The artifacts were collected by the British missionary John Roscoe in the late-nineteenth century, who was in the Kingdom of Buganda collecting ethnographic objects and operating partly under the direction of the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. According to Peterson, some of them were acquired with the aid of Katikkiro Apollo Kaggwa.
Uganda’s artifacts will be repatriated from the University of
Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology thanks to a project titled "Repositioning the Uganda Museum.”
The project received a grant worth USD 100,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the task undertaken by Derek Peterson, a Professor of History, Afro-American and
African Studies at the University of Michigan. Peterson recently led a project for digitizing
Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) archives and has also co-published
a book titled Unseen Archives of Idi Amin.
The artifacts were
collected by the British missionary John Roscoe in late-nineteenth-century, who
was in the Kingdom of Buganda collecting ethnographic objects and operating
partly under the direction of the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and
Anthropology. According to Peterson, some of them were acquired with the aid of Katikkiro Apollo Kaggwa.
At that time, the kingdom was in turmoil, suffering a series of
religious wars and increased interference from the Imperial British East
Africa Company. As Protestant
Christians gained power, non-Christian practitioners of the old religion were eager to shed any symbol of their prior beliefs giving Roscoe a chance to build his collection at a time when the instruments of the
the old way of life was dramatically devalued.
The majority of the artifacts Roscoe collected are held in storage in
Cambridge and many of them have not been displayed. Now the project team will select a set of
artifacts from the Cambridge museum, repatriate them to Uganda, conduct
research on their history and provenance, and exhibit them in the Uganda Museum,
East Africa’s oldest museum, the University of Michigan History department said in
The project timeline
calls for the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology objects
to be relocated to the Uganda Museum by the end of 2022. “We want to put these objects back
into the hands of people who made them meaningful,” Prof. Peterson is quoted in
the statement. “We want them to live again, not only as museum pieces but as
part of Uganda’s public culture.”
The project is one small step in the larger campaign to undo the
legacy of collecting in the colonial era, they argue. Its biggest legacy, the statement said, might be establishing a set of
recommendations that will guide future repatriation efforts, including research
and provenance, exhibition, storage, training, and programming. The idea is to
create a sustainable model that other African museums might adopt.
In early 2023, the
team led by Prof Peterson will begin research and exhibit design, with the
exhibit opening later that year. In 2024 a conference will invite scholars and
museum curators from Uganda, surrounding countries, and the University of Michigan to
reflect on the exhibit and project. Two publications will come from these
efforts, an exhibition catalogue and an open-access white paper on the project
Prof Peterson says
the objects have been dislocated both in space and in time. “Colonial-era
collectors took them out of Ugandans’ hands and made them into specimens of
ethnic identity. We want to put them back into the hands of the people who made
them meaningful, to open up dialogues about the onward course of families,
clans, and professions,” he is quoted in the statement.
In 1961, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology returned a
set of sacred artifacts to the Uganda Museum. “That repatriation was a success—in the sense that the heritage has
been on public display in Kampala ever since,” said Professor Nicholas
Thomas, the director of the museum.
“But we have been far too slow in following up that initiative. The Mellon Foundation’s support will
engagement with the Uganda Museum, and will involve both rich academic
dialogue, and the return of heritage of exceptional significance.”
Rose Mwanja Nkaale, Uganda’s
commissioner for museums and monuments said Uganda is looking forward to this
grant, the first of its kind towards repatriation of artifacts. Bringing these
items back—and attracting those from around the diaspora to see them on the continent—will
also, help people come to terms with their own collective memory, celebrate
their rich histories and identities, and be able to pass this on to future
generations,” she is quoted in the statement.