The Transatlantic Trade in African Ancestors: Mijikenda Memorial Statues (Vigango) and the Ethics of Collecting and Curating Non-Western Cultural Property

Monica L. Udvardy, Linda L. Giles, John B. Mitsanze

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations

Abstract

This article details obstacles to deterrence of the global trade in non-Western cultural properties and examines the ethics of Western collecting and curating of such property. We focus on the theft and global marketing of memorial statues (vigango) erected by the Mijikenda peoples of East Africa, relating an unusually well-documented case study, tracing two statues from their theft to their appearance in U.S. museums. We describe the large-scale extraction of such statues from Kenya and its impact on the Mijikenda, their quantity and distribution in U.S. museums, and local deterrence efforts. We call for greater activism by Western museum staffs, anthropologists, and other scholars to curb the trade in non-Western cultural properties. We recommend (1) tightening legal loopholes, (2) strengthening observance of international agreements and the U.S. and international museums' codes of ethics, (3) stepping up field efforts to deter theft, and (4) educating the public about this growing trade.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)566-580
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Volume105
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2003

Keywords

  • East Africa
  • International trade in African cultural property
  • Mijikenda peoples
  • Museum ethics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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