Magazine article New Internationalist

Grave Robbery: Stolen Posts Fetch High Prices

Magazine article New Internationalist

Grave Robbery: Stolen Posts Fetch High Prices

Article excerpt

By the side of the road were five wooden posts arranged in a neat row. They were two - to three - feet high, a couple had faces painted on them and some were decorated with pieces of string - makoma which the Giriama people of the Kenyan coastal hinterland use to commemorate their ancestors.

Our chance discovery of them in the midst of the forest meant that we must be near a kaya, an area of ritual importance to the Giriama. We piled out of the car and photographed the pieces of wood, but refrained from touching them.

Later that day we travelled to some Giriama settlements and asked to see their graveposts. A young Giriama man took us to a remote homestead where we were in for a shock. Under cover of darkness somebody had removed all the posts.

This bad news fitted only too well into our knowledge of the 'tribal' art trade. There is an international market for the ornately - carved graveposts called vigango, which commemorate people of rank and power. They are sold in Nairobi City Market and exported to Europe and America. In fact one of our party, Jane, had bought vigango in Nairobi and carried them to London where she had sold them. Now she was mortified.

Private collectors and museums pay hundreds of dollars for carved graveposts. …

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