Sri Lanka’s foreign minister said Monday that his country welcomes the Netherlands’ plan to return hundreds of colonial-era artifacts — including a bejeweled, ceremonial cannon — and said the Indian Ocean island nation is working to preserve the historic items.
The Dutch government last week announced that it will return 478 objects of cultural significance to Indonesia and to Sri Lanka. It said the objects were wrongfully brought to the Netherlands during the colonial period, acquired under duress or by looting.
Under the plan, Sri Lanka is to receive six artifacts, including the cannon and guns currently in the collection of the National Museum of World Cultures and the Rijksmuseum. The transfer of ownership to Sri Lanka will take place later this year.
Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said Sri Lanka is “very grateful” for the items’ return. Discussions continued, he said, to “identify the number of artifacts.”
“We need to have the mechanism here to continue to preserve them,” Sabry told reporters, adding that the government will look to the Cabinet for direction.
The decision to return the artifacts came after a Dutch committee was set up in 2022 to assess requests for the restitution of artifacts in state museums. It is considering more restitution requests from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Nigeria.
One of the highlights of the looted objects being returned to Sri Lanka is the Cannon of Kandy, a ceremonial weapon made of bronze, silver and gold and inlaid with rubies. The barrel is decorated with a sun, a half-moon and a Sinhalese lion, the symbols of the King of Kandy.
The cannon has been in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ national museum of art and history, since 1800. The museum said it was looted by Dutch East India Company troops during the siege and plunder of Kandy in 1765.
The museum’s director, Taco Dibbits, called the decision to return the cannon and five other pieces “a positive step in cooperation with Sri Lanka.”
Some Western nations are returning looted artifacts and other objects as part of a reckoning with their often brutal colonial histories.
A Berlin museum announced in January it is ready to return hundreds of human skulls from the former German colony of East Africa. In 2021, France said it was returning statues, royal thrones and sacred altars taken from the West African nation of Benin. And last year, Belgium returned a gold-capped tooth belonging to the slain Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba.