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King's Severed Head to Be Returned to Ghana by Dutch Government

The severed head of King Badu Bonsu II is going home to Ghana, around 170 years after it was hacked off in retaliation for the slayings of two Dutch emissaries whose skulls were hung from the tribal leader's throne.

Bonsu's head was discovered last year in a jar of formaldehyde at the Leiden University Medical Center's anatomical collection by a Dutch author.

Ghana immediately asked for it to be returned and the Dutch government asked the hospital to cooperate.

"It will go back to Ghana, where we assume it will be buried," Dutch Education, Culture and Science Minister Ronald Plasterk told The Associated Press.

The hospital said in a statement Friday it is in talks with the Ghanaian Embassy "to carefully prepare for the return of King Badu Bonsu II's head."

The hospital declined to give more details of the case, citing a "well-considered policy about our anatomic-historical collection."

The decision to return it to Ghana is in line with similar moves by museums in recent years. Several British museums have returned the skulls and other bones of Australian Aborigines following lobbying by indigenous leaders.

The Ghanian Embassy in The Hague had no immediate comment.

Last year, the embassy urged the return for the king and his clan in the country's Ashanti region.

"Without burial of the head, the deceased will be hunted in the afterlife. He's incomplete," Eric Odoi-Anim, a minister at the embassy, said at the time. "It's also a stigma on his clan, on his kinsmen, and him being a (high-ranking) chief — this is even more serious."

Prominent Dutch writer Arthur Japin told Dutch television he found the head while researching a historical novel.

"He's got a little ring-beard, his eyes are closed as if he's sleeping," said Japin. "And my first thought was, this is not fitting."

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.