Yet again, the story of what actually happened contradicts the line of the British Museum & Others in the UK that we [were/are] protecting artefacts that would have been [damaged/destroyed] had they been left in their original location.
The British Ripped Up Ethiopian Manuscripts, Claims New Research
Addis Tribune (Addis Ababa)
March 25, 2005
Posted to the web March 25, 2005
WHAT: The unveiling of new research showing how British collectors ruined and defiled a number of holy manuscripts stolen from Ethiopia. Also the display of two pages ripped out of an Ethiopian book by invading British soldiers that have just been returned to Ethiopia
WHERE: The Institute of Ethiopian Studies Museum, Addis Ababa University
WHEN: 11am, Thursday March 24th 2005 Campaigners are to unveil new research revealing how British collectors over the years ruined and defiled a number of looted Ethiopian manuscripts in their possession.
AFROMET – the Association for the Return of the Maqdala Ethiopian Treasures – will on Thursday also display two illuminated pages ripped out of a sacred book which was plundered during the British invasion of Ethiopia in 1868. The pages have just been returned to Ethiopia by a prominent member of the British legal profession who feels strongly about the cause of restitution.
Professor Richard Pankhurst, vice chair of AFROMET, will give details of new research that has uncovered evidence of other torn and ripped-out pages in collections across Britain. The research, which is still in its early stages, has already uncovered ruined pages in The National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh, The Bodleian Library in Oxford and Manchester University Library. Professor Pankhurst will be checking the collections of other UK institutions like the British Museum during July and August.
The revelations will undermine the excuse, often used by foreign institutions that hold on to stolen Ethiopian treasure – that looted Ethiopian manuscripts are better looked after in foreign institutions.
The event will take place at 11am on Thursday, March 24th in the Institute of Ethiopian Studies Museum in the grounds of Addis Ababa University. (Journalists are asked to make sure they bring their ID to show at the gate). During the event, Professor Pankhurst will also officially hand over the torn pages to the Institute on behalf of the donor.
Some of the torn, beautifully decorated pages mentioned in Professor Pankhurst’s research were originally part of holy books taken during the battle of Maqdala in 1868. A British-led force invaded Ethiopia to free a number of Europeans imprisoned by Ethiopia’s then Emperor Tewodros (also Theodore) II. The soldiers stormed the Emperor’s mountain fortress at Maqdala (North West of the modern day town of Dessie), freed the captives, and seized a vast amount of plunder including gold crowns, illuminated manuscripts and a number of Tabots (sacred altar slabs that represent the Ark of the Covenant).
The bulk of the plunder is currently held in the British Museum, the Biritsh Library, the Victoria & Albert Museum and a number of other institutions including three British regimental museums, the Royal Library in Windsor Castle and Edinburgh University Library. (A more complete list is available on AFROMET’s website – www.afromet.org.)
It is believed that some of the illuminated pages were ripped out on the spot by soldiers who wanted to smuggle treasures out of the country. The great uncle of the donor who returned the two pages to be displayed on Sunday, was an officer in the expedition. Others could have been ripped out on their arrival in the Britain by dealers and collectors.
The fate of the torn manuscripts is in stark contrast to a number of manuscripts that remained in Ethiopia – or which were returned soon after the campaign. A copy of the KEBRA NEGEST, or Glory of Kings, returned to Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia in the1870, is still preserved to this day in St Raguel’s Church in Addis Ababa. A book of Psalms returned by an Edinburgh donor in 2003 is also in the safe keeping of The Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa.
The torn manuscripts are the latest in a string of artefacts to have suffered after bring taken from their home countries in controversial circumstances. An obelisk taken from the ancient Ethiopian city of Axum by Mussolini’s fascist troops was damaged by lightening in 2002. (Unlike other tall monuments in Rome, the Obelisk was not fitted with a weather vane.) The Elgin Marbles – on display in the British Museum but claimed by Greece – were also damaged by over-enthusiastic cleaning in the 1930s.