Opinion
Should Britain return the artifacts allegedly stolen from Bunyoro in the 1890s?
Publish Date: Aug 27, 2014
Should Britain return the artifacts allegedly stolen from Bunyoro in the 1890s?
The writer, Nsibambi Fredrick works with the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda.
  • mail
  • img
newvision

By Fredrick Nsibambi

Recently, the media both local and international has been awash with claims by Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom demanding for the repatriation of her properties allegedly stolen by the British colonial masters.
 
One of the key objects in question is the 9-legged royal stool/throne on which all current King of Bunyoro’s predecessors sat, up to King Kabalega, who was exiled by the British for resisting colonialism in 1899. The royal throne is currently kept at Oxford in Pitt Rivers Museum in England.
 
According to some people, the current King was not properly installed because he did not sit on the same throne as his predecessors. Therefore, there is a general belief that the return of the missing throne would be a significant political victory for not only in what was once the greatest and richest kingdom but also for Africa as a continent. 
 
Besides the stool, Bunyoro says that during the colonial era, almost 300 artefacts were taken – with or without her consent. The kingdom's current Monarch, Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I, has spent the better part of his reign campaigning for their return. The kingdom has taken legal action against the British government for theft and destruction of property.
 
Whereas Bunyoro has a right to reclaim what belongs to her, some people might have a different view. First and foremost, one questions the ability of Bunyoro Kingdom to look after the 300 artefacts without a common place or a museum in Hoima where these items could be preserved. At Pitt Rivers Museum, the items are in good condition, well preserved and professionally labeled.
 
What Bunyoro is doing is what we call repatriation in the museums and heritage conservation field. Repatriation is the return of cultural objects looted from their country of origin whether in the context of imperialism, colonialism or war.
 
The debate surrounding art repatriation differs case by case due to the specific nature of legal and historical issues surrounding each case, but below are general arguments that Bunyoro Kingdom needs to pay attention to:
 
Artifacts are a part of a universal human history and when they are displayed in encyclopedic museums such as Pitt Rivers Museum, they are widely disseminated. Such museums also cultivate the dissemination of knowledge, tolerance, and broad cultural understanding.
 
Secondly, artifacts were frequently excavated or uncovered by looters, who brought to light a piece of artwork that would otherwise never have been seen; foreign-led excavation teams have uncovered items that contribute to cultural knowledge and understanding.
 
Thirdly, having artefacts such the royal stool from Bunyoro disseminated around the world encourages international scholarly and professional exchange. It also enhances the understanding and appreciation of African culture by non Africans. 
 
Lastly, Pitt Rivers Museums is located in Britain whereby objects from Bunyoro have been exposed to an international community. If the objects were to be moved to Hoima, they would be seen by far fewer people.
 
However, this does not mean that Bunyoro Kingdom should sit back and relax. Some precedence of repatriated art has already have been set in other countries like Ethiopia where a number artefacts stolen by Italians have been returned.
 
Foreign-led excavations have justified colonial rule; in the pursuit of obtaining knowledge about the artifacts, there was a need to establish control over the artifacts and the countries where they were located. It can also be argued that the encyclopedic museums that house much of the world's artworks and artifacts are located in Western cities and privilege European scholars, professionals and people.
 
The writer Works with the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda.
 

The statements, comments, or opinions expressed through the use of New Vision Online are those of their respective authors, who are solely responsible for them, and do not necessarily represent the views held by the staff and management of New Vision Online.

New Vision Online reserves the right to moderate, publish or delete a post without warning or consultation with the author.Find out why we moderate comments. For any questions please contact digital@newvision.co.ug

  • mail
  • img
blog comments powered by Disqus
Also In This Section
Poverty and greed: the major culprits of environmental degradation
Our standards of living are based on inexpensive energy in the form of electricity and gasoline powering automobiles that are the major contributors to environmental problems in the world today, but let us not forget that earlier in history; automobiles were actually heralded for solving a distinct...
Climate change: The Impossible deal
For “shall”, substitute “may”. For example, change “countries signing this climate change treaty SHALL state how much they are going to cut their greenhouse emissions” to “countries signing this climate change treaty MAY state how much they are going to cut their emissions if they feel like it, but...
Who really cares about the Ugandan girl?
The UCE and UACE 2014 public examinations are now done with and the other classes are at home for Term Three holidays. The students from the secondary schools especially have flooded our localities. Most conspicuous of them will be the girls; but who cares?...
A delegate conference is not a pilgrimage
At the last NRM delegate’s conference held at Namboole, the National Executive tabled a motion regarding the period at which the holding of a delegate’s conference should be....
Corruption: they that are not corrupt can hurl the stones
So the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Uganda 142nd out of 175 countries, according to Transparency International. Based on expert opinion, Transparency International says our level of public sector dishonesty is 26 out of 100. Denmark is the most transparent with a score of 92/100 while So...
The evil of deforestation
Africa is facing very many problems but few have been solved. One of the major ones is environmental degradation through deforestation. Deforestation is having a big impact on the environment....
What is causing the rise in Early child marriages?
Decaying social structures
Poor Education
None of the above
follow us
subscribe to our news letter