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Uganda Recoups Artifacts From Cambridge University

In a historic move, Uganda has successfully reclaimed 39 artifacts from Cambridge University, marking a significant achievement in the nation’s ongoing efforts to repatriate its cultural heritage. These artifacts, collected over a century ago by British colonial administrators and anthropologists, include human remains, a headdress made of human hair, and intricately decorated pots.

Martin Mugarra, Uganda’s State Minister for Tourism, expressed the profound significance of this event. “While receiving these artifacts, we are reclaiming our history and cultural heritage,” he said. “We are committed to reclaiming all artifacts taken from Uganda by colonial administrators between the mid-1800s and 1900s.”

The artifacts, representing diverse cultural groups such as Buganda, Lango, Bunyoro, and Ankole, are poised to enhance the nation’s cultural history and heritage. Ms. Jackline Nyiracyiza, Commissioner for Museums and Monuments, highlighted that the repatriation process, initiated in 2019, faced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this setback, the return of these artifacts marks a pivotal moment in restoring Uganda’s cultural legacy.

Nyiracyiza underscored the ongoing efforts to reclaim additional artifacts from Cambridge University, emphasizing that the returned items will enrich Uganda’s cultural narrative. “The returned artifacts include five human remains of the Balongo (Sacred Twins) vessel acquired from Buganda in 1907, which will be returned to Wamala tombs where they were originally taken from,” she noted.

Derrick Peterson, a history professor from the University of Michigan, commended the repatriation effort, stating that these artifacts will help the Uganda Museum present a more authentic and comprehensive cultural history. “They ended up in Cambridge because all ways of life, all religions, had been devalued, and collectors like John Roscoe could acquire extraordinarily important items and take them to Cambridge, where they became part of the museum’s collections,” Peterson explained. “Returning them honors a past that Ugandans have lost but need to remember, bringing people’s lives back into focus and aiding in recovery.”

This marks the second instance of Uganda receiving its cultural artifacts from Cambridge. The first occurred in July 1962, during the independence celebrations, when the Kibuuka Omubaale regalia were repatriated. The Kibuuka showcase remains a centerpiece of the Uganda Museum’s exhibits.

The recent repatriation, costing USD 100,000, was funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, which supported the research and transportation efforts. The artifacts will undergo analysis and exhibition before being returned to their communities of origin, honoring Uganda’s rich cultural heritage.

This landmark achievement not only symbolizes a restoration of Uganda’s cultural identity but also sets a precedent for future repatriation efforts, fostering a renewed appreciation and understanding of the nation’s historical narrative.

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