ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka will receive “the first batch” of artefacts including a golden sword that were taken during the Dutch occupation period in the island nation after the South Asian government made a request to the Dutch, its Cultural Affairs Minister said.
But concerns are raised over how they are going to be protected from robberies, which have taken place at the National Museum in the past.
The request was made by Vidura Wickremenayake, the Minister of Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs, to the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The Dutch authorities have agreed to return the artefacts – a Kandyan cannon, a golden sword, a silver sword, two guns and a knife which was used by ancient Sinhalese rulers.
“This is just the first batch. We do not know how many batches are there. I do not want to pressurize them,” Wickremenayake told Economy Next on Wednesday (12).
He said the value of the artefacts are priceless.
“How can you value artefacts? Can you value your grandparents? We cannot say an exact amount.”
The Dutch government is currently in the process of returning 478 cultural objects to Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
The six artefacts that are currently being returned are in the custody of the Rijksmuseum, the national museum of the Netherlands which has historical products since 1200.
The Dutch ruled Sri Lanka, which was popularly known as Ceylon for nearly 140 years until they were expelled by the British in 1796.
“As far as Sri Lanka’s colonial occupiers go, the Netherlands has taken the lead in the space of artefact restitution. The Netherland’s decision to return several objects from Sri Lanka to the island is thus a welcome one, and a testament to the former coloniser’s desire to make some amends,” Shamara Wettimunny, a historian and political analyst, told EconomyNext.
Dutch King Willem-Alexander on July 1 formally apologized for the Netherlands’ involvement in slavery, saying he felt “personally and intensely” affected.
“The Dutch government has, however, ruled out the idea of reparations for now. Although not all objects taken from Sri Lanka are due to be returned, included in the returns is the beautifully adorned Lewke Cannon, taken as war loot from the Kandyan Kingdom in 1765,” Wettimunny said.
“This announcement of artefact restitution should be seen as a process, which we are just embarking on, rather than concluding. The important question for us in Sri Lanka is, what will become of those artefacts once they return to the island? Where will they be kept and how well will they be looked after? Who owns an object that was gifted to a monarchy that no longer exists in Sri Lanka?”
“Robberies at the National Museum in 2012 and 2017 and the inadequate protection provided to such important heritage sites give cause for concern for the future of restituted artefacts in Sri Lanka.”