Saving Antiquities for Everyone-Looted memorial statues returned to Kenyan family
Ancestral memorial statues (vigango) erected by the Mijikenda peoples of Kenya are frequently stolen and sold to international art dealers. During the summer of 2007, the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) returned two vigango, which had been in the collections of two American museums, to a Mijikenda family in a rural Kenyan village. We give the history of these two stolen statues, including their theft and rediscovery, the efforts leading to their repatriation, and the joyful return ceremony. We also describe how this case inspired the return of nine more vigango from an American family to the NMK, and examine the current status of efforts to protect vigango.
On June 20, 2007, much celebration accompanied the National Museums of Kenya’s (NMK) return of two stolen ancestral memorial statues (vigango, singular kigango, Kigiriama) to a Giriama family near Kaloleni, in the Kenyan coastal hinterland. Returned by two American museums, the two vigango were, according to the NMK Director General Dr. Idle Omar Farah, the first stolen artifacts ever returned to Kenya from the United States. The ceremony drew hundreds of local celebrants and included speeches, performances by local dance troupes, and feasting. The Minister of Tourism and Wildlife, the Honorable Morris Dzoro, delivered the keynote speech. Other dignitaries attending included the NMK Board Chairman, Mr. Issa Timamy, and Ambassador Husein Dado, Senior Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of State for National Heritage. The NMK’s Mombasa branch, under the direction of Mr. Philip Jimbi Katana, made elaborate preparations for the ceremony, including building a steel enclosure in the homestead to protect the returned vigango from further theft.