The Fowler Museum has presented seven artefacts, among stolen treasures some 150 years ago, to their true owner, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.
The items including a royal stool belonging to Asantehene Kofi Karikari, the 10th Asantehene, were formally presented before Otumfuo and Asanteman during the Kuntunkuni Durbar on February 8, 2024, which marks the commemoration of the Sagrenti War of 1874.
They were presented by leadership of the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles including Dr Silvia Forni, the Director of Fowler Museum, Dr Erica Jones, the Senior Curator of African Arts and Manager of Curatorial Affairs and Dr Richel Raynor, Director of Registration and Collections Management.
The delegation from the United States of America (USA) was led by Ghanaian historian and museum economist, Ivor Agyeman- Duah as well as the Chair of the Department of Music at Tufts University and a Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, Prof Kwesi Ampene.
Trajectory Of Return Of Artefacts
In addressing Asanteman, Mr. Agyemang-Duah, one of the technical advisors of Otumfuo on negotiations for the artefacts’ return, stated that dialogues with the British to retrieve the goods date back to Prempeh I upon his return from exile in 1924.
These efforts persisted throughout the reigns of Prempeh II and Opoku Ware II, but were ultimately unsuccessful.
The discussions continued from where it was left when Otumfuo ascended the Golden Stool in 1999 and has finally been successful.
Mr Agyemang-Duah indicated that in the course of their negotiations with the United Kingdom (UK), the Fowler Museum came through with their decision to return some of the artefacts which found their way into their gallery in the USA.
“Last year you met the leadership of the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum to reopen negotiations. You asked the British Historian an expert of Ashanti, Malcolm McLeod and I to serve as advisors. You set out your terms of reference and operational parameters. For nine months, we held many of the meetings in London. Finally, in November 2023, there was an agreement that 32 of the objects from the British Museum and V&A would be sent to Kumasi. The Trustees of these British museums made the historic announcement and the world got to know about it.”
Artefacts Testament of Asante Craftsmanship
On her part, the Director of Fowler Museum, Dr Silvia Forni, admired the craftsmanship and artistry skills of Asanteman.
“They are also a testament to the long tradition of the beauty, artistry and craftsmanship that have made Asante art famous throughout the world.”
She also expressed her delight at finally getting the crafts to their bona fide owner.
“It is with great emotion that I stand here today to present to Your Majesty seven historical artworks, some of which were looted from the Palace in 1874 and others that were part of the indemnity the Asante were forced to pay to the British at the end of the Sagrenti War.”
She disclosed that her team researched the artefacts which were received from Welcome Trust 60 years ago and set the tone for their return.
“These works are now here and forever returned to the Asante people. These pieces have had a long and troubled history. They are witnesses to tragic moments in the history of the Asante Kingdom.”
“We are delighted to see them come back to the people of the Palace and the descendants of the rightful owners. As we return these objects today, it is our hope that this will not be the end of this story but the beginning of a new relationship.”
A Thousand Shall Bounce Back
The Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia in a speech read on his behalf by the Ashanti Regional Minister, Hon Simon Osei Mensah acknowledged the resilience of Asanteman and alluded to the popular adage of the Kingdom which says a thousand shall bounce back when a thousand is killed.
“It is both sadness and joy. Everyone is in black due to the 1874 Sagrenti War. The return of stolen items is a good one. The war is educative. It resonates with the saying that when a thousand is killed, a thousand shall bounce back.”
Loaning Is Comforting
Expressing his appreciation to stakeholders who contributed to the return of the artefacts from the Fowler Museum, His Majesty said, the decision by the UK to loan Asanteman with the artefacts is a comforting option.
According to him, the Kingdom has been denied access to the artefacts by the UK due to the British Museum Act 1963 for so many years and therefore makes the current offer better.
“A year after my enthronement, I was invited to UK by the Queen and went to check our items at the British Museum. She told me they could not return them because of a law but promised negotiations would continue. Last year when I went to the UK, I pursued the discussion further and instituted Pro MacLean and Ivor to lead the negotiation…Now they are loaning them to us. I accepted that because it is better than nothing.”
He noted that the return even if temporary will prove to his people and the world that the story behind them is true and expressed his willingness to abide by the terms of the agreement.
Otumfuo also assured that artefacts from the UK will be unveiled for Asanteman to see upon their return.
The Kuntunkuni Durbar named after the traditional mourning cloths of the Asantes, Kuntunkuni, marked the culmination of the 150th Anniversary of the Sagrenti War in which over 4,000 Asante soldiers perished with the entire city of Kumasi destroyed with explosives.
The durbar took place at the Dwabrem grounds in the Manhyia Palace. Gracing the event was Asantehenemaa Nana Konadu Yiadom III and Lady Julia Osei Tutu.
In attendance were Vice President Mahamudu Bwumia, Second Lady Samira Bawumia, Speaker of Parliament Alban Sumana Bagbin, former President John Dramani Mahama, Chief of Staff at the Office of the President, Hon Akosuah Fremah Opare, British High Commissioner to Ghana, H.E Harriet Thompson, the Head of the Centre of West African Studies at Birmingham University and Prof Tom McCaskie.
Also present were Lawyer Yaw Boafour, President of the Ghana Bar Association, Indian High Commissioner to Ghana, H.E. Birender Singh, former Chief Justice Anin Yeboah, former Minister for Food and Agriculture Dr Afriyie Akoto, founder of Movement for Change, Alan Kwadwo Kyerematen, owner of Despite Media, Dr Osei Kwame Despite and astute businessman Dr Ofori Sarpong.