British Museum and V&A partner to loan looted ‘crown jewels’ to Ghana

Images © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The cultural partnership between the two museums and the Manhyia Palace Museum in Ghana sees a three-year loan of 32 items.

More than 30 items of gold and silver from the collections of the V&A and the British Museum are to be returned to Ghana following a long-term loan agreement.

In total 17 items from the V&A collection and 15 items from the British Museum are to be loaned to the Manhyia Palace Museum, located within the palace complex of the Asantehene in Kumasi, Ghana, under separate three-year agreements.

The collections will form part of an exhibition planned to celebrate the 2024 Silver Jubilee of His Royal Majesty, the Asantehene, Osei Tutu II, as well as commemorating the 150th anniversary of the 1873-4 Anglo-Asante war. It will be the first time some of the items have been in Ghana for 150 years.

Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, described the items of court regalia as the equivalent of “our Crown Jewels”, reports the BBC.

Many of the items to be loaned were looted from Kumasi during the Anglo-Asante wars of the 19th century.

Some of the items 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.

Objects to be loaned from the V&A’s include all 13 pieces of Asante Royal regalia looted by the British army during the raid on and destruction of the royal palace, which were subsequently acquired by the museum at an auction in 1874.

Also travelling to Kumasi are two further items of gold regalia bought by the V&A within a decade of the raid, a gold ring given to it by a collector in 1921 and a gold ornament in the form of an eagle given by a military family in 1936.

The Manhyia Palace Museum has selected 15 items from the British Museum’s collection of objects from the Kingdom of Asante, considered to be the largest collection of its type in the UK.

The items to be loaned include a small gold ornament in the form of a lute-harp (sankuo), and items of regalia associated with two of the 19th century Anglo-Asante wars, much of which was looted.

Keeper of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the British Museum, Dr. Lissant Bolton 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.”

Director of the V&A, Dr. Tristram Hunt added: “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.”