SPRINGFIELD – At a ceremony at the Illinois State Museum today, Illinois officials returned a Kenyan ceremonial post to its rightful owners. Officials with the Illinois State Museum presented the post to a delegation from Kenya, headed by the Honorable Suleiman Shakombo, Minister of State for National Heritage, and including His Excellency Peter Ogego, Kenyan Ambassador to the United States, and representatives from the National Museums of Kenya, for return to the family. Governor Rod R. Blagojevich made the announcement in early September at the African Festival of the Arts in Chicago that the post would be returned.
“This memorial post is part of Kenya’s cultural traditions, and it belongs to the Mwakiru family. It should be reunited with its rightful owners,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “The Illinois State Museum acted promptly and worked with the Kenyan government to make sure this important piece of a family’s history and tradition be returned to the place where it belongs.”
When the National Museums of Kenya contacted the Illinois State Museum about the post, known as kigango, state museum officials immediately began work to research their claims of ownership. Once it was determined that the post had been stolen from a Kenyan family during the mid-80s, arrangements were quickly made to begin transfer of the artifact back to Africa.
The kigango, a carved, decorated wooden post, was made in Kenya in the 1960s to memorialize relatives of Mr. Kalume Mwakiru. In February 2006, the National Museums of Kenya sent a letter requesting that the Illinois State Museum return the post to them for return to the family. Based on evidence presented by the National Museums, the post was stolen from Kenya in 1985. It was then purchased by an art dealer, sold to an individual, and later donated to Illinois State University. The Illinois State Museum acquired the memorial post with an African collection transferred by Illinois State University in 2001.
Earlier this month, Gov. Blagojevich sent a letter to the Honorable Suleiman Shakombo, expressing his support for the Illinois State Museum returning the kigango to Kenya. In that letter the Governor wrote: We appreciate the efforts of the National Museums of Kenya and the Ministry of State for National Heritage to arrange for the transport of the memorial post from the Illinois State Museum to Kenya…I commend the Illinois State Museum for reviewing the facts and taking the appropriate action to return this memorial post to the National Museums of Kenya to return to the family.
In November of 2001, Illinois State University agreed to transfer its African Collection to the Illinois State Museum. The memorial post being returned to Kenya is one of approximately 1,600 objects transferred from that collection to the Illinois State Museum. In early 2006, family members of Mr. Kalume Mwakiru sent a letter to the Fort Jesus Museum in Mombasa, Kenya requesting the kigango be returned to the family. The letter was forwarded to the Illinois State Museum by the Fort Jesus Museum along with a copy of an article in American Anthropologist corroborating that the kigango had been stolen. The Illinois State Museum reviewed documentation pertaining to the kigango and concluded that it should be returned to appropriate officials in Kenya for return to the family.
“We were compelled by the evidence that the kigango was stolen and are pleased that an official delegation from Kenya has traveled to Illinois to return it to the Mwakiru family,” said Dr. Bonnie Styles, Director of the Illinois State Museum.
“The consent of the Illinois State Museum to repatriate this spiritual Kenyan artifact is a clear demonstration of the commitment of American cultural institutions to the respect of African culture and diversity of cultural expressions. The Kenyan government applauds the principle of continued dialog with other heritage institutions in the United States holding similar artifacts in their collections so as to resolve all outstanding issues on specific objects,” said the Honorable Suleiman Shakombo, Minister of State for National Heritage, Office of the Vice President, Kenya.
Officials presenting at the ceremony included: Dr. Bonnie Styles, Museum Director, Illinois State Museum; Leslie Sgro, Deputy Director, Illinois Department of Natural Resources; Dr. Monica Udvardy, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Kentucky; Dr. Nick Maroules, Chairman of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Illinois State University; Honorable Suleiman Shakombo, Minister of State for National Heritage, Head of Delegation; Dr. Idle Omar Farah, Director General, National Museums of Kenya; and Mr. Philip Jimbi Katana, Principal Curator, National Museums of Kenya.