Nigeria just got back 600-year-old Ife artifact from the Netherlands

The Netherlands on Thursday returned a terracotta head to Nigeria in a ceremony in the capital, Abuja. The artifact, believed to be at least 600 years old, was taken from the southwestern city of Ile-Ife and smuggled to Europe through Ghana in 2019, Nigerian officials said.

“The smuggler had obtained forged documents” to take it out of the country, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said during the handover ceremony, according to a statement from Nigeria’s ministry of culture. The terracotta head was intercepted by Dutch customs at Amsterdam airport, which subsequently alerted the Information and Heritage Inspectorate of the Netherlands “to give an opinion,” the statement said.

Dutch officials then got in touch with their Nigerian counterparts, leading to the return of the valuable artifact. The Dutch ambassador to Nigeria, Harry Van Dijk, returned the “priceless and timeless” Ife terracotta head to Mohammed during the ceremony in the Nigerian capital, saying it is a “fitting gift to mark the 50th anniversary of the UNESCO Convention on the Prevention of Illicit Trafficking of Culture Heritage.”

Ife, also known as Ile-Ife, or the Kingdom of Ife, lies in present-day Osun state, southwestern Nigeria, and is considered one of the largest and oldest towns of the Yoruba Kingdom. It is world-famous for its clay ceramic or terracotta heads, and copper-alloy and bronze ornaments.

Ife artists are said to have begun creating bronze, stone, and terracotta sculptures around the 12th century. Theirs is considered among the most unique in Africa, depicting “youth and old age, health and disease, suffering and serenity”.

Mohammed, during the handover ceremony, said the return of the Ife head “marked a milestone in Nigeria’s efforts at pursuing the return of the country’s antiquities”, BBC reported.

Nigerians have had to negotiate for the return of valuable historical cultural artifacts including the Benin Bronzes that were smuggled out of the country. These priceless monuments, which symbolize African identity, are currently scattered across the world, with an impressive number in museums in Europe and the United States.


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