April 15, 2006

Kenyans welcome back stolen relics

Posted at 12:31 pm in Similar cases

Coverage of the arrival in Kenya of the tribal staffs returned by Randle Meinertzhagen, a British man, more than one hundred years after they left the country.

Daily Telegraph

Saturday 15 April 2006
Kenyans welcome home sacred relics stolen by British
By Mike Pflanz in Nairobi
(Filed: 15/04/2006)

Thousands of cheering Kenyans packed a town centre to welcome home three wooden staffs symbolising tribal leadership that were stolen by a British Army officer in 1905.

The staffs, encased in a glass case, were driven through Eldoret, 150 miles west of Nairobi, in a convoy of vehicles.

The three artefacts taken were a club signifying tribal authority, a long rod ending in a V for blessing tribesmen before battle, and a staff like a walking stick carried by a chief during times of war.

It was the first time for 100 years that members of the Nandi tribe had seen the precious relics.

Col Richard Meinertzhagen, a military intelligence officer posted to east Africa at the beginning of the 20th century, took them after shooting dead a Nandi resistance hero, Koitalel arap Samoei.

They remained with Col Meinertzhagen’s family in Shrewsbury until a Kenyan doctoral student contacted his son, Randle, 78, a retired banker, after tracking down the sacred objects.

Mr Meinertzhagen had little idea that the three nondescript sticks he inherited on his father’s death in 1967 were so important to the Nandi until the visit from Kimyango Seroney in January. “It is only right that they be returned to Kenya,” he said.

His father led a committee to meet Koitalel, supposedly to sue for peace after a 10-year guerrilla campaign by the chief’s 8,000 warriors aimed at stopping the British building the “Lunatic Express” railway through Nandi land.

According to tribal legend, as Meinertzhagen moved to shake hands with their leader, he pulled out a pistol and shot Koitalel dead, a signal to British troops hidden nearby to open fire on the rest of the Nandi delegation.

At least 23 warriors were killed. Some reports claim that Col Meinertzhagen beheaded Koitalel’s body as it lay on the ground.

“It was a kill or be killed situation,” said Mr Meinertzhagen. “My father was not to be trifled with. His motto was shoot first and ask questions later.”

At Thursday’s ceremony to bring the relics home, Nandi elders performed a cleansing ritual to purify the artefacts of their long association with the “enemy”.

“This is a taboo according to the Nandi customs,” said Mzee Simion arap Saina, one of the elders. “By performing the cleansing ceremony, we are reinstating the holiness of these batons.”

This weekend the three sacred artefacts will be taken on foot to the nearby Nandi Hills, to be stored in a hut built at the spot where Koitalel was killed.

Nandi activists are agitating for further items allegedly taken by the British to be returned. “We want his lion-skin headgear and his shoes,” said Jesse Maisz, one of Eldoret’s members of parliament.

“We also want compensation for the lives of more than 2,000 Nandis killed during the resistance.”

The return of the staffs comes as the British Museum is lending a Nairobi gallery 140 treasures taken from east Africa during the colonial period.

Both events have reignited the debate over restitution of antiquities looted from Africa and held in the West.

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1 Comment »

  1. ayub too said,

    08.15.10 at 8:15 am

    suport the return ofsacred relics

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