Remarks by H.E. Dr Hirut Kassaw on the Occasion of the Official Handover of Locks of Hair Belonging to Emperor Tewodros II
Remarks by H.E. Dr Hirut Kassaw
Minister of Culture, Tourism and Sport
National Army Museum, London
Wednesday, 20 March 2019
Brigadier Justin Maciejewski,
Ambassador Fesseha Shawel,
Your Grace Abune Gorgorios,
Fellow Ethiopians, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I bring you warm greetings, thanks and appreciation from the Government and People of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
It is a source of good fortune, and indeed pride, for me to stand before you today to receive the remains of one of Ethiopia’s most beloved and admired Emperors.
On this occasion, I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the National Army Museum, and its Board of Trustees, for the brave and principled decision to return the Emperor’s hair to its rightful home, and very much hope that the United Kingdom and Ethiopia will be able to build on this supreme gesture of goodwill in the years to come.
The hand-over of the locks of hair of Emperor Tewodros II, comes at a time when his vision and ideals of creating a united and strong Ethiopia have been resurrected.
The Maqdala Expedition of 1868 represents an unsavoury chapter in the, otherwise, glorious history shared by our great nations.
For us, Great Britain has never been considered a fair-weather friend, the British have stood by our side during our best and worst days. While we continue to recall with sadness the events of the Maqdala Expedition of 1868, so too, do we recall with great affection the memorable sacrifices British troops made, under the command of General Wingate and Colonel Sandford, during Ethiopia’s War of Liberation.
The history our great nations share and the spirit of partnership which underpins our relationship enables a level of honesty and frankness in all of our dialogue. Therefore, I would be remiss in my duty, not to take this opportunity to call on all museums and collectors, including the National Army Museum, who retain Maqdala heritage in their collections, to finally right this injustice of history by returning all Maqdala artefacts to their rightful home.
Even your Prime Minister, William Gladstone, speaking in 1871, rightly deplored what had taken place there and argued that the treasures should never have been brought to Britain in the first place.
In fact, for Ethiopians, these are not simply artefacts or treasures but constitute a fundamental part of the existential fabric of Ethiopia and its people.
In our history, we share a number of common experiences we can draw on when courageously confronting the case for restitution today. For example, King George the Fifth returned one of the silver crowns of Emperor Tewodros to Ras Teferi Mekonnen in 1924. Similarly, 1965 saw the return of Emperor Tewodros’s seal and cap as well as another crown during the state visit to Ethiopia of Queen Elizabeth the second. More recently, restitutions from private collectors here in the UK have led to the return of a replica arc, an amulet belonging to Emperor Tewodros II and a number of sacred manuscripts.
May I conclude by urging all concerned to consider the intrinsic value of the items in their collections which are of far greater significance to Ethiopians than to those who removed them.
Whatever the future holds, I have no doubt that the relationship between our two countries will continue to go from strength to strength. A fact underlined by the substance and spirit of today’s ceremony.
Finally, may I offer my thanks and appreciation, once again, for the hospitality and generosity myself, my delegation and our community in London have been afforded today. As you will see in the coming days and weeks, the Ethiopian people will rejoice at the homecoming of a humble vestige of one of their most popular heroes. An act, that will offer further proof of the high esteem in which Emperor Tewodros, to this day, continues to be held.
I thank you.
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