Benin Bronzes: ‘My Great-Grandfather Sculpted the Looted Treasures’ – Aigbe

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By Mayeni Jones

On the bustling streets of Nigeria’s Benin City, residents cannot wait to get their Bronzes back – for them their return symbolises reparations for some of the wrongs committed by British troops during the colonial era.

A statue of a cockerel is one priceless artefact soon to be welcomed home, after Jesus College handed it over to a delegation from Nigeria at a ceremony at Cambridge University on Wednesday.

It is one of thousands of metal sculptures and ivory carvings made between the 15th and 19th Centuries and looted by British troops in 1897 from the West African kingdom of Benin, in modern day Nigeria’s Edo state.

“I feel happy that the work of my great-grandfather will be coming back to Benin,” says Monday Aigbe, who, like his ancestor, is a sculptor.

He runs a foundry in Benin City, the capital of Edo state, where his craftsmen work quietly on brass statues.

The skilled workers fashion a myriad of shapes out of metal, including busts of the Oba – the title of the traditional king of Benin – as well as statues of animals and carved doors.

They have been making bronzes here for six generations. In the middle of the foundry is a large statue of Mr Aigbe’s great-grandfather.

He worked for Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi when the raid took place on the Royal Palace more than 120 years ago.

“It makes me upset because they came, they destroyed the palace, they made my great-grandfather run from the city to the village,” says Mr Aigbe.

The loot was amongst the most valuable African artworks ever made – and was sold or gifted to private collectors and museums around the world.

A worker at Monday Aigbe’s foundry in Benin City, Nigeria
Image caption,
Bronzes are still made in Benin City using the same techniques – this sculptor works at Monday Aigbe’s foundry

With more and more of the stolen artefacts expected back in Nigeria – on Thursday the University of Aberdeen in Scotland will also be returning one of its Bronzes – Mr Aigbe plans to take his children to see them when they go on display.

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