The Return of the Sacred Stones of the Ovambo Kingdoms: Restitution and the Revision of the Past

Jeremy Silvester, Napandulwe Shiweda


The discourse of restitution often takes place within the framework of the `ethics of collecting’ with a focus on the return of objects obtained violently, but this has restricted the debate.  The case study of the return of two sacred stones from Finland to Namibia reflects on the cultural impact of their return. Largely Christianised communities re-encountered objects that were sacred and central to earlier belief systems.  We argue that the role of the sacred stones changed over time, before they went into exile, in a way that challenges any assumption of stasis that might be assumed when deploying the concept of `tradition’.   The return of the two stones provoked renewed interest in pre-Christian rituals, but also related to efforts to strengthen the position of `traditional authorities’ in relation to the democratic system of governance in Namibia.  The ripples of restitution illustrate the wider importance of the return of cultural artifacts to stimulating contemporary cultural and political debate.


Namibia, Ovambo, Finland, Museums, Restitution

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Copyright (c) 2020 Jeremy Silvester

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

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