Monday, 2 May 2016

Send the looted vigango home

Stephen E. Nash, 'The Right to Own Living Memorials', Sapiens 29th Apr 2016.
In the early 1980s, American art dealers seeking to grow their businesses “discovered” vigango. They began to sell them as art objects, ignoring their living, protective value to the Mijikenda. Unemployed young Mijikenda and other men in Kenya and Tanzania were hired by art dealers to steal sacred vigango, selling them to middlemen for as little as $7 each. Once vigango reached the art market in Mombasa or Nairobi, they often fetched a price of several hundred dollars. When art dealerships in the United States obtained them, they typically sold for a few thousand dollars each. Today, prices of up to $15,000 for a single kikango are common at auction houses in the United States. Who profits? Not the men who perpetrated the theft or the source community that suffered the loss. Profits accrue up the chain of possession.
Collectors of looted art are the real looters. They create a market for these pieces of worked wood.

The 'Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests' are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  These contain the remains of numerous fortified villages, known as kayas, of the Mijikenda people. "The kayas, created as of the 16th century but abandoned by the 1940s, are now regarded as the abodes of ancestors and are revered as sacred sites and, as such, are maintained as by councils of elders. The site is inscribed as bearing unique testimony to a cultural tradition and for its direct link to a living tradition". A living tradition greedy collectors trash.

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