Netherlands to return stolen artefacts to Indonesia and Sri Lanka

The Netherlands' government has decided to return some 478 highly valuable and culturally significant artworks, which had been looted during the Dutch colonial era

Cannon of Kandy which originated from Sri Lanka (photo: DW)
Cannon of Kandy which originated from Sri Lanka (photo: DW)


From a richly decorated cannon to precious metals and jewellery — the Netherlands is returning hundreds of stolen art and cultural artefacts to Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the former Dutch colonies.

Most of these works are highly valuable and culturally significant, the Ministry of Culture said on Thursday, July 6, in The Hague.

It is a "historic moment" said State Secretary Gunay Uslu, adding that objects are being returned that "should never have been in the Netherlands.”

The decision to return some 478 objects was made after considering the recommendations by a government-appointed commission last year.

It looked into illegal Dutch colonial acquisitions now being displayed in meuseums in the Netherlands.

However, the commission was set up based on a request kept by Indonesia to return the art pieces and natural history collections from its former colonial ruler.

What was looted by Dutch troops?

Some of the objects to be handed back include the so-called "Lombok treasure” — a collection of hundreds of precious stones, gold and silver objects, looted by the Dutch colonial army from Indonesia's island of Lombok in 1894.

A part of this treasure was returned to Indonesia in 1977.

The cannon of Kandy, another highlight from the looted pieces will also be returned to Sri Lanka.

It is a ceremonial weapon made of bronze, silver and gold, inlaid with rubies.

The barrel, decorated with the symbols of the King of Kandy, is believed to have fallen into Dutch hands in 1765.

Since 1800, the piece has been in the collection of the Rijksmeseum, the national museum of art and history.

A ceremony has been planned this week to officialy hand over the looted artifacts to Indonesia.

Western nations continue to return stolen artefacts

The announcement by the Dutch government comes after the king's apology for the sufferings of hundreds of thousands of people under slavery.

On Satuarday, King Willem-Alexander asked for forgiveness on the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Netherlands — which was one of the largest colonial powers from the 17th century onwards.

Earlier this year, the Berlin Museum announced that it is ready to return hundreds of human skulls to the former German colony of East Africa.

In 2021, France said it would return statues and royal thrones taken from the West African nation of Benin.

Last year, Belgium returned a gold-capped tooth belonging to the Congolese independence here Patrice Lumumba.

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Published: 07 Jul 2023, 1:09 PM