Germany Returns Centuries-Old Masks to Colombia
Germany Returns Ancient Indigenous Masks to Colombia
A significant cultural restitution unfolded as a German museum, the Ethnological Museum of Berlin, handed back two invaluable sun masks to Colombia. Belonging to the Indigenous Kogi people, these wooden artefacts are believed to date back to the 15th century and play a crucial role in Indigenous rituals.
The masks, known as "Sun Mask" (Mama Uakai) and "Great Sun Mask" (Mama Nuikukui Uaka), were acquired by ethnologist Konrad Theodor Preuss during his 1915 trip to Colombia. Among the 700 objects he collected, these masks were estimated by scholars to be around six centuries old. Used in temple dances and chants, they held deep significance for the Kogi mountain people, with only traditional priests, known as "mamo," allowed to handle them.
The return of these sacred masks marks the culmination of years of discussions between Berlin's museum authority and Colombia. The official request for repatriation came from Colombia last year, leading to the handover during a visit to Berlin by Colombian President Gustavo Petro, alongside German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Steinmeier acknowledged the sacred nature of the masks for the Kogi people and highlighted the importance of the restitution in reshaping how countries deal with their colonial past. He expressed Germany's commitment to leading this transformative process.
President Petro celebrated the return of the "magic masks" and expressed hope for the recovery of more culturally significant pieces. This restitution aligns with global efforts to address historical injustices and reconcile with artifacts acquired during colonial times.
Notably, this event follows the signing of an accord between Germany and Nigeria last year, facilitating the return of the Benin Bronzes, artifacts taken from Africa during a British colonial expedition over 120 years ago.