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News > Culture

Ethiopia and Britain Battle Over Return of Stolen Treasures

  • Ethiopia’s Emperor Tewodross II reigned between February 1855 and April 1868, when the city of  Mek'dela was sacked by the British.

    Ethiopia’s Emperor Tewodross II reigned between February 1855 and April 1868, when the city of Mek'dela was sacked by the British. | Photo: Wikicommons

Published 5 April 2018

London's Victoria and Albert Museum is offering to loan the stolen gold crown, chalice and royal wedding dress to Ethiopia, which wants them back permanently.

Ethiopia wants its crown jewels back from Britain, but London's Victoria and Albert Museum isn't going to give the centuries-old looted treasures up without a fight.

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British colonists stole the treasures in question – a gold crown, a gold chalice and a royal wedding dress – from Ethiopia’s Emperor Tewodross II in 1868, after they captured the city of Mek'dela.

Since then, these out-of-Africa national treasures have been on display at London's Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).

Ethiopia's Director of Cultural Heritage Inventory, Grading and Inspection Desalegn Abebaw told Al Jazeera: "Showing the looted Mek'dela artifacts to the public is positive; We hope it is going to create pressure on them (the V&A) that will help us in our efforts to return the artifacts to where they belong.

"It's good to show these artifacts to the public rather than locking them somewhere since the exposure is going to help us to return them."

V&A Director Tristram Hunt, however, says the best way to get the artifacts back is on loan: "The speediest way, if Ethiopia wanted to have these items on display, is a long-term loan… that would be the easiest way to manage it."

Addis Ababa has been trying to get the stolen items back for more than ten years. In 2007, the government filed a formal restitution to have the treasures returned as the rightful owners.

Other Ethiopian experts aren't content with a long-term loan: they want the artifacts permanently back in the hands of their rightful Ethiopian owners.  

"They took someone else's possession; it is criminal and they should apologize for it," said Elizabeth Wolde Giorgis, director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University.

"No European artifacts have been looted and taken to Africa, so why should it be OK for a British museum to have looted African treasures and not apologize for it?"

In 2005, Italy returned a 1,700-year-old granite Axum obelisk to Ethiopia, 68 years after Italian troops under fascist leader Benito Mussolini looted the religious treasure.

The U.N. Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization helps countries reclaim stolen artifacts has enabled several African nations, including Egypt and Nigeria, get their stolen treasures back.

In 2015, with U.N. aid, the Swiss government returned 32 "ancient cultural objects, dating from the Pharaonic and Roman periods" to Egypt.

French President Manuel Macron has said the return of artifacts to African countries would be a "top priority."


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