After a century and a half hidden in private collections, 13 stolen Ethiopian artifacts have finally returned home after months of negotiations.
“Our country’s ancient civilization’s history, artifacts, fingerprints of indigenous knowledge, culture… were looted in war and smuggled out illegally,” said Ethiopia’s tourism minister, Nasise Challa.
The items, which cross an intricate latticework, a richly colored triptych depicting Jesus’ crucifixion, and an adorned red and copper imperial shield, are part of the largest act of restitution in Ethiopia’s history, officials said.
These artifacts were taken in 1868 after the Battle of Maqdala between the British and Ethiopian empires. Some of the items were offered at auction in Britain in June by a private seller descended from a British soldier who was fighting in Maqdala.
“There are many artifacts that have been looted from Maqdala,” said Teferi Meles, Ethiopia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, where many of the treasures were. “We could not succeed in bringing everyone back, but this is the first time in the country’s history to bring back stolen artefacts in this quantity.”
Several of the objects were acquired by The Scheherazade Foundation, a cultural non-profit organization, and handed over to the Ethiopian embassy in September. They were returned to Addis Ababa at the weekend and will be on display in Ethiopian museums. But the work is far from over, officials said.
“We have started negotiations with the British Museum to bring back 12 taboos,” Teferi said.
Tabots are replicas of the Ark of the Covenant sacred in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the world’s oldest churches. The taboos were also taken after the Battle of Maqdala.
Ethiopia has been embroiled in conflict for more than a year, with the federal government fighting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and cultural artifacts presumably damaged in the fighting.
“If there is no treasure, it means there is no history; if there is no history, there is no nation, ”Teferi said.