Colombia wants sacred indigenous masks back from Berlin museum

1 min read
A demonstration by indigenous Kogi people to a tour group in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia. Credit line: Eman Kazemi / Alamy / Profimedia

Colombia has requested the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation return two masks to the indigenous Kogi people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains in the north of the country.

Credit line: Holzmaske Foto: Martin Franken © Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The foundation said it was in negotiations with the Colombian embassy on repatriating the masks as they have sacred significance for the Kogi indigenous group, who refer to themselves as Kágaba.

The two masks in question were acquired in 1915 by Konrad Theodor Preuss, an ethnologist and curator of the royal museum of ethnology, the predecessor institution of the Berlin Ethnological Museum, which is now part of the foundation.

Preuss collected over 700 objects, of which about 440 are still in the museum, though the artefacts are traditionally inalienable and passed down generationally.

Colombia has asked for the return of the masks, according to Foundation President Hermann Parzinger. He said he hopes to find “a solution that is appropriate for Colombia and the Kogi,” which he plans to present to the foundation’s governing bodies.

Credit: Holzmaske Foto: Claudia Obrocki © Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Ambassador Yadir Salazar-Mejía said the return of the masks to Colombia’s place of origin in the Kogi community is of the utmost importance to its people, and she is confident that the negotiations will be successful. © dpa

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