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4 Jul, 2023 14:40

UK university gives cows to Kenyans to compensate for colonial theft

Victims say they appreciate the gesture but are still demanding a more substantial package
UK university gives cows to Kenyans to compensate for colonial theft

Oxford University has given 196 cows to Maasai families in Kenya and Tanzania whose artefacts were stolen and exported to the UK more than 100 years ago.

A delegation from Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum handed the Sululu and Mpaima families 49 cows each, with another two families, the Saiyalels and Mosekas, receiving the same number as compensation, local media reported.

The move comes after a Kenyan man, Samuel Sankiriaki, discovered a large collection of Maasai artefacts at the Pitt Rivers Museum in 2017 and petitioned the university to return them.

The collection includes a men’s necklace called Enkononkoi, which is traditionally worn by elders; a women’s necklace called Emonyorit; and an Isuritia, another distinctive type of necklace.

Oxford’s director of museum studies, Laura Van Broekhoven, told the media during a ceremony at Morijo-Loita in Narok County, Kenya, that the institution possesses 148 Maasai artefacts from the colonial era, but only five of them were wrongfully acquired.

Many of them were gifted and are okay, but some are problematic because they were never supposed to have been in the museum, and records about them were not clear on how they landed there,” Broekhoven was quoted by K24 TV as saying.

She clarified that providing 49 cows to each of the impacted families aligned with their customary practices and traditions.

However, Narok County Governor Patrick Ntutu believes that the owners of the items “were either killed or maimed before the ornaments were taken away from them.”

The Maasai families showed appreciation for the gesture but said the reparation is insufficient. Seka ole Sululu, a spokesperson for the families, told The Nation newspaper that they are still expecting more adequate compensation.

We could have chosen to sue but we chose the traditional way as we believe in reconciliation,” he said.

Local officials are additionally advocating for the university to establish a campus in the Loita area and to provide full scholarships to outstanding students as a form of restitution.

The Maasai people of East Africa live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania and are distinguished by their distinct cultural traditions and rich history.

Museums in the UK have been facing increasing pressure to return items stolen during colonial times back to their respective countries of origin.

Ghana, Ethiopia, and Nigeria have all asked the British Museum to return colonial-era ceremonial artefacts taken to Britain.