DENVER (CBS4) – Ancient artifacts that have never been on display but are being stored at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science are now being returned to Kenya.

Thirty statues called vigango are being packed up this week and will be shipped to officials in the African country. The effort follows several years of negotiations.

Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Curator of Anthropology, said the statues have been kept in a back room of the building for decades.

“They came to the museum in 1990 and we don’t know exactly how old they are. They could be a century old or longer,” he said.

The statues have spiritual significance in the region of Africa they originate from. The belief is that a kigango (the singular form of vigango) protects from extreme weather and other calamities.

“They believe that when they erect these an ancestor that has passed on comes to inhabit the actual sculpture itself,” Colwell-Chanthaphonh said.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Historians say the art dealers stole the vigango from Kenya and many wound up in the U.S., and now there’s a nationwide movement to return them.

“Ethically we have a responsibility to return these to the communities,” Colwell-Chanthaphonh said.

The goal of the effort is to help restore a sense of security and trust to villagers in Kenya, but so far it’s unclear what the Kenyans will do with the artifacts.

“It’s hard to trace the exact owners of these artifacts, but what they should probably do is put them up in the museums,” said Joel Onditi, a native Kenyan.

The New York Times reported that the totems were gifts from movie producer Art Linson and actor Gene Hackman. The newspaper reported that it will be up to Kenyan officials to decide if the statues will go on display or if an effort will be made to find the original owners.

There are currently hundreds of vigango at other museums in the United States.

– Written by Jesse Sarles for


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