Busby withdraws looted Ethiopian artefacts from auction

16 Jun 2021

Embassy to make arrangements for the items to be returned to Ethiopia

Following discussions with the management of Busby Auctioneers and Valuers, an agreement has been reached, today, on the withdrawal of two Ethiopian artefacts that were due to go to auction on 17th June 2021.

The two items – an Ethiopian bible on vellum housed in a sewn leather satchel, together with an Ethiopian cross; and a set of graduated horn beakers – are from the estate of Major-General William Arbuthnot, a serving member of the late 19th-century expedition to Abyssinia, which culminated in the battle of Maqdala.

Ethiopian bible on vellum housed in a sewn leather satchel

On 9th June 2021, in line with the Government’s longstanding position on the return of looted artefacts from Maqdala, the Embassy made a formal request to Busby Auctioneers and Valuers for the withdrawal of the items from auction with a view to facilitating their eventual repatriation to Ethiopia.

Deputy Head of Mission, Mr. Beyene Gebremeskel said:

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement with Busby. These items are of immense cultural, spiritual, and historical value to Ethiopians. Current and future generations of Ethiopians are deserving of the restitution of their cultural heritage, so we very much look forward to returning these precious items to Ethiopia in due course.”

The Embassy will remain in dialogue with Busby Auctioneers and Valuers on arrangements for the return of the items to their rightful home in Ethiopia.

—ENDS—

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 Maqdala 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 more than 20 separate 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 Magdala 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.

For further information, please contact the Press Office at press@ethioembassy.org.uk

 

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