Artefacts looted in Maqdala in 1868 to be returned to Ethiopia

9 Sep 2021

Embassy’s collaboration with The Scheherazade Foundation yields largest single restitution of Maqdala-era artefacts in Ethiopian history

A collection of Ethiopian artefacts that were looted by British soldiers during the Battle of Maqdala in 1868 are set to be returned to Ethiopia following a poignant handover ceremony at the prestigious Athenaeum Club in London on 8th September 2021.

The objects, which include a handwritten Ethiopian religious text, crosses, an Imperial shield, a set of beakers, an icon, a magical scroll, among others, were procured by the Scheherazade Foundation through a Dorset-based auction house and private dealers in mainland Europe.

The handover ceremony is the direct result of the Ethiopian Government’s longstanding position on the return of looted artefacts from Maqdala, most of which are housed in British museums.

Receiving the items on behalf of the people and Government of Ethiopia, Ambassador Teferi Melesse Desta thanked the Foundation for their work in acquiring the precious items and called upon all holders of looted items to return them to their rightful home in Ethiopia. “To honour the memory of Maqdala, I once again renew the calls made by countless Ethiopians before me for museums, collectors and holders of Maqdala heritage to return [these items]… It is my hope that in the Maqdala returns to come, the relations between our two nations and people can deepen and grow from strength to strength.”

Mr Tahir Shah, CEO of The Scheherazade Foundation on his part, said the aim of the handover was to heal old wounds: “As someone who’s written a book and made a Channel 4 film about Ethiopian history, I know what the return of objects looted by Britain’s colonial force means to the people of Ethiopia.”

Dr Alula Pankhurst, member of Ethiopia’s National Heritage Restitution Committee said, “Yesterday’s treasure trove of returned looted artefacts is the single most significant heritage restitution in Ethiopia’s history and is almost equivalent in number to all the private collection returns since the battle of Maqdala in 1868. It is my hope and determination that this will pave the way for further restitution initiatives; especially at a time when retaining artefacts, notably human remains such as those of Prince Alemayehu in Windsor Chapel or sacred objects such as a the holy Tabot Arks of the Covenant in the British Museum is becoming increasingly anachronistic, irrelevant and embarrassing.”

The Embassy will now make arrangements for the items to be returned to Ethiopia.

—ENDS—

The Ambassador’s remarks are available on request. For further information, please contact the Press Office at press@ethioembassy.org.uk.

Video coverage of the handover ceremony will be available on our YouTube page soon: www.youtube.com/EthioEmbassyUK 

Background:  

In the aftermath of the battle of Maqdala in 1868, it is a well-established fact that British soldiers engaged in indiscriminate looting of both the Fortress of Magdala and the surrounding areas, making off with innumerable objects of immense value to Ethiopians. Although many of these illegally obtained items are currently housed in public museums across the globe, some remain in private collections across the United Kingdom.

Since 1868, the Ethiopian authorities have consistently called for the return of all Maqdala loot back to Ethiopia. In that time, there have been a number of occasions when collectors have returned items to Ethiopia following requests for their repatriation.

Today, the Government of Ethiopia’s position remains unequivocally clear – the looting of Maqdala was a great injustice of the 19th century and persists as a scar on the, otherwise, warm and friendly relations between the peoples of Ethiopia and the United Kingdom. It is our belief that all Maqdala objects must find their way home to bring closure to generations of Ethiopians dispossessed of their heritage and aggrieved by this painful chapter in our shared history.

About The Scheherazade Foundation:

The Scheherazade Foundation is a private charity that was established to bridge cultures, to address critical imbalances within society, and to relearn ancient patterns of thinking.

The mission of The Scheherazade Foundation is to work behind the scenes to effect change in a mainstream way in three key areas. This change will in turn enable healing to occur, and collaborative progress to be made for a far more balanced and inclusive world future. The Scheherazade Foundation is concerned with three inter-connected objectives: Bridging Cultures, Empowering Women and Teaching Through Stories.

For further information, please contact Info@SF.Charity

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