Restitutions and Sustainable Collaboration: Cameroon and Germany in Dialogue

Ethnologisches Museum

16 January 2024 saw the conclusion of a dialogue meeting held at the Linden-Museum in Stuttgart attended by 11 German museums, Cameroonian delegates from the interministerial committee for the return of illegally obtained cultural assets, and representatives of traditional Cameroonian royal families.

It was the second time delegates from the committee tasked with facilitating restitutions had visited Germany, following a first meeting in October 2023 that took place in Berlin. At the three-day meeting in Stuttgart, which was the first attended by all German museums with collections containing more than 500 objects from Cameroon, the participants discussed possible pathways for the return of cultural assets and sustainable forms of collaboration.

The following museums participated in the meeting: the Ethnologisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Grassi Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig, the Landesmuseum Hannover, the Linden-Museum Stuttgart, the MARKK – Museum am Rothenbaum, Kulturen und Künste der Welt in Hamburg, the Museum Fünf Kontinente in Munich, the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne, the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen in Mannheim, the Städtische Museum Braunschweig, the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt and the Übersee-Museum Bremen.

Lars-Christian Koch, director of the Ethnologisches Museum and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, remarked that “the museums are now developing a collective roadmap. In terms of restitutions, the question is no longer if, but rather what, when and how.”

Negotiations Concerning the Restitution of Objects from the Cameroon Collection in Berlin

In July 2022, the Foundation Board of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (SPK) cleared the way for the restitution of a particularly significant object from the Ethnologisches Museum’s Cameroon collection: a statue of the female figure known as Ngonnso’, from the historic kingdom of Nso’ in north-western Cameroon, considered to be the ancestral mother of the Nso’ people. The Foundation Board authorised SPK President Hermann Pretzinger to finalise an agreement on returning the statue of Ngonnso’ to the responsible Cameroonian authorities. With the formation of Cameroon’s interministerial committee for the return of illegally obtained cultural assets, negotiations concerning the restitution of this and other objects from the Cameroon collection in Berlin are now entering a decisive phase.