Kenyan Islamic scholar appeals for return of artefacts

Lamu- Kenya (PANA) -- A top Islamic scholar has launched an appeal to US and German governments over valuable art objects which he said were taken out of Kenya to those countries decades ago.
Ghafour El Busaidy of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SPUKEM) said that an economic depression that hit the Kenyan coast in the 1950s forced many people to sell their valuable art collections in order to survive.
"We are talking of precious ornaments, religious books and similar items.
These are items that cannot be easily replaced and I am appealing to America and Germany to help us recover them," Busaidy said during a cultural festival.
Busaidy made the appeal in the presence of US deputy chief of mission William Brencick who was attending the festival.
Lamu Town was listed by UNESCO as a world heritage centre for its efforts to preserve culture.
Lamu Museum curator Joseph Cheruiyot said that by the listing, Lamu has joined an elite group of only two other such sites in Africa.
Parts of Lamu town are national monuments and nobody can do any renovations on a house without the authority of the National Museums of Kenya.
With its narrow streets, Lamu is one of the leading tourist attractions in Kenya.
It is a historical town founded around 1350 by Persian and Arab sailors.
It has a rich Islamic culture and is credited with being the cradle of the Kiswahili language, widely spoken in East Africa and the Great Lakes states.
Local citizens pool resources to host a cultural weekend each year.
Featuring dances, donkey racing, dhow racing and swimming competition, the cultural event draws hundreds of visitors to the town, 900 km south of Nairobi.
Lamu Cultural Promotion Group patron Najib Balala said they were out to preserve culture and hoped the event would be enlarged with the Kenyan government's support.
"We are very happy and we hope that in a society where traditional values are fast discarded, the event will serve to teach the youth about their past so that they can hold on to it," Balala, who is also the chairman of the local district chapter of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said.
This year's event was marked with pomp and pageantry as the normally quiet town came to life with lively activities sponsored by German and US embassies.
Brencick pledged his government's continued support for the event, saying it offered the best opportunity for partnership between his country and the people of the Coast.
The diplomat showered praises on Islam, saying it had greatly influenced the American way of life as one of the fastest growing religions in that country.
It was perhaps befitting that Americans were fully involved in the Lamu event.
After the deadly 1998 attack on the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed more than 245 Kenyans and Americans and injured thousands, investigations concentrated mostly on the Coast where there is a strong Muslim presence.
As a result, many people were arrested, giving rise to anti-US feelings among the population.
To many observers, the US involvement at the Lamu festival was part of a deliberate fence mending exercise on the part of Washington.

28 Agosto 2002 16:55:00




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