After months of talks, 13 stolen Ethiopian artifacts have been returned to their country of origin after a century and a half of hiding.
Tourism minister Nasise Challa of Ethiopia remarked that “our country’s old civilization’s past… artifacts, fingerprints of indigenous knowledge, culture… have been plundered in battle and unlawfully smuggled out.”
The artefacts, which include an exquisite scarlet and brass imperial shield and a latticed processional cross, are part of Ethiopia’s largest-ever act of restitution, according to authorities.
After the battle of Maqdala, between the British and Ethiopian empires, these artifacts were captured. Several of the items had been put up for sale in the UK in June by a relative of a British soldier who served in Maqdala during the Second World War.
Teferi Meles, Ethiopia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, alleged that many of the valuables had been plundered from Maqdala. However, this is the first time in the country’s history that such a large number of plundered artifacts have been returned.
They were given to the Ethiopian Embassy in September by the Scheherazade Foundation, a cultural foundation. Since their return to Addis Ababa over the weekend, they have been placed on exhibit at various Ethiopian cultural institutions. There is still a long way to go, according to authorities.
It was revealed that talks had begun with the British Museum to bring 12 tabots back.
One of the oldest religions in the world, Ethiopia’s Ethiopian Orthodox Church, reveres the Tabot, a copy of the Ark of the Covenant, as sacrosanct. After the Battle of Maqdala, the tabots were also seized.
We think we will be able to bring them back and the conversations will continue, with additional artifacts overseas, Teferi added.
There were “cordial discussions” with an Ethiopian delegation in September at the British Museum, according to the institution, which noted that “The Museum is long-standing and friendly relations with the National Museum in Addis Ababa and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church of London and Ethiopia.”
Despite repeated calls from the public, British museums have long opposed calls for the return of stolen artwork, claiming regulations barring them from doing so.
A new museum in Nigeria is scheduled to open in 2023, and the British Museum said last year that it will loan some of its artifacts from Nigeria to the new museum.
According to Teferi: “At this time, it is apparent that our treasures are being destroyed; it is plain that our riches are being robbed and transported out of the nation illegally.”
More than a year of war between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has left cultural artifacts ruined.
He stated, “If there is no treasure, it indicates that we don’t have a past; without a past, there is no country.”