Britain to Return Emperor Tewodros Stolen Hair

Emperor-Tewodros-HairMarch 4, 2019 ( - A museum in the UK is set to return two locks of hair belonging to the esteemed Emperor Tewodros to Ethiopia as reported by the BBC news outlet.

The National Army Museum announced Monday that it’ll repatriate the hair after Addis Ababa requested them to do so. The hair was cut from the Emperor’s head after he committed suicide, rather than allow himself to become a prisoner of the British government during the 1868 invasion of Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia).

For a long time, the UK has come under intense pressure from Ethiopia to repatriate stolen treasures worth millions. Ethiopia believes these valuable items were stolen from them by the British troops in the 19th century.

The Association for the Return of the Maqdala Ethiopian Treasures (Afromet), whose members are notable academicians and historians, have been for a long time engaged in advocating for the return of the treasures.

They say it was an act of injustice, based on the use of forces and believe the wrongs done by the British governments should be righted.

Emperor Tewodro’s son Prince Alemayehu was taken to Britain along with the stolen treasures. He would, later on, become the queens’ favorite before dying of pleurisy at the age of 18. His remains remain buried in Windsor Castle amid mounting pressure for their return.

An outcry among Ethiopians erupted last year over an exhibition by another institution, the Victoria and Albert Museum, on the 1868 British expedition to Abyssinia. In that campaign, more than 13,000 British soldiers were deployed to free several British natives held captive by the Emperor.

In April last year, the Ethiopian consulate in London requested the return of the emperor’s hair. Under the UK government’s guidance for museums (that allows for restitution), hair is not considered human remains.

However, the museum’s council thought the repatriation was an opportunity to do something diplomatically positive with Ethiopia. Unlike other museums in the country, the National Army Museum has the capacity to do so.

The spokesperson for the embassy describes the opportunity as “exemplary gesture of goodwill.” She further adds that “as the locks of hair represent the remains of one of Ethiopia’s most valued leaders, a display of jubilant euphoria is expected when it is returned to its rightful home.”

It’s yet unknown whether the hair will be temporarily displayed, but according to reports, it’ll be buried with the remains of Emperor Tewodro II at the Mahabere Selassie Monastery in Qwara, northern Ethiopia.

Negotiations between the government of Ethiopia and the museum are expected to start, possibly involving the culture minister flying to the UK, to arrange the repatriation.

The Battle of Maqdala:

In 1868 a British contingent was sent to Ethiopia to secure the release of hostages detained by the emperor’s soldiers. This led to the battle Maqdala, where the emperor was easily defeated by the superior European weaponry.

Emperor Tewodros shot himself with a pistol that was presented to him by Queen Victoria when the two nations enjoyed a cordial relationship.

The National Army Museum is yet to release further details of the origin, but it’s believed the emperor’s hair was cut by Lieutenant Frank James, who was also an artist. He cut the emperor’s hair while painting the emperor on his deathbed.

Lieutenant James’s progenies handed over the hair to the museum in 1959, together with a couple of watercolors of the battle. The locks are separate, and one is mounted on a paper seal.

After the war ended, the soldiers looted the imperial treasures, together with Christian objects, much of which found their way in the UK museums and private homes.

The museum told reporters it decided not to make photos of the hair public out of respect as the matter was considered sensitive. However, it says it’s not returning any other items seized in Africa. “It’s definitely not a precedent,” said a spokesperson for the museum.

Presently, the Victoria and Albert Museum has displayed 20 objects confiscated in Maqdala, including a precious holy gold crown. The British Library is also home to some of the Christian manuscripts seized in Maqdala.

The move has reignited the debate on the return of looted items displayed in British Museums. Several African nations have requested for the return of items seized by European countries. Years after Benin made its first official request, France agreed to repatriate 26 statues and thrones seized during the colonial period.

In a recent report sanctioned by the French president, he recommended that items of African origin displayed in the French museums, approximately 46,000 pieces, which were acquired illegally be repatriated to Africa. Senegal has also asked France to repatriate more than 100 relics.

It’s estimated that close to 90% of African art lies outside the continent, including manuscripts, statues and thrones and the lasts move is expected to put pressure on other countries to release them.

By Solomon O. for Ezega News



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