Loot

From the Independent (via David Winter):

Ethiopia demands Britain return all country’s artefacts held by Victoria and Albert Museum

Request comes as treasures plundered by British forces in 1868 are put on display

Ethiopia has demanded Britain permanently return all artefacts that originated in the African country but are now held by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

An Ethiopian official said the government would not accept them on loan.

The declaration comes after the museum – one of London’s most popular tourist attractions – put treasures plundered by British forces from the east African nation in 1868 on display.

“Well, it would be exciting if the items held at the V&A could be part of a long-term loan with a cultural institution in Ethiopia,” museum director Tristram Hunt said.

“These items have never been on a long-term loan in Ethiopia, but as we look to the future I think what we’re interested in are partnerships around conservation, interpretation, heritage management, and these need to be supported by government assistance so that institutions like the V&A can support sister institutions in Ethiopia.”

Among the items on display are sacred manuscripts and gold taken from the Battle of Maqdala 150 years ago, when British troops ransacked the fortress of Emperor Tewodros II.

The offer of a loan did not go far enough for Ethiopia.

“What we have asked (for) was the restitution of our heritage, our Maqdala heritage, looted from Maqdala 150 years ago. We presented our request in 2007 and we are waiting for it,” government minister Hirut Woldemariam said.

Ephrem Amare, Ethiopian National Museum director, added: “It is clearly known where these treasures came from and whom they belong to. Our main demand has never been to borrow them. Ethiopia’s demand has always been the restoration of those illegally looted treasures. Not to borrow them.”

The V and A website has a Maqdala 1868 page, unfortunately only illustrating one object, a crown, which also appears in the Independent article. I had never heard of the Abyssinia Campaign; here is the introduction to the Wikipedia article:

The British Expedition to Abyssinia was a rescue mission and punitive expedition carried out in 1868 by the armed forces of the British Empire against the Ethiopian Empire. Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia, then often referred to by the anglicized nameTheodore, imprisoned several missionaries and two representatives of the British government in an attempt to get the attention of the British government, which had decided against his requests for military assistance. The punitive expedition launched by the British in response required the transportation of a sizable military force hundreds of miles across mountainous terrain lacking any road system. The formidable obstacles to the action were overcome by the commander of the expedition, General Sir Robert Napier, who was victorious in every battle with the troops of Tewodros, captured the Ethiopian capital and rescued all the hostages. The expedition was widely hailed on its return for achieving all its objectives.

Harold G. Marcus described the action as “one of the most expensive affairs of honour in history.”

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