Thursday, January 9, 2014

Denver Museum to return sacred objects to Kenya

Perhaps the most popular news to come out of Colorado so far this month is the legalization of marijuana, but I would like to bring light to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  As an act of good will, the museum plans to repatriate 30 ceremonial totems (vigango) to Kenya later this month.

Vigango were sometimes placed on graves as new dwelling places for the souls of deceased persons.  Vigango also have a lineage function.  Kenyan villagers have long lamented over what they consider the theft of these sacred objects.

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science obtained the vigango as a donation by the actor Gene Hackman and film maker Art Linson in the 1990s.  The museum did not have any legal obligation to return the objects but conisdered the action the ehtical path to take.  The museum did this in part in hopes that other institutions would follow suit.

The Nairobi National Museum will be the new home of these vigango.

I enjoy having the opportunity to share news of  museum doing something out of ethics as opposed to legal.  Many museums have stood behind the legal arguments of why they would not repatriate artifacts, take for example MoMA who will not return artwork stolen from the Nazis based on statute of limitations (see "Ethics v. Legal: MoMA and Nazi Era Art" dated December 23, 2013).