Sacred objects returned from US museum to Kenya

An article by Kevin J. Kelley in the Daily Nation (Nairobi) reports:

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is voluntarily presenting to the National Museums of Kenya the vigango donated to it in 1990 by Hollywood actor Gene Hackman and film producer Art Linson.

“There is no legal instrument or international treaty that requires us to return them,” said Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, the museum’s curator of anthropology. “This is not about the law; it’s about ethics.”

Officials of the museum in the US state of Colorado have determined that “these objects are communally owned and deeply sacred to the Mijikenda community of Kenya,” Mr Colwell-Chanthaphonh explained.

Additional reporting is available from Tom Mashberg of the New York Times:

Some 20 institutions in the United States own about 400 of the totems, according to Monica L. Udvardy, a professor of anthropology at the University of Kentucky and an expert on Kenyan culture who has studied and tracked vigango for 30 years. She said that Kenyans believe that vigango are invested with divine powers and should never have been removed from their sites and treated as global art commodities. Kenyan officials have made constant pleas to have the objects sent back.

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