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Unformatted text preview: Ethics Forum M O NICA L. UDVARDY LINDA L. GILES JOHN B. M ITSANZE The Transatlantic Trade in African Ancestors: Mijikenda Memorial Statues (Vigango) and the Ethics of Collecting and Curating Non-Western Cultural Property ABSTRACT This article details obstacles to deterrence of the global trade in non-Western cultural properties and examines the ethics of Western collecting and curating of such property. We focus on the theft and global marketing of memorial statues (vigango) erected by the Mijikenda peoples of East Africa, relating an unusually well-documented case study, tracing two statues from their theft to their appearance in U.S. museums. We describe the large-scale extraction of such statues from Kenya and its impact on the Mijikenda, their quantity and distribution in U.S. museums, and local deterrence efforts. We call for greater activism by Western museum staffs, anthro- pologists, and other scholars to curb the trade in non-Western cultural properties. We recommend (1) tightening legal loopholes, (2) strengthening observance of international agreements and the U.S. and international museums' codes of ethics, (3) stepping up field efforts to deter theft, and (4) educating the public about this growing trade. [Keywords: East Africa, Mijikenda peoples, international trade in African cultural property, museum ethics] Art was invented simultaneously with collecting, and the two are inconceivable without each other. —Shelley Errington T HIS ARTICLE RAISES ISSUES concerning the global trade in non-Western cultural properties and the ethics of Western collecting and curating of such objects. 1 It does so by focusing on the theft and global marketing of vigango (sing, kigango), memorial statues erected by the Mi- jikenda peoples of the East African coast and hinterland. We recount an unusually well-documented, firsthand case study of the theft, probable sale and resale, and subse- quent donation to U.S. museums of two of these statues, stolen from Katana (a pseudonym), a Kenyan Giriama man, in 1985, when Monica Udvardy was conducting an- thropological field research in the region. The case is con- textualized through our research on the large-scale extrac- tion of these memorial statues, primarily by a single collector/dealer; their considerable quantity and distribu- tion in U.S. museums and private collections; and the lo- cal level impacts of their widespread theft on the Giriama and other Mijikenda. Our account coincides with increasing distress in scholarly circles about the global trade in non-Western material culture. Simon Robinson and Aisha Labi (2001) cite an Interpol-based figure of US$4.5 billion per year—a figure that has more than quadrupled over the past dec- ade—as the estimated value of the worldwide, illicit trade in cultural properties. They also note that interest in Afri- can objects appears to be at an all-time high. Recently, prominent Kenyan officials, such as former directors of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), Richard Leakey...
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This note was uploaded on 10/18/2011 for the course IDS 2935 taught by Professor B.smith,v.rovine,f.lewis during the Spring '11 term at University of Florida.
- Spring '11