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Rare African artefacts returned

Publish date: 12 August 2019
Issue Number: 836
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: Heritage

Retired American actor and novelist Eugene Hackman and a Hollywood film producer Art Linson donated 30 ‘stolen’ Kenyan totems to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Colorado a few years ago. Historians say the hardwood grave markers had been sold by art dealers in the US for up to $10 000 each. The sacred items, known as vigango among the Miji Kenda have now been returned to Kenya following lengthy negotiation to have the artefacts returned to the country. In a Daily Nation analysis, John Kamau notes that the initiative is part of a larger effort to stop the trafficking and illicit trade of cultural items into Western museums and celebrity homes and also the return of items looted during the colonial era. ‘That there is no clear path and law on how to get them back is our dilemma. Rare cultural artefacts, which ought to be in the continent, dot many museums in the world. For instance, the stuffed trophies of the Man-Eaters of Tsavo killed by Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Patterson, the engineer in-charge of the Kenya-Uganda railway in 1898, were later sold to the Chicago Field Museum for $5 000 a piece in 1925.’

Full Daily Nation analysis