UK University Gifts 98 Cows to Maasai Community for Looted Artefacts

July 5, 2023

Oxford University has offered a total of 98 cows to two families from the Loita clan of the Maasai community in Narok South as compensation for “stolen” cultural artifacts from the community.

The artifacts, which had been on display at the Pitt Rivers Museum, are believed to have been smuggled to England during the colonial era.

The discovery of the Maasai cultural artifacts at the Pitt Rivers Museum was made by a local scholar named Mr. Samuel Sankiriaki.

“I was at the museum in 2017 and I was shocked to discover some Maasai artefacts and from their captions, they indicated where they were from. I questioned how they found themselves there,” Sankiriaki said during an ‘Inkirro’ cleansing ceremony at Loita on Sunday.

Sankiriaki noted that the cultural artifacts had been commercially utilized for the past century, while the rightful owners of these items continued to live in poverty. The artifacts include significant pieces such as the Enkononkoi (men’s necklace) worn by elders, Emonyorit (women’s necklace), Isikira (headgear for girl initiates), and Isutia (special necklace).

The scholar said there were 100 Maasai artifacts but the five were the most ‘sensitive’.

University of Oxford officials, led by Prof Laura Van Broekhoven, the Director of Museum Studies, acknowledged that the institution possesses 148 artifacts originating from the Maasai community, which were acquired during the colonial era. However, they have identified that five of these artifacts were wrongly taken from the community.

“When Mr Sankiriaki visited our museum and saw the items, he fumed. He asked us why such objects were there and that’s when we realised that they had a special attachment to the community,” said Prof Broekhoven as quoted by the Nation.

She claimed that a majority of the artefacts were gifts.

Maa community foreteller Laibon ole Mokombo identified the sensitive artifacts as belonging to Sululu and Mpaima families. They each received 49 heifers as a sign of peace and reconciliation.

“We have already started talks with the affected families because we did not have much information about the items,” said Prof Broekhoven.

However, The items are still on display at the Museum and it is up to the community to decide whether to bring them back or remain there and get compensation.

As part of the traditional cleansing ceremony, the university representatives led the cattle across the river, symbolizing a purification ritual.

“We have started peace with them (Oxford University). We could have chosen to sue but we chose the traditional way as we believe in reconciliation,” said Mr Seka ole Sululu, a spokesperson for the affected families.

He added that the families are still expecting adequate compensation.

Local leaders led by Governor Patrick Ntutu, former governor Samuel Tunai and MPs Kitilai Ntutu (Narok South), Rebecca Tonkei (Woman Rep) and Johana Ng’eno (Emurua Dikirr) are pushing for the university to establish a campus in the area.

“We believe the owners were either killed or maimed before the ornaments were taken away from them,” said Governor Ntutu.

Tonkei on the other hand called on Oxford University to offer full scholarships to bright students from Loita.

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