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Should Museums Return Looted Artifacts to Their Countries of Origin?


Throughout history, colonizers have invaded and stolen sacred cultural artifacts from various countries, causing harm and anguish. Many have since kept these artifacts on display without regard for their ancestral owners and rightful place. Lately, many western museums have been demanded to return the stolen sacred artifacts of the oppressed people who were affected by their unjust colonial military actions. “No less than 90% of African cultural property resides in European museums.”  


French President Macron declared in 2017 that “African cultural heritage can no longer remain a prisoner of European museums.” In recent years, he has followed through on his words by returning 26 looted artifacts to Nigeria. Among these artifacts are Benin Bronzes, which were originally taken in a brutal raid by the British army in 1897 and later acquired by the French. Although some progress has been made, several museums such as the Metropolitan in New York, the Getty, the Louvre, the British Museum, and the Humboldt Forum in Berlin have refused to return stolen artifacts taken during wars. 


For far too long, countries have desolated lands, and eroded culture. The return of these stolen artifacts is critical to reviving the history taken from these communities. As John Johnson from the Chugach Alaska Corporation points out, “Many of these items hold deep religious and spiritual significance, and their return will help teach future generations and keep our culture alive and thriving.”


These artifacts are significant to the culture that they are derived from, and it is our moral obligation to return them. However, if these artifacts were returned many museums would lose the majority of the objects they’ve acquired and it would result in monetary consequences. But is money enough to override ethics? An Egyptian popular proverb says, ‘Who misses his past is lost.’ A nation without traces, in my belief, is a nation without identity, character, or memory,” 

Daniels, Nicole. “Should Museums Return Looted Artifacts to Their Countries of Origin?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 Oct. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/10/16/learning/should-museums-return-looted-artifacts-to-their-countries-of-origin.html.   

Elkin, Elizabeth, and Saeed Ahmed. “Nine Sacred Artifacts Stolen from a Native American Tribe Are Finally Returned over 100 Years Later.” CNN, Cable News Network, 11 June 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/06/11/us/native-american-artifacts-returned-trnd/index.html.  

Robertson, Geoffrey. “It’s Time for Museums to Return Their Stolen Treasures.” CNN, Cable News Network, 11 June 2020, www.cnn.com/style/article/return-stolen-treasures-geoffrey-robertson/index.html.  

Times, Global. “Western Museums’ Fear of Domino Effect Makes Return of Lost Artifacts Overseas Hard.” Global Times, www.globaltimes.cn/page/202309/1299004.shtml .  

Hunter, Ayanna. “Cultural Artifacts Must Be Repatriated. Here’s Why:” FLHS News, o9

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