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
Staying the Course in Europe’s East
As the European Union’s leaders gather in Riga for a summit with the six members of the EU’s “Eastern Partnership,” many recall the dramatic meeting in Vilnius of November 2013....
President Museveni is still right on creation of constituencies
This debate arises from the creation of 36 constituencies by President Yoweri Museveni. The people of Uganda should not criticise the creation of constituencies but argue for a strong policy....
Teachers strike; its high time government enforces contracts
On Tuesday morning, as I set out from home to town to begin my day, a village woman stopped me and requested me to offer her a lift which I did. Before she could settle in the car, she sought my opinion about the ‘silent’ teachers’ strike....
Channeling China’s aspirations
China has begun to stretch its economic and military muscles in recent years. In the South China Sea, it has built a series of quasi-military bases on the tiny Spratly Islands and deployed warships to defend them....
The missing meaning democracy
The decision to abandon relative peace and prosperity for brutal war and instability may seem irrational. But young people, born and raised in democratic societies, have increasingly been yielding to the appeal of death-dealing groups like the Islamic State, leaving their homes and families to wage...
Why Greece is Different,  Daniel Gros
By Daniel Gros The seemingly interminable negotiations between the new Greek government and its international creditors – the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission – on a new loan deal have entered a dangerous phase....
Should politicians be banned from addressing religious gatherings?
Yes
No
Can't Say
follow us
subscribe to our news letter