifts, bequests and from auction houses.

GCC has said it is in talks with NCMM, the body established by Nigeria to control, regulate and administer antiquities, to finalise repatriation plans.

This could include the legal title being transferred to NCMM, while the artefacts remain in the city as items on loan to Glasgow Life Museums until such time as transit is requested by NCMM or becomes practicable. It is estimated the return transit of these artefacts to Benin could be in the region of £30,000.

The return of six architectural antiquities from Kanpur, Gwalior and Bihar and a 14thC ceremonial sword (tulwar) and scabbard from the Deccan have been requested by the High Commission of India, on behalf of the Government of India and Archaeological Services India.

Six of the artefacts were stolen by the donors from Hindu temples and shrines in different States in India during the 19th Century, while the seventh was illegally purchased as a result of theft from the owner, sold and smuggled out of India. All seven items were subsequently gifted to the city’s museum collection.

Curator of World Cultures (Glasgow Life Museums) continues to meet regularly with Jaspreet Singh and Head of Political and Bilateral Affairs at the British High Commission New Delhi.

The curator has also been referred to Dr. Alok Tripathi, Director General, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Mr. Anil Tiwari, Director (Antiquity), ASI who will assist the repatriation process.

The ASI is an Indian government agency attached to the Ministry of Culture that is responsible for archaeological research and the conservation and preservation of cultural historical monuments in the country.

The next meeting, in early April, will consider logistical issues including export licenses and potential costs.

Twenty five Lakota cultural items sold and donated to the city’s museum collection by George Crager in 1892 are also to be repatriated.

The Lakota items in the city’s museum collection that belong to the Oceti Sakowin convey the continuity of the ancestors who created the items.

The Marcella LeBeau Family are direct Oceti Sakowin descendants of the Wounded Knee massacre. The repatriation claim has been submitted by the second, third and fourth generations following Marcella LeBeau, seeking repatriation of the items from the Oceti Sakowin in the city’s museum collection.

GCC said the LeBeau family are aware of the financial aspects of a repatriation, which it estimates will cost between £30,000 and £40,000.

Duncan Dornan, Head of Museums and Collections at Glasgow Life, said: the city had “a positive history regarding repatriation.”

“The return of these objects from Glasgow Life Museums’ collection to their rightful owners represents the largest-ever repatriation of cultural artefacts from a Scottish museum and is a significant moment for our city; specifically, the repatriation of eight Indian antiquities is the first of its kind to India from a UK museum.

“Glasgow has been at the forefront of repatriation efforts in the UK since 1999, when a Lakota Sacred Ghost Dance shirt was returned to the Wounded Knee Survivors’ Association. Since then, we’ve continued to maintain and build relationships internationally, which is fundamental to finding a respectful and constructive outcome for all parties. Glasgow Life Museums has worked in partnership with various official representatives on these latest repatriations and we recognise the importance of transparency when explaining how such objects arrived in the city.

“By addressing past wrongs, we believe these returns will, in a small way, help these descendant communities to heal some of the wounds represented by the wrongful removal of their cultural artefacts, and lead to the development of positive and constructive relationships between Glasgow and communities around the world.”

Art Fund – News
Back to top