That Chic Maselinah

Man-Eaters of Tsavo

Should the stolen artifacts from Kenya be brought back?

The battle to get Artifacts from the Western world stolen from Africa is becoming melodramatic. Many African governments have been asking Europe to bring back the artifacts stolen during the colonial and slavery times, but these requests have been ignored or purely rejected. Like the French who have literally refused to grant any request because their law states “any public French art collections belong to the state and cannot be given back,” Even when these said art was stolen. This is the convenient barrier that has prevented many African countries from getting their artifacts back.

We come back home to Kenya. Like any other colonized country in Africa, we have so many artifacts that were stolen from us and now reside in England, others in Berlin, Germany and a few others scattered in Europe and America. But this article is specifically to discuss two historical treasures, taken from Tsavo and sold to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

It’s Sunday afternoon, I am at a party. As I indulge myself in the chicken and Chapatis, my phone rings. I get the phone out of my pocket and look at the screen. It’s my friend Wamzy.

“What’s up girl?”

“Hey Maselinah, how are you?”

“I’m good, thanks girl. How are you?”

“I am also fine.”


“I wanted to ask if you guys are back in the office and if you are busy this week.”

“Well, we are still working from home, the work has not yet picked up.”

“Awesome! So do you think you can spare me 3 hours every day for the next three days?”

“I think I can do that.”

“Thank you. I will text you the details and where we can meet tomorrow at noon.”


“See you soon. Bye.”

That is how I find myself at the University of Nairobi on a Monday at noon asking random students and staff members about the famous ‘Man-eaters of Tsavo.’ If you are not familiar with that word, I will give you the background story.

In March 1898, the British had started the construction of a railway line that would link Kilindini harbor and the Lake Vitoria. A railway bridge over Tsavo River was part of the project. This is where drama unfolds. The Indians (who had been brought by the colonialist to do the construction work, since few Africans knew the job) and a few Africans started falling victim to the local lion preying. Instead of hunting their normal prey, these lions from the Tsavo region were attacking and eating the construction workers. They would attack, kill and eat everything. Not a single drop of blood or a strand of hair remained. This became such a big problem that the construction had to stop. The Indians and Africans refused to continue with the work until the lion problem was sorted. Enters Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson.

He was the Engineer supervising the construction. In his diary, he says he tracked two lions before shooting and killing them. He then sold their remains to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for USD 5,000 (That’s some really good cash) Their remains were dried and stuffed and now they take up residence at the Chicago museum where they bring lots of cash from the tourist attraction.

So for three days our question to the random people we met on the streets of Nairobi was this;

“Do you think these lions should be brought back home to Kenya, or should they remain in Chicago? Explain your answer.”

Off course the opinions varied; one girl asked if we can share with the Chicago museum.

“Because they are two lions, they should return one and keep the other. That way, we both get a share of the history.”

Another guy had a different opinion. He thought that these lions are just history and the current Kenya is in need of basic stuff like food and school fees, “A bunch of dead lions from 1800 are not going to feed Kenyans,” he went ahead to tell us that as far as he was concerned, those carcasses should remain where they are.

One of the professor from the History department in the University of Nairobi gave us a brief history of the artifacts stolen from Kenya. Koitalel Arap Samoe’s head being one of them. His head has been asked for some years now but there is no answer from those who took it. His opinion on the dead lions had me thinking critically. He does want the lions to be returned, but “Are we certain, they won’t be sold back to some western country by a thirsty politician? What if they are brought back and they are left uncared for in the archives. Do we have the resources to protect and take care of these artifacts?” he even mentioned how some beautiful artifacts from the Kitale museum were stolen and no one knows where they went to.

Majority of the people tend to feel that the ‘man-eaters’ are part of our history, therefore, they should be in one of our museums here in Kenya. Even though I tend to agree with the majority, I have some concerns. How many Kenyans do go to these museums to learn their history? Let’s not even go far, most of the people we talked to on the street had no idea of what we were asking about. They had never heard of the ‘man-eaters’ story before. This makes me wonder, why should we bring them back if the people do not know they exist?

The discussion around the Tsavo man-eaters, is one of the story that contribute to the conversation started in the Western Africa about the western countries bringing back the millions of artifacts stolen from Africa during slavery and colonial times. But my concern is, are we ready to receive those artifacts? Are we ready to take care of them the way they have been taken care of in those museums? (Well not all of them, some of those artifacts are in the storage buildings collecting decades of dust). Is the government ready to create income generating projects around those artifacts? Do we just want those artifacts back because we’ve heard they are making some good cash for those foreign governments?

Okay, let’s look critically at both sides of the coin. On one hand, these objects were looted from us, which means they belong to us, and since the colonialist attacked our land and killed our people, the least they can do is to return what they stole. On the other hand, they have kept these objects in good condition, which I tend to think, would not have happened if they were still in Africa.

I am sorry to say that my faith is smaller than a mustard seed. I am afraid that all those artifacts with rich history within them, will come back home and be left in another storage house collecting dust. And if they get lucky, the money collected will be pocked by some money hungry politician. Or, someone else will steal them and sell them back to the highest bidder.

These artifacts are part of our heritage. They have carried enough history to fill a library, but are we as Kenyans ready to bring them back and take care of them the way they should? Are we even interested in our history?

My opinion would be this. Is there a way these objects should remain where they are, but then we share the royalties with those museums?

Let me know what you think.

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That Chic Maselinah