Ethiopia on Saturday celebrated the return to its soil of a series of ancient treasures looted in the 19th century by British soldiers and recently returned from the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands after a long diplomatic campaign to obtain their return .
The collection includes a ceremonial crown, an imperial shield, a set of silver horn cups, a handwritten prayer book and various jewelry.
Most of the returned coins had been looted by the British Army during its victory over the Abyssinian Emperor Tewodros II at the Battle of Magdala in 1868.
The treasures were unveiled to the press at the National Museum in Addis Ababa, two months after being officially handed over to Ethiopian authorities in London in September.
The handing over of these objects – the most important restitution ever made for the benefit of Ethiopia – has “enormous significance”, said Ethiopian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Teferi Melesse.
Ethiopia continues to demand from London the return of many other items, including that of sacred tablets of stone and wood depicting an Ark of the Covenant – the chest which, according to the Bible, contained the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The tablets are kept at the British Museum in London, which has never exhibited them to the public.
Addis Ababa is also demanding the return of the remains of Tewodros’ son, Prince Alemayehu, who was taken to England after his father’s suicide following his defeat on the battlefield.
“A whole series of objects, which are an integral part of the heritage of our culture and our values, were looted and illegally taken out of the country after this battle,” said Ethiopian Minister of Tourism Nasise Challi.
“Countless of these objects are today in various museums, in research centers and even in the hands of individuals,” she added, calling for their return to Ethiopia.
Several of the objects on display at the Addis Ababa National Museum on Saturday were due to be auctioned off but were bought by the Scheherazade Philanthropic Foundation with the aim of being returned to Ethiopia. Other objects were acquired from individuals, collectors, dealers or investors. Among them, a set of medieval manuscripts that were to be auctioned in The Hague.
Ethiopia is also in negotiations for the return of a bible and a cross which should be the subject of an auction in the United States.
At the beginning of November, another African country looted by another colonial power, Benin recovered around thirty works of art which were the subject of an official return by France, which had taken these objects from the kingdom of Abomey at the end of the 19th century.
“All these restitutions take place in the global context of the questioning of the role of museums in the representation of colonial histories and of the legitimacy to exhibit objects thus looted”, underlined the Ethiopian National Committee for the Restitution of the Legacy during the presentation. returned items.