A Dutch cultural delegation is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka from August 27 – 31 to sign the legal document transferring the ownership of the cultural artifacts that will be returned to the island nation later this year.
The delegation will be led by Gunay Uslu, the State Secretary for Cultural and Media in the Netherlands.
The official delegation will consist of Barbera Wolfensberger, Director General Culture and Media in the Netherlands; Lilian Gonçalves-Ho Kang You, Chairperson of Dutch Colonial Collections Committee; and Dr. Alicia Schrikker, a Member of the Committee.
The objects planned to be returned include the famous Lewke’s canon, two Gold kastanes (ceremonial swords), a Sinhalese knife, a Silver kastane and two guns.
The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Colombo said the visiting State Secretary is expected to meet with the senior officials of the Sri Lankan government to mark this historic moment.
The legal transfer of ownership will be signed at the Ministry of Buddhasasana, Religious & Cultural Affairs of Sri Lanka on August 28 (Monday). The delegation will visit a few places with religious and Dutch historic value in Sri Lanka.
With regard to the return of cultural artifacts, the embassy said the Netherlands, while acknowledging both the tangible and intangible heritage of Dutch colonial times in Sri Lanka, is critically looking at its own role in history.
In 2021 the Dutch government approved the policy for the return of cultural heritage objects that are in the possession of the Dutch State. The indigenous populations of colonial territories were served an injustice through the involuntary loss of objects that formed part of their cultural heritage, says the Dutch government.
Therefore Dutch government is keen to help rectify this historic injustice by returning cultural heritage objects to their country of origin and by strengthening international cooperation in this area, the embassy said further.
In December 2022, the Dutch government appointed an independent commission, the Advisory Committee on the Return of Cultural Objects from Colonial Context, chaired by Lilian Gonçalves-Ho Kang You, to assess and facilitate the return of colonial objects to their respective countries of origin.
At the request of Sri Lanka, this committee decided in July this year to advise to return 6 objects of cultural significance that were wrongfully brought to the Netherlands during the colonial period.
In 2021, researchers from both countries studied the provenance (background) of these objects extensively. In 1765, these items were taken as loot by the Dutch from the Kandyan Kingdom during the siege of the Palace.
The embassy said the people of the Netherlands feel a moral obligation to return looted or otherwise wrongfully acquired objects to their rightful owners. “Righting the wrongs of the past is needed to heal the historic wounds. The return process is expected to form the basis for further cooperation between the two countries and the cultural institutions concerned. The cooperation will mainly be focused on the exchange of technical expertise, knowledge sharing and education.”