Africa’s Stolen History

NAIROBI – The news that Yale University has agreed to return thousands of artifacts that one of its researchers took from Peru in 1911 reminded me of a party that I attended recently – one that I had to leave prematurely.

An African friend had invited me to the event, at an acquaintance’s home. The host, a wealthy American, proudly displayed his collection of paintings and sculptures. As he showed us around, there was one object that appeared to be African, but I wasn’t sure; on occasion, I have identified art as African only to learn that it was, in fact, Native American.

The piece was an animal skin stretched and decorated with colored beads, and framed behind glass. The beads were the same kind that my people, the Maasai, use, but the dominant color was blue, not our preferred red.

“Where is that from?” I asked, pointing at the piece on the wall.