Museums in Sudan seek return of artifacts stolen by British colonizers

The National Museum of Sudan (Reference Image)

Museum officials in Sudan await the return of priceless artifacts taken by British soldiers, colonial administrators and travellers, saying they could help bring peace to the unstable eastern United States. Africa.

Items include valuable armor, weapons Y clothingand the banners of the fighters who resisted the British forces that they invaded and colonized Sudan more than 120 years ago.

The most controversial articles can be two skulls taken from the battlefield where Sudanese warriors tried to stop the advancing British and Egyptian army. During the fighting at Omdurman in 1898, British commanders used the first machine guns Y artillery to inflict thousands of casualties on lightly armed enemies.

In Khartoum, the repatriation of the human remains of those who fought in the battle is seen as particularly significant.

“We have to make a great campaign. These people are our brothers, our heroes. They unified and defended our country. It is a very special story of resistance to imperialism… Your descendants should see all this here”Dr. Eglal el-Malik, director of conservation at the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums, told The Guardian.

Trophy hunting on battlefields by British soldiers was common during colonial campaigns and there are thousands of items from Sudan in British collections. The victories there were of particular importance to Victorian Britain, as they were seen as avenging the assassination of General Charles Gordon at Khartoum in 1885. The UK’s colonial rule lasted until 1956.

Sudanese museums seek return of artifacts taken by British colonizers
The Battle of Omdurman which was fought between British invaders and the Sudanese resistance

The two skulls, which are in the Anatomical Museum in Edinburgh, were taken by the explorer Reginald Koettlitz and Henry Wellcome, the pharmaceutical pioneer and businessman, and are among the large number of human remains that Western Europeans removed from Africa. These were often used in pseudoscientific research to support racist theories during and immediately after the rush to colonize the continent in the late 19th century.

Other items in British museums related to the Battle of Omdurman include a banner of the leaders of the Sudanese fighters, now in Durham University’s Palace Green Library, and a spectacular quilted coat and armor in the Royal Armories collection.

Other museums in the UK have similar objects taken after British victories. Sudanese officials said they would like to see many of the items on display at a new museum due to open in Omdurman in the coming weeks, which will tell the story of how the British colonized Sudan from a new perspective.

“I want to show the actual details of the Battle of Omdurman and I can’t do it without all the elements. It is very important that the Sudanese people know this.”said Ahmed Mohammed, a curator.

Mohammed insisted that the museum, which is being restored with a grant from the British Council, could provide the proper security and conditions for any artefacts returned from the UK or elsewhere.

Some items are already back in Sudan. A British family whose ancestors recently took items from the Omdurman battlefield they returned a Sudanese “dervish” warrior robe.

But all concerned recognize significant obstacles practical Y legal. El-Malik said that he was against the hasty repatriation of items.

“There are many Sudanese who want these items back now but they need to be aware of the legal issues. The reality is that we have many difficulties (in Sudan). It would be great if we had all of these things now, but they’re in a good spot where they are and a lot of people see them. So we have to be reasonable.”he explained.

A Durham University spokesman said a final list of loan applications from Sudan was still being discussed. “We work closely with the Sudan National Museums and Antiquities Corporation, including currently on loan requests for various items from the Sudan Archive for display in Sudan. They and we recognize that this is not without difficulties”, the spokesman said.

Professor Tom Gillingwater of the Edinburgh Anatomical Museum said the institution had worked with many communities around the world to facilitate the return of remains and artifacts, but had not yet received any formal requests for the return of the Omdurman skulls.

Sudanese museums seek return of artifacts taken by British colonizers
Many remains and artefacts from the battle ended up in British museums

“The anatomical remains are now used to investigate the history of people’s genetics, diets and movement. We take our colonial legacy, and its contemporary impact, very seriously, and we continue to examine ways to address these important issues.” said.

There is a wealth of archaeological and other valuable items from Sudan abroad, including a bust of Roman Emperor Augustus housed in the British Museum and a priceless collection of gold jewelry looted from royal tombs by an Italian adventurer in the 1930s, which ended in Germany.

The issue of restitution of heritage items taken by force or otherwise removed by invaders, administrators and colonial adventurers is a sensitive one, and pressure on Western institutions has increased in recent years. Last year, Germany became the first country to return Benin bronzes looted by British soldiers in the late 19th century. France has also indicated a significant change in policy.

Sudan has been wracked by conflict for decades. A military coup last year dashed hopes of a swift transition to democracy after the fall of the veteran dictator. Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

Sudanese officials emphasize that they are not seeking the return of any archaeological objects that have been shipped abroad under legal agreements, or any items that they have failed to keep safe.

The Khartoum National Museum is being rehabilitated with a $1 million grant from the Italian government. Work is also under way on a museum in the southwestern region of Darfur.

“The situation here is not adequate. For now they should stay where they are, but of course eventually we would like to have them in our museum.”said Ghalia Gharelnabi, interim director of the National Museum.


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