Sudan museum officials are calling for the repatriation of cultural artefacts and human remains that were stolen by British soldiers and other colonizers in the late 19th century.
Many of the items in question were taken as trophies after the Battle of Omdurman in 1898, when British and Egyptian forces used advanced equipment, including artillery and machine guns, to crush their Sudanese opponents. This treasure included clothing and armor currently held in the Royal Armories collection and a banner now belonging to the Palace Green Library at Durham University. The most controversial items requested are two skulls taken from the battlefield by explorers Reginald Koettlitz and Henry Wellcome and now kept in Edinburgh’s Anatomical Museum.
Speaking about the importance of their return, National Society of Antiquities and Museums (NCAM) Director of Conservation Eglal el-Malik told the Guardian, “These people are our brothers, our heroes. They united and defended our country. It is a very particular story of resistance to imperialism. Their descendants should see it all here.
Officials have proposed that the items, once returned, be displayed at Khalifa House in Omdurman, a community museum that already has several rooms dedicated to the battle. It is due to reopen soon, after a period of restoration funded by a British Council grant.
The Museum of Anatomy has not yet received a formal request for the return of the skulls, according to the Guardian. A spokesperson for Durham University told Artnet News that they are already working closely with NCAM to fulfill several loan requests, but have not yet received any requests for the banner in question. .
El-Malik also said the UK institutions she worked with were “very helpful overall” and said there were security issues that needed to be resolved before items could be safely returned. “The reality is that we have so many difficulties [in Sudan]”, she said. “It would be great if we had all these things now, but [they are] in a good situation where [they are] and so many people see [them]. So you have to be reasonable. »
This latest appeal comes amid a growing wave of restitution demands from Britain and Europe, as repatriation becomes a major consideration for the future of museum collections. One of the longest-running debates has been over whether the UK should return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, the subject of a protest outside the British Museum over the weekend. Museum president George Osborne suggested earlier this month that the two countries could potentially share custody of the priceless marbles.
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