Hampton University Agrees to Return Statue to Kenyan Family

Kigango statues are wooden posts with a round head carved at the top. Hampton University in Virginia has 99 kigango statues in its collection. This is considered the largest collection in the United States. Now it is sending one of its statues back to Kenya.

1985 photographic evidence produced by Monica Udvardy that the kigango statues belonged to the Mwakiru family of Kenya

In 1983 Kalume Mwakiru commissioned two kigango statues to honor his dead brothers. The statues were stolen from the front of his home in 1985. In 1999 anthropologist Monica Udvardy traced the two missing statues to museums at Illinois State University and Hampton University. Both universities acquired the statues legally as a gift from a benefactor who had bought them from a reputable gallery.

This past winter Illinois State University agreed to return its statue to the Mwakiru family. In late September a Kenyan delegation went to Illinois and was presented with the statue. The delegation hoped to get the second statue at Hampton University but the historically black college originally declined the request. The university said that it had acquired the statue legally and would not return it unless there was indisputable evidence that it had been stolen. Hampton admits that the statue once belonged to the Mwakiru family but says that it has not been presented with proof that the statue was stolen.

After press reports surfaced that Hampton was refusing to return the statue to Kenya, the university decided that it would “loan” the statue from its collection to the Mwakiru family on an “indefinite basis.” The university’s position is that it remains the rightful owner until such time as there is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the statue was illegally acquired.”