Illinois State Museum Returns Stolen Vigango Artifacts to Kenya: A Step Towards Cultural Restoration

Vigango Artifacts

The Illinois State Museum has taken a significant step towards cultural restoration by returning over 30 stolen artifacts, known as vigango, to the Mijikenda people in Kenya. The sacred wooden memorial statues hold great spiritual importance for the Mijikenda ethnic group as they serve as a tribute to their ancestors.

Vigango, tall wooden carvings standing at about 9 feet, serve as memorials for departed loved ones in the Mijikenda community. They depict sacred reincarnated spirits and were never intended for removal. Sadly, these artifacts were taken from Kenya during the colonial era up to the early 1980s, despite UNESCO’s efforts to prohibit the trade of illegally obtained cultural items.

The Illinois State Museum curator, Brooke Morgan, emphasizes the importance of reuniting these artifacts with their rightful owners. Separating vigango from their rightful owners harms the spiritual well-being of the Mijikenda community, leading to misfortunes such as droughts, crop failures, and illnesses, as she stated in an interview with the New York Times.

In an effort to address this historical injustice, officials from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Illinois State Museum visited Kilifi for the official handover ceremony. The Mijikenda community, facing challenges in preserving their culture, expressed immense gratitude for the return of these significant artifacts.

The journey towards cultural restoration is ongoing, as the Mijikenda community commits to educating future generations about their history, traditions, and the profound significance of the vigango. Through this knowledge transmission, they aim to ensure the continuity of their heritage for generations to come.

This repatriation represents a turning point in the fight against cultural plunder and raises awareness about responsible acquisition and exhibition of cultural items. The Illinois State Museum’s initiative sets a precedent for ethical practices within the cultural and heritage sector, marking a profound victory for the Mijikenda people and their ongoing cultural revival efforts. It exemplifies the significance of acknowledging and respecting cultural ownership and the sacred bond between communities and their artifacts.

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