After months of negotiation, 13 stolen Ethiopian artifacts have finally been returned home. The collection includes a ceremonial crown, imperial shield, a set of silver-embossed horn drinking cups, a handwritten prayer book, crosses, and a necklace.
Most of the artifacts were seized by British forces in 1868 during the Battle of Maqdala. Teferi Meles, Ethiopia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom (U.K.) stated that “there are many artifacts that were looted from Maqdala… We couldn’t manage to bring back all of them, but this is the first time in the country’s history to bring back looted artifacts in this quantity.” Officials say that this is the largest act of restitution in Ethiopia’s history, according to Reuters.
The artifacts have largely been held in private collections since they were taken from Ethiopia. In June, a private seller who descended from a British soldier who fought in Maqdala put them up for auction. A private nonprofit group, the Scheherazade Foundation, purchased the collection to turn them over to the Ethiopian government. The items were handed over to the Ethiopian ambassador to the United Kingdom in a ceremony in September. The artifacts arrived in Addis Ababa and will go on display in the National Museum or be offered to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
The Ethiopian government is still negotiating with Britain regarding the return of other stolen artifacts including sacred wooden and stone tablets, replicas of the Ark of the Covenant, and which represent the remains of Prince Alemayehu according to Global Times. Ethiopia’s government desires all Maqdala artifacts which are currently being held in the U.K. to be returned. In recent years, several European nations, including the U.K., have come under fire for refusing to return stolen artifacts, many citing legislation that bans them from returning the collections. Some, however, are slowly cooperating and coordinating the return of important cultural artifacts. For example, in early November, almost 30 royal treasures were returned to Benin after they were seized during France’s rule over 130 years ago.
According to Ethiopia’s tourism minister, Nasise Challa, “Our country’s ancient civilization’s history, artifacts, fingerprints of indigenous knowledge, culture… have been looted in war and smuggled out illegally.” It is imperative that artifacts that were stolen not only from Ethiopia, but any nation colonized by a foreign power, are returned to their home country. The international community must put pressure on the nations holding stolen items. They must be returned to their rightful homes because, as Teferi Meles stated, “if there is no treasure, it means there is no history; if there is no history, there is no nation.”
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