Stolen Memorials Used As Museum Artifacts Returned To Kenya


Repatriating stolen artifacts to their rightful origins has been a complex journey, as the reclamation of these cultural entities had to be rigorously fought for. For Kenya, its memorials, vigango, were a decades-long part of this unjust system.  

Many African nations were stripped of artifacts and sacred statues, considered artistic treasures to dealers, and utilized by Western countries for tourism and cultural attractions. However, universities and museums worldwide will visit Nairobi for a ceremonial acknowledgment of the reinstallment of the vigango to their home country in the National Museums of Kenya.

Per their historical usage stated in the New York Times, vigango were never supposed to be transported elsewhere, even within the land, serving as the Kenyan equivalent of a tombstone to honor a male elder in the Mijikenda community who has passed away. The Mijikenda people are composed of nine tribes that typically live along the coast of the East African nation. 

The spirits of past elders are intricately tied to the statues. This notion was expressed to Dr. Brooke Morgan, an anthropologist at the Illinois State Museum, with the institution urging her to facilitate their return. 

 “Separating vigango from their rightful owners harms the spiritual well-being of the whole community,” voiced the curator on the museum’s focus on returning the artifacts. Currently, the quest for retrieval faces its own obstacles, as who directly owns these pieces after decades of displacement is an issue, as well as the costliness of it.

As of right now, there is no direct way to tie the ownership of some vigango to specific tribes, and import tariffs can be upwards of tens of thousands of dollars for 30 vigango. However, in the meantime, the National Museums of Kenya will hold the vigango until a complete repatriation plan is finalized, at least now being held in the land the pieces stem from. 

The museum’s efforts have led to 37 of the Kenyan memorials being returned, influencing other museums to make a concerted effort to repatriate stolen belongings back to their native countries. 

RELATED CONTENT: Germany To Return Stolen Bronze Artifacts To Benin, We Are Confronting Our Historic And Moral Responsibility

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