The Netherlands is set to return 478 cultural objects to Sri Lanka and Indonesia, State Secretary for Culture Gunay Uslu announced on Thursday.
These objects, often referred to as “looted art,” were unjustly acquired by the Dutch during their colonial rule. While the illicit nature of acquisition is clear for some of these looted artifacts, the exact historical circumstances surrounding all the items cannot be definitively established.
The pieces set to be returned include notable items such as the Lombok treasure – a vast collection of jewels, precious stones, and gold and silver jewelry from Indonesia, as well as a looted cannon from Sri Lanka displayed at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The cannon belonged to the King of Kandy and was seized in 1765 by the soldiers of the Dutch East India Company
In returning these items, the Cabinet is not only responding to a request from Sri Lanka and Indonesia but is also acting on the advice of a committee that has investigated the matter. The transfer of ownership to Indonesia will take place next week at the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden. The transfer to Sri Lanka will follow later.
State Secretary Uslu spoke of a “historic moment,” as the Netherlands is “returning objects that should never have been in the Netherlands. She also highlighted that it should herald a period of closer cooperation with the two countries. “We are not just returning objects, we are starting a period in which we will cooperate more intensively with Indonesia and Sri Lanka,” she added.
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has six objects in its collection that will be returned. “We appreciate the state secretary’s decision and see this restitution as a good step in our cooperation with Sri Lanka,” said the director of the Rijksmuseum Taco Dibbits.