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Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology



Kampala, Thursday 13 June 2024


On the afternoon of Saturday 8 June, MAA staff arrived in Entebbe airport with 39 artefacts from the communities and kingdoms of Uganda that have been in the collections in Cambridge for a century or more. These artefacts have been placed in the care of the Uganda Museum on a long-term loan, where they will be the focus of a programme of research and consultation, and a major exhibition in 2025.


The programme is part of the Repositioning the Uganda Museum project, generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and led by Professor Derek Peterson at the University of Michigan.


The artefacts returning to Kampala were chosen by colleagues from the Uganda Museum following a research visit to Cambridge in November 2022. They were selected to highlight diverse aspects of Ugandan history, and to be representative of different communities: Kingdoms and peoples represented in the collection include Acholi, Ankole, Baganda, Bahima, Bakedi, Banyoro and Teso.


The artefacts were acquired in various ways, through confiscation, conversion, theft, gift and purchase. Most of the items returning to Uganda were brought by the Anglican missionary Reverend John Roscoe. But several were donated to the Museum by Apolo Kaggwa, Katikiro (Prime Minister) of the Kingdom of Buganda. Other donors include British colonial officials Sir Harry Hamilton Johnston, Ernest Balfour Haddon, Frank Rogers, and John Gilbert Rubie, and Anglican Missionary Arthur Bryan Fisher.


The artefacts are returning, in the first instance, on loan to the Uganda Museum, to support the development of a more equitable future for the collection. We look forward to supporting the work of the Uganda Museum and partners to research the histories and contemporary significance of these objects, and to inform decisions about their future care. Full descriptions, details of provenance and context, and additional images may be accessed for each artefact via the MAA Online Catalogue.


We look forward to sharing further updates as the programme develops.

The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) is set to return to Uganda historic artefacts from Cambridge to the Uganda Museum in Kampala. 

The project, 'Repositioning the Uganda Museum', will research collections and select several dozen artefacts, to pilot repatriation from the Cambridge collections, was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 

Objects from the Roscoe collection at MAA Cambridge: Royal drum (l), Buganda, Uganda, ROS 1920.316; Black glazed earthenware milk pot (r), Buganda, Uganda, ROS 1920.127. Collected and donated by Rev. John Roscoe.

With University of Michigan Professor Derek Peterson (History, Afroamerican & African Studies) serving as principal investigator for the project and working with colleagues from both MAA and the Uganda Museum, East Africa's oldest museum, MAA objects have been selected and relocated. MAA staff are now working to support their physical transfer to the Uganda Museum. 

“We want to put these objects back into the hands of people who made them meaningful… we want them to live again, not only as museum pieces but as part of Uganda’s public culture,” said Peterson.

"Uganda is looking forward to this grant, the first of its kind towards restitution," said Rose Mwanja Nkaale, Uganda's commissioner for museums and monuments.

"Bringing these items back - and attracting those from around the diaspora to see them on the continent - will also help people come to terms with their own collective memory, celebrate their rich histories and identities, and be able to pass this on to future generations."

MAA is fully aware of the significance of the Roscoe collection and other material from Uganda, and are fully supportive of the initiative to return material to the Uganda Museum, which would build on our direct contacts with Uganda Museum staff over recent years.

Musical instrument. Bagesu people. Uganda. Collected and donated by Rev. John Roscoe. ROS.1920.239

Professor Nicholas Thomas FBA, Director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, said: 

"The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge returned sacred artefacts to the Uganda Museum in 1961. That repatriation was a success - in the sense that the heritage has been on public display in Kampala ever since. But we have been far too slow, in following up that initiative. The Mellon Foundation's support will empower fresh engagement with the Uganda Museum, and will involve both rich academic dialogue, and the return of heritage of exceptional significance. This carefully-conceived programme will provide a model for similar initiatives elsewhere in Africa, and indeed elsewhere in the world."

In parallel with MAA’s Stores Move project, which is photographing and inventorying artefacts from Africa and elsewhere prior to their rehousing in a new facility, Dr Mark Elliott is leading a project to research the provenances of African artefacts in the MAA collections, with support from the Cambridge Humanities Research Grant Scheme.

Rulers and Prime Ministers of Ankole, Buganda, Toro and Bunyoro. Ankole, 1908. MAA LS.139245.TC1 

The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has long been highly-regarded as a research-oriented, critical and question-raising institution. MAA has, in particular, a distinguished record of close collaboration and fertile research and curatorial partnerships with local and indigenous students, scholars, curators, artists and community delegates and representatives. Over the last twenty years, Museum staff have worked extensively with Maori, Torres Strait Islanders, Aboriginal Australians, Fijians, Adivasi communities in India, Sami, Blackfoot and Mongolians, among other groups. 

Over 2012-13 we hosted an immensely rewarding year-long programme funded by the Leverhulme Trust, in collaboration with the University's Centre for African Studies, which brought visiting fellows from the Sudan, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa to MAA for the year and culminated in workshops at several institutions in Ghana. Members of the Museum team have more recently been closely involved in the work of the Benin Dialogue Group, towards the return of collections looted in 1897 to a major new museum in development in Edo State, Nigeria. A statement on our approach to the return of Benin bronzes can be found here. 

Two million years of human history. One million artefacts. Countless astonishing stories.