Looted gold regalia to be loaned back to Ghana by British Museum and V&A

Gold and silver regalia of “cultural, historical and spiritual significance” will be loaned by the UK back to Ghana more than 100 years after they were looted from the country.

Regalia associated with the Asante royal court will be displayed at the Manhyia Palace Museum in Kumasi later this year as part of a long-term loan commitment by the V&A and the British Museum.

Many of these items will be seen in Ghana for the first time in 150 years.

The Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) will lend 17 items while the British Museum will send 15 pieces under the three-year loan deals – with an option to extend for the same amount of time.

Asante Gold
A gold repousse ornament, one of a selection of Asante gold taken from Ghana (V&A/PA)

The collection from the V&A  includes all 13 pieces of Asante royal regalia, which was looted by the British army during the raid on and destruction of the royal palace in the 19th century.

Among the items are a gold peace pipe, three cast gold soul-washers’ badges and sections of sheet-gold ornament.

The items were acquired by the museum at an auction in April 1874.

A joint statement from the V&A and British Museum said: “These objects are of cultural, historical and spiritual significance to the Asante people.

“They are also indelibly linked to British colonial history in west Africa, with many of them looted from Kumasi during the Anglo-Asante wars of the 19th century.

Asante Gold
A cast gold ornament that makes up part of the collection (V&A)

“Some of these 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.”

Among the 15 objects from the British Museum are a small gold ornament in the form of a lute-harp (sankuo).

This ornament was one of the cast gold objects presented in 1817 to British diplomat Thomas Bowdich during his trip to Kumasi to negotiate a trade treaty.

The loan agreements are not with the Ghanaian government but with Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the current Asante King known as the Asantehene – who attended the coronation of the King last year.

The loans will form part of an exhibition planned to celebrate his silver jubilee, as well as commemorating the 150th anniversary of the 1873-4 Anglo-Asante war and the 100th anniversary of the return of the Asantehene Prempeh I from exile in the Seychelles.

Asante Gold
A cast gold badge (V&A/PA)

Dr Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, 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.”

Dr Lissant Bolton, keeper of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the 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.”