Mike Pflanz in Mombasa STATUES sacred to secretive Kenyan tribes are no longer being erected to mark the deaths of revered elders because corrupt middlemen contracted by Western art dealers are stealing them as soon as they are installed.
Hundreds of "vigango" totems have been looted from rural homesteads near Kenya's coast, home to the Mijikenda tribes about which little is known.
The 4ft wooden statues, carved with triangular etchings and believed to incarnate the spirits of dead elders, are shipped via dealers living in luxury beachside villas to private collectors in the United States and Europe.
The thefts are being carried out by poor youths who fall prey to the fat wallets and smooth talking of traders operating for overseas collectors who feed the huge demand for "ethnic" African art, researchers say.
They fetch ?250-?700. in Kenya, but studies have found them valued at up to ?1,300 in American museum catalogues.
Anxious villagers who spend up to twice Kenya's average per capital annual income on statues for dead relatives talk of ill fortune and angry spirits who visit after the relics are removed.
Kache Kalume Mwakiru, an 86-year-old widow living near Mombasa, said two vigango erected by her husband to commemorate his two brothers were stolen. Her husband died soon afterwards, which Mrs Mwakiru also attributes to the theft of the statues.
"They have destroyed our happiness, our progress and my family. They are murderers," she said. (©Daily Telegraph, London)