The Illinois State Museum takes a bold step to repatriate over 30 stolen artifacts to the Mijikenda people in Kenya. The recovered treasures, vigango, hold great spiritual importance for the Mijikenda ethnic group, as they serve as a tribute to their ancestors.
Officials from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Illinois State Museum will visit Kilifi, a town on Kenya’s coast 56 kilometres from Mombasa, for the official handover. The Mijikenda ethnic group inhabits the coastal region and has experienced a long and tumultuous history of cultural preservation challenges.
Kigango/Vigango are 9ft high carved wooden artefacts, serving as a memorial to departed loved ones in the community. They depict reincarnated sacred spirits and were never intended for removal. These artefacts were removed from Kenya during the colonial era until the early 1980s, despite Unesco’s effort to ban the trade in illegally obtained artefacts.
The return of the artefacts to Kenya marks a turning point in the fight against cultural plunder. It raises awareness about the importance of responsible acquisition and display of cultural property.