Home > Uncategorized > Ethiopia’s artefacts still retained

Ethiopia’s artefacts still retained

The return and re-erection of the 140-ton Aksum obelisk at its old site was one of the wonderful happenings of the Ethiopia’s new Millennium. It gave many of us reason to be joyful. The news touched a chord beyond the home front as it was seen as precedent for the restitution of other artefacts looted during the colonial era from many parts of Africa and elsewhere. An article by Professor Richard Pankhurst appearing on the November 2008 print edition of New African magazine questions if the “democracy-loving” former colonial masters are keeping their promises. An interesting article from a man who himself is intimately involved in the repatriation movement.

Here is extract of the article.

“For Ethiopia too the obelisk’s return could set a notable precedent-for it suffered from extensive looting by the British expedition to Magadala of 1867-8, and many demands for repatriation have been made by the pressure group AFROMET-the Association for the return of Magdala  Ethiopian Treasures, chaired by the president of the Addis Ababa University, Professor Andreas Eshete. Prominent among the loot taken from Magdala were two crowns, one of solid gold, the other of gilt silver, which were deposited in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The loot from Magdala also includes a dozen tabots, or altar stabs, currently in the possession of the British museum. These artifacts, which are said to represent the Ark of the Covenant, can, according to Ethiopian tradition, be seen only by the country’s Orthodox priesthood. The British museum, in deference to this rule, has locked them up, not allowing any lay person to inspect them, and has somewhat naively offered to lend them to one or other Ethiopian church in London, with the vindictive proviso that they must not be allowed back to Ethiopia. Why this senseless insistence, we would ask?


Perhaps the most important Ethiopian loot is, however, stashed I the British Library, which holds some 400 Ethiopian manuscripts, many of them beautifully illustrated, dating from the 15th century to the late 19th century. They cover a wide range of subjects from biblical texts to historical chronicle and works of medicine and magic. Several texts contain valuable marginalia, recording loyal land grants, marriage settlements, church inventories, and the like.  The looting of these manuscripts has thus been likened to Ethiop’s loss, on a single day, of both its national library and its national archives.

Though their return of the obelisk set a precedent for wider repatriation of Ethiopia’s cultural heritage. They still retain perhaps the most important section of Ethiopia’s pre-war “Ministry of the Pen”, or National Archives, containing important historical correspondence between the rulers of Ethiopia and Italy.

The Italians, moreover, have still to return Haile Selassie’s pre-war aeroplane Tsehai, named after his beloved daughter. Constructed in 1935, and one of the first aircraft ever built in Africa, it demonstrates pre-war Ethiopia’s ambition to modernise, but is currently retained In the Italian Aviation Museum, but envisaged –by the planner Jacques Dubois-  as part of the decoration of Addis’s Ababa’s new international airport.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Sisay
    November 20, 2008 at 5:22 am

    The Italians and the British might have looted the artfeacts by force.But we have shmelessly given Lucy to the americans by choice.Why the need for the foul cry?

  2. Sin
    November 20, 2008 at 8:20 am

    What do you mean by “we”?
    the poeoples of ethiopia were not involved nor Prof. Raichard pankurst were involved in sending Lucy to American museusm.It was woyane balesltans who were resonpisble for it

  3. Sin
    November 20, 2008 at 8:29 am

    Long live Professor Richard Pankhurst! You are more Ethiopian than many wos uf who claim to be!

  4. Abush
    November 20, 2008 at 8:48 am

    Sisay, our precious treasure ‘Lucy’ has never been and we’ll never be given to any country. Lucy is promoting our country around the world in a positive way. And I believe it’s time to engage our resources to promote our country and gain monetary reward in return. There are a bunch of people in the US who can’t afford to travel to Ethiopia to see Lucy, therefore this opportunity would give them a chance to see the wonder from Ethiopia with less expense. I live around Seattle in the U.S and I know that there is an exhibition going around in the next few days there and believe me brother ‘Lucy’ is doing a good job for Ethiopia!
    Read this to get more info on this subject:


  5. Sin
    November 24, 2008 at 9:54 am

    By Andrew Johnson
    Ethiopia is demanding that Britain’s museums return some of its most significant religious treasures. President Girma Wolde-Giorgis has personally intervened in a dispute to get the artefacts, including the Ethiopian royal crown, returned home 140 years after they were “looted” by marauding British troops.

    The President has written to the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Library and Cambridge University Library seeking the restitution of more than 400 so-called “treasures of Magdala”, which were stolen by British soldiers following a battle in 1868.

    In the letter, obtained by The Independent on Sunday, the President wrote: “I must state that Ethiopians have long grieved at the loss of this part of their national heritage. Ethiopians feel that this act of appropriation had no justification in international law. I feel, therefore, that the time has come for the return of Ethiopia’s looted treasures.”

    Among the items being held in the UK is an 18-carat gold crown and more than 300 priceless manuscripts, including Christian scriptures. Experts say the issue is particularly sensitive for Ethiopians because many of the artefacts hold deep religious significance for them. These include nine tabots, or sacred wooden altar slabs, which are recognised as so holy that the British Museum has pledged never to display them. When a tabot was returned in 2005 after being discovered in the back of an Edinburgh church, thousands of people turned out to greet its return in Addis Ababa.

    The objects were among those seized by British soldiers after the storming of the Fortress of Magdala in 1868, a punitive expedition that followed the kidnap of several Britons. Emperor Tewodros committed suicide after the battle. According to contemporary accounts, British soldiers slaughtered hundreds of poorly armed Ethiopians after the battle, and then “jostled each other” to grab a piece of the emperor’s blood-stained shirt, which they tore from his body. They also looted the citadel and a nearby church, carrying off treasures that included “an infinite variety of gold, and silver and brass crosses”, as well as “heaps of parchment royally illuminated”.

    British museums have in the past resisted calls for artefacts from their collections to be returned to their countries of origin, but it is understood that Neil MacGregor of the British Museum and Mark Jones of the V&A have already met the Ethiopian ambassador to discuss the matter.

    Museums often argue in restitution cases that the artefacts are better off in Britain because anyone in the world can view them, and the V&A is known to have asked Addis Ababa whether the silver crown of Emperor Tewodros, which it returned to Ethiopia in 1925, is available for public view.

    The V&A said yesterday that discussions were still ongoing, even though the President’s letter was sent in February this year. The four organisations involved have also held meetings over the way forward.

    The Magdala treasure differs to other restitution cases, such as that of the Elgin Marbles, because it is acknowledged that the treasures were simply stolen. “It was straightforward looting,” a spokeswoman at the Ethiopian embassy in London said.

    A spokeswoman for Afromet, an organisation that has campaigned for the restitutions of the items, said: “These museums hold most of Ethiopia’s heritage. It means far more to Ethiopians than it could ever do to anyone else.”

    The Independent

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