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King's Head to Be Returned to Ghana

The head of a Ghanaian king, preserved in formaldehyde in an academic collection in the Netherlands, will be returned to Ghana for burial, Dutch science minister Ronald Plasterk announced after a cabinet meeting today.

The head of King Badu Bonsu II, who was killed by the Dutch some 170 years ago, was discovered by novelist Arthur Japin in the collection of Leiden University Medical Center last year. Ghanaian officials had requested its return.

The Associated Press reports:

The Dutch established trading and slave posts in Ghana in the late 1500s, and remained involved in the country — then known in Europe as the Gold Coast — until late in the 19th century. According to Japin, the head was taken by Maj. Gen. Jan Verveer in retaliation for Bonsu's killing of two Dutch emissaries, whose heads were then displayed as trophies.

It was not clear exactly when Bonsu was killed. Verveer was recruiting soldiers and slaves in Ashanti to serve in the East Indies in the late 1830s. The head was apparently brought to Leiden around that time at the request of a researcher who studied skull shapes.

Plasterk said the decision to repatriate the head was not difficult as the head no longer served any scientific or cultural purpose.