Britain Returns 39 Ugandan Cultural Artifacts After a Century

Uganda’s cultural heritage artifacts that have for over 100 years been kept in the @Cambridge_Uni Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, having been taken from Uganda during the 1890s.

Summary:

  • Uganda received 39 cultural heritage artifacts from Cambridge University’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, collected over a century ago by British colonial figures. The return, coordinated by Professor Derek Peterson and funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, marks a significant step in reclaiming Uganda’s history and includes items like a Bunyoro drum and Buganda’s sacred twins. The Ugandan government plans further repatriations to enrich its cultural heritage. Before public exhibition, the artifacts’ conditions will be assessed at the Uganda Museum.

KAMPALA, (Examiner) – On Sunday, Uganda welcomed the return of 39 cultural heritage artifacts that had been housed at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge University for over a century. These artifacts, originating from various regions across Uganda, include a drum from Bunyoro, which was sent to Cambridge in 1920.

The artifacts were collected from different parts of Uganda by British colonial administrators, anthropologists, missionaries, and soldiers, starting as early as the 1890s. A significant portion of the collection was amassed by missionary anthropologist John Roscoe, who had close ties with Cambridge. Professor Derek Peterson, a historian from the University of Michigan and coordinator of the artifacts’ return, highlighted the importance of this event. Among the returned items are sacred “twin” figures, known as balongo, which hold significant ritual value in Buganda. Efforts are underway to return these items to their original resting places.

One of the drums being returned

Professor Peterson, who collaborates with the Uganda Museum to enhance its capacity, emphasizes that these artifacts will help the museum present a more authentic narrative of Ugandan cultural history, contrasting with the colonial perspectives that previously shaped it. He noted that British collectors, such as Roscoe, devalued African cultures and religions, leading to the removal and relocation of these items to institutions like Cambridge. The repatriation of these artifacts serves to honor Uganda’s past, restore its cultural heritage, and reconnect people with their historical artifacts.

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The return of the artifacts, which cost up to $100,000, was supported by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, covering research and transportation expenses. Martin Mugarra, the State Minister for Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities, stated that the government is committed to reclaiming all artifacts taken from Ugandan communities during the colonial period from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. These artifacts, which belong to Buganda, Lango, Bunyoro, and Ankole, will enrich Uganda’s cultural history and heritage.

Jackline Nyiracyiza, the Commissioner for Museums and Monuments, noted that the process of returning these artifacts began in 2019 but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. She mentioned that Cambridge University still holds many Ugandan artifacts, both archaeological and ethnographic. The returned items include five human remains of the Balongo (Sacred Twins) acquired from Buganda in 1907, which will be returned to the Wamala tombs, a headdress made of human hair from Lango acquired in 1937, and beautifully decorated pots from Ankole acquired in the 1920s.

This repatriation marks the second time Uganda has received its cultural heritage artifacts from Cambridge. The first instance was in July 1962, during the independence celebrations, when the Kibuuka Omubaale regalia were repatriated. The Kibuuka showcase remains one of the centerpiece exhibits at the Uganda Museum.

Before the newly repatriated artifacts are displayed to the public, the Ministry will assess their condition at the Uganda Museum. Once deemed ready, an exhibition will be organized for both Ugandan and international visitors to view and celebrate the return of these historical objects from Europe. While the five objects will be returned to Buganda, the rest will initially be housed at the Uganda Museum, with plans to eventually return them to their respective communities when they are ready to care for them responsibly.

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