October 28, 2005

Ethiopia recovers more looted artefacts

Posted at 4:42 pm in Similar cases

An announcement was made earlier this week, that Ethiopia has reached an agreement for the tenth major artefact to be returned to the country since 2001. Ethiopia’s success in securing the restitution of such items is giving hope to many other African countries that have lost important pieces of the heritage, such as the Benin Bronzes & the Ashanti Gold.

Angola Press

Luanda – Friday, October 28, 2005 – 4:13:21 PM
Ethiopia slowly recovers plundered artefacts

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 10/26 – A 16th century soldier`s helmet stolen from Ethiopia by invading British troops nearly 140 years ago will be returned to the country on Saturday, official sources confirmed here Wednesday.

This will be the 10th major piece of plunder that has been handed back to Ethiopia since 2001 when a Scottish priest returned a sacred Tabot (or holy altar slab), also taken in the Battle of Magdala in 1868.

The helmet will be officially handed over at the museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies of Addis Ababa University on 29 October 2005.

Ethiopian campaigners said they believed the trickle of returns, which started after the formation of AFROMET –the Association for the Return of the Magdala Ethiopian Treasures – was opening a real monument of returns of more artefacts that were looted from the country.

They called on organisers of other campaigns for the return of items taken during Britain`s Empire years from Nigeria, Ghana, China, New Zealand, India and other countries to copy their successful tactics.

The ancient Portuguese helmet is being returned by Richard Snailham, President of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society in London, who had the artefact in his private collection after acquiring it from a descendant of one of the Magdala campaign`s officers.

Portuguese troops left the helmet in Ethiopia some time between the 16th and 17th centuries when they supported the Ethiopian monarchy against enemies and rebels.

It was last seen in Emperor Tewodros` treasury before UK soldiers stripped it bare.

Since 2001, individuals have handed back all of the returned items back.

Institutions like the British Museum and the British Library still hold hundreds of priceless manuscripts, crowns and other items looted during the British storming of Emperor Tewodros` mountain fortress of Magdala following a diplomatic dispute.

AFROMET has urged other plunder campaigns to copy its “people power” tactics and make their appeals directly to the British people.

“Institutions like the British Museum have so far turned a deaf ear to our appeals and the appeals of other campaigns for Nigeria`s Benin bronzes or Ghana`s Ashanti gold,” said Richard Pankhurst, vice-chair of AFROMET in Addis Ababa.

“But private individuals, many of whom inherited individual pieces of plunder from their ancestors have been much more receptive.

“Each return seems to inspire someone else to check in their attic and find a missing piece of Ethiopia`s national treasure. The whole process has a cumulative effect.

“We believe it is easy for individuals to see the justice of our cause. Only when individuals start returning stolen items in significant numbers will the museums and national libraries of the world be shamed into following suit.”

Ten items from the Magdala plunder have been returned to Ethiopia since 2001. These are: Tabot from the Rev John McLuckie, St John`s Episcopal Church, Edinburgh; Manuscript from anonymous donor in Edinburgh inspired by Tabot return; Emperor Tewodros` amulet by an anonymous donor.

Others are Tabot bought in Maggs book-dealers by Ian MacLennon; Illuminated manuscript by Ian MacLennon; Book of Psalms by Andrew Heavens and Amber Henshaw; Shield from Fiona Wilson, academic in Denmark; Torn manuscript pages by UK lawyer; Sword from Tony Watts of Bapty Limited; and Helmet by Richard Snailham.

A handful of other items were returned between the turn of the century and the 1970s before any active campaigning was taking place.

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