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UCLA’s Fowler Museum Returns Gold Objects to Asante King in Ghana

The University of California, Los Angeles’s Fowler Museum returned seven objects taken from West Africa’s Asante Kingdom to the current Asante king in Ghana on Monday.
The objects include a sika mena (elephant tail whisk), two royal stool ornaments, a gorget (royal necklace), bracelets/anklets, and an asipim , or ornamental chair. The objects were delivered to Manhyia Palace in Kumasi, Ghana, the seat of the Asantehene, by Fowler director Silvia Forni, senior curator of African arts Erica P. Jones, and director of collections Rachel Raynor.
The return, which the Fowler has stressed was voluntary, resulted from a 2019 grant from the Mellon Foundation, which provided resources to research a portion of its collection from Africa. Through the ensuing scholarship, museum researchers found that seven items gifted in 1965 to UCLA by the Wellcome Trust in London had been taken from Manhyia Palace in 1874, during the Sagrenti War, also known as the Third Anglo-Ashanti War.
The Fowler received around 30,000 objects through the Wellcome Trust, named for Sir Henry Wellcome, a British pharmaceutical entrepreneur. The collection, brought into the museum’s holdings in 1965, two years after the institution’s founding, was critical to building its African and Pacific collections.
“At the Fowler Museum, we think of ourselves as temporary custodians of the objects in our collection,” Jones said in a statement. “In the case of pieces that were violently or coercively taken from their original owners or communities, it is our ethical responsibility to do what we can to return those objects. It is a process that will occupy generations of Fowler staff, but it is something that we are unwavering in our commitment to accomplish.”
The museum said that, prior to the objects’ return, they were 3D-scanned with permission from the Asante royal palace. Replicas have been commissioned by Ghanaian artists to allow the Fowler to continue to provide information on Asante history.
“The Fowler Museum is honored to include the contemporary replicas in their collections and exhibitions with credit to the contemporary artists,” the museum said in a statement.
While Ghana is now a constitutional democracy, the Asante monarch, currently Asantehene Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II, retains the ceremonial rule of the Ashanti people, who mostly occupy a region in southern Ghana.
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