TRIBAL leaders from East Africa have been visiting Oxford to advise museum curators on how they can best represent their culture.

Living Cultures is an ongoing collaboration between the Pitt Rivers Museum, InsightShare and Maasai partners, working together to ‘decolonise cultural spaces’, including the museum displays in the Parks Road museum.

A spokeswoman for the Pitt Rivers said: “Following their last visit in 2018, seven Maasai representatives from Kenya and Tanzania have been visiting Oxford to continue the dialogue and give spiritual guidance."

Following a fortnight in the city the delegation has now returned to Africa.

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The visit follows the delegation in 2018 when five members of the Maasai tribe met curators.

Oxford Mail:

The initiative follows concerns by members of the tribe that their culture was not being sufficiently respected in the way artefacts were displayed.

In November 2017 and 2018, Maasai delegates visited the museum to discuss care of objects, following their statement that they were concerned and ‘annoyed, annoyed, annoyed' about the objects’ presence in the museum, framing Maasai culture as dead.

However, Maasai groups in Kenya and Tanzania are actively resisting the erosion of their land and culture.

Last year, with support from the Staples Trust, consultations were held within the Maasai community across Tanzania and Kenya through video screenings and discussions with elders.

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Through the use of radio and other media, 70 per cent of the Maasai community is being notified, helping to strengthen relationships across borders and ensuring different views on ways forward are taken into account.

A museum spokeswoman added: “A new regional network has emerged, the Pan-African Living Cultures Alliance, enabling more communities to document, by use of participatory video, their knowledge systems, cultural systems, crafts, languages and traditional technologies.”

The visit this month brought one of the largest cross-national delegations of Maasai leaders to the UK, and is a continuation of the last visit, leading on to the next steps of the conversation and allowing for ceremonial and spiritual guidance by the elders.

Oxford Mail:

More museums are joining the conversation, expanding the scope of this project, and the fortnight-long visit also featured a trip to the Horniman Museum, London and the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology in Cambridge.

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The spokeswoman added: “By working together to reimagine these museums as spaces in which reconciliation might be able to come about, we believe that anthropology museums, like anthropology itself, can become anti-racist projects and sites of conscience.”

Increasingly, museums and colleges are agreeing to requests for artefacts to be repatriated.

University museums are bowing to requests for the repatriation of overseas relics amid pressure from students to redress perceived historical injustices.

Requests from indigenous groups for items ranging from feathered headdresses to human skulls are being agreed in the majority of cases.

According to documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation only one in seven requests made since 2009 to institutions linked to Oxford University have been denied.

Oxford Mail:

Arts Council England is embarking on a project to update its advice to museums and galleries on how to deal with the repatriation of artefacts that are suspected of being looted during the colonial era.

It said that given the increasing focus on the subject its last guidance, from 2000, was ‘very out of date’.

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According to documents seen by The Times, about 85 per cent of requests for the correction of 'past wrongs' in the past five years were accepted by universities.

In September Hawaii wrote to Oxford University requesting the return of funeral heirlooms from the Pitt Rivers Museum, which it says were stolen by crewmen on board HMS Blonde in 1825. This request is still being considered.