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Historic Ugandan artifacts return home for three years

Traditional artifacts repatriated by the University of Cambridge, shown exclusively to AP journalists in Kampala, Uganda, Wednesday, June 12, 2024.   -  
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Hajarah Nalwadda/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.


After over a century away, 39 Ugandan objects have returned home.

The University of Cambridge is loaning the traditional artifacts to the east African country for an initial period of three years.

But what meaning can these objects which range from tribal regalia to delicate pottery hold now for the people who carved them?

“These objects have been away from home for so long, now is the time that they come back and it's the time to research the history of these objects, to research their contemporary significance and to help make decisions about their future," Mark Elliot the senior curator at Cambridge University said.

"Really importantly, this is research that could be done in Cambridge but it shouldn’t be done in Cambridge, it should be done here and it should be led by Ugandan people.”

Cambridge acquired most Ugandan artifacts as donations from private collections, and many were given by an Anglican missionary active in Uganda after the nation was made a British protectorate in 1894.

“There was a lot of plundering Africa and so Africa being plundered, it’s not that they only took gold," Jackline Nyiracyiza, Ugandan Government Commissioner in charge of Museums and Monuments said.

"They took gold and associated heritage and so a part of the gold, I would say, that they removed from Africa, is the cultural heritage because they were spreading the gospel of Christ and so they did not want anything associated with traditions.”

Jackline Nyiracyiza sayd Uganda’s agreement with Cambridge is renewable, allowing for the possibility of a permanent loan and perhaps local ownership.

The returned items were selected by Ugandan curators.

Solomy Nabukalu was particularly interested in objects from the Buganda kingdom, the kingdom of the Bagandas [Editor's note: a Bantu people living in Uganda].

“I am a Uganda. We have a variety of objects that have been brought from Buganda (Bantu kingdom within Uganda) and I have seen and I would be seeing these objects, most especially... I shouldn't say it... [...] Most especially 'Omulamula' (or) 'Ddamula (a traditional stick or sceptre handed to the Kingdom’s prime minister by the King) for the Katikiro (Buganda Kingdom’s prime minister), that is the most fascinating object I have seen,” Nabukalu explained.

These items represent a small fraction of about 1,500 Ugandan ethnographic objects that the British University owns.

The African Union aims to have a common policy on the return of looted cultural property.

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