Netherlands gazettes repatriation of Dutch colonial artefacts to Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

Netherlands gazettes repatriation of Dutch colonial artefacts to Sri Lanka

9 July, 2023

The Netherlands will return hundreds of artefacts it acquired from Sri Lanka during the Dutch-Ceylon colonial era.

Buddha Sasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs Minister Vidura Wickremanayake told the Sunday Observer yesterday that the Netherlands Government had apprised him of their plans to return these cultural treasures to Sri Lanka from their museums.

“I am thankful for this magnificent bilateral gesture from the Netherlands Government,” he said. “The Netherlands will send them to Sri Lanka in batches after evaluating our capacity to store and safeguard them.”

An advisory committee, appointed recently comprising Cabinet ministers in different fields, officials from the Presidential Secretariat and the Finance Ministry to work on the restitution of Sri Lanka’s cultural treasures which were taken away from Sri Lanka during colonial rule, is currently negotiating with the Government of the Netherlands about the return of these artefacts.

“The Netherlands will also observe the measures taken by the Government to ensure their protection. from time to time,” he said.

These artefacts are over 200 years old. They are often called “war loot” or “looted colonial art” in museums.

“We expect the first batch to arrive in the country very soon,” Minister Wickremenayake said.

The Netherlands will send six artefacts taken away from Sri Lanka by the soldiers of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) during the Dutch colonial rule.

These items have found their way to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. The Netherlands Government gazetted on July 6, their decision to return these objects to Sri Lanka.

Among the artefacts are Lewke Disave’s cannon, which the Dutch soldiers seized during the siege of the palace of Kandy in 1765 when large-scale looting occurred. The cannon belonged to the King of Kandy.

A golden and a silver kasthãné or sabre, a golden knife, and two maha thuwakku or wall guns of the Kandyan kingdom are also due to be returned to Sri Lanka .

The Netherlands will strengthen its bilateral relations with Sri Lanka and has agreed to transfer these artefacts from the Rijksmuseum collection to the Colombo National Museum, diplomatic sources said.

Netherlands State Secretary for Culture and Media, Gunay Uslu said it would be a “historic moment,” as the Netherlands is “returning objects that should never have been in the Netherlands.

“It should herald a period of closer cooperation,” she said.

The Director of Rijksmuseum, Taco Dibbits said, “We appreciate the State Secretary’s decision and see this restitution as a good step in our cooperation with Sri Lanka.”

Director General of the Department of National Museums, Sanuja Kasthuriarachchi said, “The whole exercise is a historical moment in many perspectives. “The laborious provenance research has led to dispelling many myths and ambiguities that shrouded our Kandyan artefacts for centuries. It is heartening to see these cultural symbols which mirror the cleverness of Sri Lankan artisans of yesteryear, reclaiming their due pride of place in their land of birth.”

She stated in a release: “Since Dr. P.H.D.H. de Silva’s Provenance Report in the 1970s, little attention was given to Kandyan objects until a recent and extensive study. This joint research involved scholars from Sri Lanka and the Netherlands.

The local team included Additional Director General (Cultural) at the Department of National Museums, Senarath Wickramasinghe along with Prof. Asoka de Zoysa and Dr. Ganga Dissanayake of the University of Kelaniya. Renowned firearms specialist and Kandyan period author, Chamikara Pilapitiya, also assisted. The Department of National Archives played a significant role by providing archival material.