Oxford University offers 98 cows to Kenyan Maasai for colonial artifact theft


The handover was made last weekend in Narok County, at the “Inkirro” purification ceremony, according to local media Nation.

The objects were on display at Oxford University’s Pitt Rivers Museum for 138 years until the discovery was made by Kenyan academic Samuel Sankiriaki during a visit.

“I was at the museum in 2017 and was surprised to discover Maasai artifacts that, by their description, indicated where they were from. So I wondered how they got there,” Sankiriaki said.

The objects belonged to the Sululu and Mpaima families

maasai in kenya
Morans, or young Masai warriors, attend the inauguration of their new leader, in Kilo village, Mashuuru district, Kenya. BLAZETRENDS/Dai Kurokawa

The objects were identified as Loita originals and as belonging to the Sululu and Mpaima families.

Each of these families received 49 cows as a token of peace and reconciliation last weekend at the purification ceremony, where university representatives herded the cattle through a river before handing them over to the families.

The spokesman for the affected families, Seka Ole Sululu, thanked the university for the gesture, but insisted that the families expect more adequate compensation.

Oxford University officials, led by museum director Laura Van Broekhoven, acknowledged that the institution has 148 Maasai community artifacts acquired during the colonial era, but five of them were brought there by mistake.

The artifacts, some described by Sankiriaki as “sensitive”, include an “enkononkoi” (men’s necklace) worn by elders, an “emonyorit” (women’s necklace), an “isikira” (headdress for initiated girls) and a ” isutia” (special necklace).

Likewise, the academic denounced that the artifacts had been used commercially during the last century while the owners lived in poverty.

“When Mr. Sankiriaki visited our museum and saw the items, he was furious. He asked us why those objects were there and that’s when we realized that they had a special attachment to the community,” Broekhoven explained.

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Kenya was a British colony from 1920 to 1963.

During the “Inkirro” ceremony, Narok County Governor Patrick Ntuto said he believes “the owners (of the artifacts) were killed or mutilated before they were taken from them.”

Local leaders are pressing the university to establish a campus in the area, and to offer scholarships to Loita’s good students.

Kenya was a British colony from 1920 until 1963, when it achieved independence.

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