Isn't it fair for any former colony to be given back objects that are part of its cultural history.Carrying forward a question asked about the British returning the Elgin marbles to Greece, isn't...

Isn't it fair for any former colony to be given back objects that are part of its cultural history.

Carrying forward a question asked about the British returning the Elgin marbles to Greece, isn't it fair that past colonies of imperialist nations be given back objects that are part of their cultural history. The colonies certainly cannot be repatriated for the centuries that they had to suffer under colonial rule but this could be a small step.

Do you think the British Prime Minister, David Cameron can morally justify his statement made in a July 2010 interview, when he said that a gem called the Koh-i-Noor could not be returned to India as the move would set an unworkable precedent: "If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty."

Asked on by justaguide

8 Answers | Add Yours

kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

This is a very complex issue and one that has not-so-pretty-historical precedence as background. Objects of art and other artifacts that wind up in the hands of conquerors--do we dare say oppressors?--are historically considered bounty of war and generally irretrievable. In our modern era, new ideas have arisen that challenge the continuing weight of the precedents. For new questions, new answers need to be unearthed. Perhaps what is due to the nations of origin is the payment of loan fees. Perhaps what is due is a succession of rotating exhibits--if Tut can travel, so can others. Simple answers of "yours, mine, here, there" won't suffice since the historic premises of "ill gotten war gain" have been (at least moderately ...) revolutionized.

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I don't think it is the right of the British Museum or any other museum to keep the culture of another country hostage. If one country lends, gives, or sells its treasures to another then I say fill the museum. However if the treasure was stolen or otherwise acquired without the consent of the country, or the country wants it back, then the museum needs to give it up.
larrygates's profile pic

larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In response to the Prime Minister, I think I would say that it is then perhaps time to empty the British Museum. His reasoning seems remarkably self centered and jingoistic. One must remember that these items were taken by the colonizing powers; they were not given. I have never been a believer in "finders-keepers," or "might makes right." If taken without the will and consent of the rightful owners, it should be returned; ownership and possession are two different things, and ownership cannot be conferred by the mere passage of time. So if colonial powers took them, the occupied country has every right to demand--and expect--their return.

wannam's profile pic

wannam | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

Ideally, yes, these types of items should be returned to the original owner. However, we do not live in an ideal world. From a phyilosophical standpoint, the item belong to the colony and not to the conquerer. From a more practical standpoint, one can't help but agree with the Prime Minister. I suppose I can see the argument from both sides. Yes, the item is part of the former colony's cultural history and they should have the rights to it. However, it has also become a part of the British cultural history. How do we decide who has the greater claim?
brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Since such objects are part of national and cultural identity, absolutely.  I think this concept/principle applies in any number of situations, and here in the United States we have in recent years been repatriating Native American treasures and objects to their respective tribe, along with the remains of tribal members. 

In terms of a country's cultural heritage and identity, I think all empires should return those objects they have plundered over the years of colonialism.

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Whilst I agree with this post, at the same time, I can understand the dilemma that David Cameron finds himself in. It is a lamentable fact that the standing of Britain and other former colonial powers were built on the wealth that was plundered from other nations. He is right in one sense. If he gives in to one claim, the British Museum will be empty very quickly. I suppose to there is the argument that at least in the British Museum such culturally important artefacts will receive a safe home where they are unlikely to get robbed or destroyed. Just witness the Taliban's destruction of so many priceless cultural artefacts in Afghanistan. However, morally, I agree that Britain has no right to "own" that which was taken by force in the first place.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I definitely agree with you.  Cameron's logic is not very sound in this case.  You can certainly argue that anything taken from India, for example, during the time that Britain ruled there was stolen.  If that is the case, Cameron's argument is similar to a thief complaining about having to give back what he took.

So, as long as we are speaking in moral terms (as opposed to legal terms), I cannot support Cameron's argument.  I would say that all items taken by colonial powers rightfully belong to the countries of their origin.

krcavnar's profile pic

krcavnar | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

 It was just recently that Yale University was ordered to return artifacts to Peru of the expedition and discovery of Machu Picchu.  Questions arose regarding the safety of priceless artifacts during the negotiations.  The safety of the artifact should always be considered as it is priceless in nature.  I agree that ownership of many articles should be returned to the country of origin, however,  I believe that some sharing or touring agreements could be negotiated in order to keep the artifact safe and in areas where it can be viewed by the world.   A major concern of archeologists is the inability of some countries to maintain safekeeping of such priceless items.  Even in Egypt where they have had considerable stability for years, artifacts were destroyed in the Egyptian Museum during the unrest earlier this year.

We’ve answered 318,972 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question