November 26, 2008

Ethiopia demands return of looted artefacts by Britain

Posted at 1:37 pm in Similar cases

Ethiopian president Girma Wolde-Giogis has requested of various leading museums in Britain, that they return artefacts that were looted from his country.

Daily Telegraph

Ethiopian president demands return of ‘looted’ treasures held in British museums
By Stephen Adams, Arts Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:25PM GMT 23 Nov 2008

The president of Ethiopia has written to Britain’s leading museums to demand they return treasures he claims were “looted” in the 19th century.

President Girma Wolde-Giogis wants a number of pieces returned including an 18-carat gold royal crown.

Among the other items are more than 300 manuscripts and nine sacred wooden alter slabs, called tabots.

They were taken by British forces after the battle of the Fortress of Magdala in 1868, at the time the centre of the Abyssinian empire.

Hundreds of Abyssinians died in the assault, launched to recapture a number of European hostages.

According to Sir Henry M Stanley – who most famously greeted fellow Victorian explorer David Livingstone in the heart of Africa with the words, “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” – the soldiers plundered “an infinite variety of gold, and silver and brass crosses.”

Most of the booty was sold off shortly after the battle, according to historian Richard Pankhurst, but some made its way into public collections and also that of the Royal family.

The letter, obtained by a Sunday newspaper, was written by the President in February.

It read: “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.”

It is thought that the Ethiopian ambassador has met representatives of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum.

A spokesman for the V&A said: “We have received the letter and we are open to discussing it with the Ethiopian authorities.”

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