Nairobi accused of hijacking return of Mijikenda artefacts

Ms Kauchi Patrick explains to visitors the importance of the vigango in their compound in Kilifi. The wooden symbols represent dead family members and serve as a tangible link of living relatives to their departed loved ones. PHOTO/GEORGE KIKAMI | FILE

What you need to know:

  • The leaders argue that the artefacts, vigango (wooden burial poles), are of cultural value and attachment to the Mijikenda alone.
  • Kilifi Deputy Speaker Teddy Mwambire said the Nairobi officials had no business getting involved in the matter. “These people want to generate revenue from a resource that does not belong to them,” he said.

Some Kilifi leaders have opposed the Nairobi County Assembly officials’ planned trip to the US to repatriate 30 Mijikenda artefacts to Kenya.

The leaders argue that the artefacts, vigango (wooden burial poles), are of cultural value and attachment to the Mijikenda alone.

A team from the Nairobi County Assembly led by Speaker Alex ole Magelo and Majority Leader Elias Otieno was due to travel the US on Tuesday or Wednesday to collect the burial poles from a Denver museum.

Speaking to the Nation on Tuesday, Kilifi County leaders warned the Nairobi team to tread carefully and not joke with spirits of the dead.

SPIRITS WERE POWERFUL

Kilifi Senator Stewart Madzayo said when strangers adulterate vigango, disaster or calamity can befall them.

He said the offer by the US museum to repatriate the items showed the spirits were powerful and were tired of enslavement in a foreign land.

“These leaders need to read the signs. We are not opposed to the repatriation process but the Mijikenda Kaya leaders need to be involved,” he said.

The senator said the items were Mijikenda heritage and belonged to the people of Kilifi County.

“What we are seeing is a sinister motive by the Members of County Assembly to hijack the repatriation for their own gains,” he said.

Kaloleni MP Gunga Muinga said it would be useless for the county leaders to travel to Denver Museum of Nature and Science to collect the vigango. “The trip is misplaced and a waste of resources. These leaders need to know that the vigango belong to our culture and this culture is of no significant to Nairobi people,” he said.

Mr Muinga suggested that Kilifi County leaders should consult urgently and deal with the matter.

Kilifi Deputy Speaker Teddy Mwambire said the Nairobi officials had no business getting involved in the matter. “These people want to generate revenue from a resource that does not belong to them,” he said.

He alleged that Mr Magelo’s team were looking for an avenue for earning allowances from a foreign trip.

“If they are really serious, they should go out and bring the golden chain that was stolen from City Hall years back.”

Mr Mwambire said the Kilifi people were the custodians of the artefacts and they ensure that the items were handed over to the gohu (highest ranked Kaya elders).

“Let’s give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” he said.

Mr Jimbi Katana, a consultant on heritage, who travelled to America with the Kenyan delegation while working at the museum in 2007, said the 30 poles should be kept by the coastal people who understand their value.

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