In a significant step towards cultural restoration, the Netherlands has returned ownership of six colonial-era treasures to Sri Lanka, culminating in the reclamation of historical artifacts that span generations. Among these treasures stands a remarkable 275-year-old cannon, adorned with a tapestry of gold, silver, bronze, and rubies—a testament to a bygone era of opulence.

The formal transfer of ownership unfolded as Dutch Deputy Minister for Culture, Education, and Science, Gunay Uslu, affixed his signature to the act during a ceremony held at the cultural ministry in Colomb. This momentous occasion marks a turning point in the journey of these relics, signifying their return to their rightful place.

A saber from the Rijksmuseum's collection that is being repatriated to Sri Lanka Rijksmuseum
A saber from the Rijksmuseum’s collection that is being repatriated to Sri Lanka Rijksmuseum

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum has been entrusted by Sri Lanka’s national museum to safeguard these invaluable artifacts until their anticipated transportation to Colombo in December of this year. This initiative stems from a 2021 Dutch policy, reflecting a commitment to restore cultural treasures that were once pillaged from former colonies.

Foremost among these treasures is Lewke’s Cannon, a reverent gift exchanged between Sri Lankan aristocrat Lewke Disava and the king of Kandy circa 1745-46. History paints a story of its capture by Dutch troops in 1765, leading to its display across the Netherlands. In the coming chapters of its journey, this historical cannon will find its place of honor within the hallowed halls of the Rijksmuseum.

Accompanying this treasure trove are two resplendent gold and silver swords, a pair of guns, and an ornate knife—a collective representation of an era when Dutch influence graced Sri Lanka’s narrative from 1658 to 1796. The decision to restore these cherished artifacts found its genesis in recommendations by a government-appointed commission tasked with investigating illicit Dutch colonial acquisitions. This commission was established following appeals by Indonesia for the repatriation of art pieces and natural history collections. Subsequently, Sri Lanka joined the ranks, seeking the return of its stolen heritage.

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The historical panorama of Sri Lanka witnessed successive reigns—from Portuguese rule between 1505 to 1658, Dutch sovereignty, and the culmination of British dominion before the dawn of independence in 1948. The return of these artifacts serves as a bridge across time, rekindling a connection to the past and honoring the cultural tapestry that defines nations and their legacies.