Wednesday, May 16, 2007

An Open Letter to British Prime Minister

A nine-year-old Ethiopian schoolboy in London letter
to British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair

May 13, 2007

Gabriel B. Kassaye, a nine-year-old Ethiopian
schoolboy in London, has addressed the following
letter to British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair.

"We are on the eve of the new Ethiopian Millennium and
it is a perfect time to take courageous steps and
return Ethiopia’s historical artifacts. We the sons
and daughters of Ethiopian citizens in Britain and
their supporters are asking the UK government to take
a lead and return Ethiopian antiquities.

"The United Kingdom is one of the countries which
still hold lots of Ethiopian historical artifact.
Among them we find several ancient manuscripts,
Ethiopian crowns, tabots, or altar slabs, golden
church crowns, gold chalices, several processional
crosses- all looted almost 140 years ego following the
British expedition against Emperor Theodros of
Ethiopia in 1867-7. The following are testimonies
from those present at this large-scale looting.

The invading force “dispersed over the amba”, or
mountain top, “in search of plunder”. The treasury
was soon rifled”, “tons” of “manuscript books”.
British historian Clements Markham

The looted articles soon covered “the whole surface of
the rocky citadel, the slopes of the hill, and the
entire road to the [British] camp two miles off”.
American journalist H.M. Stanley

‘… while night was falling, he met a British soldier
who was carrying the golden crown of the Abun, or head
of the Ethiopian church, and a “solid gold chalice”
weighing “at least 6 lb”. Sir Richard Holmes,
“Archaeologist” to the expedition and Assistant
Curator in the British Museum’s Department of

"The bulk of the looted manuscripts ended up at the
British Museum (now the British Library)’, Royal
Library in Windsor Castle, Victoria and Albert Museum,
Cambridge University, Bodleian Library in Oxford, John
Rylands Library, University of Manchester, Royal
Library in Vienna.

"Here are the most valuable manuscripts held in the
Royal Library in Windsor Castle:

1. MS Eth Windsor I: a huge and exceptionally
beautifully illustrated, early 18th century volume of
the Miracles of Lord Jesus, and measuring no less than
13 1/2 inches by 11 1/2 inches, almost a foot square.

2. MS Eth Windsor II: a profusely illustrated
work containing the Biblical Discourse of John
Chrysostom in Praise of John the Baptist, and is ably
decorated in so-called Gondarine style.

3. MS Eth Windsor III: another large work,
measuring 14 inches by 12 inches, and dating from the
early 18th century, it contains the Discourses of the
Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

4. MS Eth Windsor IV: dating from the 18th
century, measuring 15 inches by 13 1/2 inches,
containing the Nagara Maryam, or History and Miracles
of the Virgin Mary with a painting on almost every

5. MS Eth Windsor V: particularly artistic
manuscript- Miracles of the Virgin Mary , dated to
1758-1766, and containing a fine full page
representation of the Qwer’ata Re’su, or Christ with
the Crown of Thorns.

6. MS Eth Windsor VI: a valuable manuscript
composed of a copy of the Four Gospels, dating from
the late 17th or early 18th century, and beautifully
written and bound.

"There is no ambiguity as to the origin of the above
Windsor Castle manuscripts. Each of the six
manuscripts referred to above contains a note
specifying that it belonged to the Church of Madhane
Alam, i.e, to Emperor Tewodros’s church looted in
April 1868.

"The looting of Maqdala, which required fifteen
elephants and 200 mules to cart away, was nothing
other than an act of brute force. As the great British
Liberal leader William Gladstone noted in 1871, the
looting and procession of these Ethiopian antiquities
has no justification whatsoever in International Law.

These articles have no historical or cultural
significance to us here in the UK, and it is no
surprise that little is known about them in our
schools. However, to Ethiopians, they are sacred and
imposing symbols of their rich history and culture. It
is their legitimate inheritance and the country’s
children deserve to see these looted artifacts to
understand and appreciate the cultural heritage, which
their forebears created.

"There were some attempts to return the articles to
Ethiopia and those that succeeded were no more than
sloppy diplomatic gestures. In 1923, the Foreign
Office returned one of the crowns held in Victoria to
visiting Regent, Ras Tafari Makonnen- later Emperor
Haile Sellassie. On her State Visit to Ethiopia in
1965, Queen Elizabeth presented Emperor Haile
Sellassie with Tewodros’s cap and imperial seal.

A noted example is that of Lady Valorie Meux, one of
then most important private collector of Ethiopian
manuscripts. She bequeathed her entire collection of
Ethiopian manuscripts in her Will, dated 13 January
1910, to Emperor Menilek. However, opposition to the
repatriation led to overturning of the will (not
invalidated) on the ground that Menilek was dead when
Lady Meux died. A spurious argument since the
Ethiopian monarch was in fact alive until December
1913, and had in any case heirs. Hence, Lady Valorie
Meux collection is still unlawfully retained in the

"Efforts to obtain the restitution of the Maqdala loot
from the British Library have been blocked over the
years by the argument that the institution cannot part
with its possessions without legislative approval.

"Many Ethiopians and people of good-will in Britain
and elsewhere have long felt that the dispute between
Tewodros and the British Government in no way
justified the looting of Maqdala. International
justice requires all looted Ethiopian antiquities be
repatriated to Ethiopia.

Demands for restitution have
been made in more recent years by the Association for
the Return of Ethiopian Maqdala Treasures (AFROMET)
which is based in both Ethiopia and Britain. The
Ethiopian Millennium provides a perfect opportunity
and our wish for the Ethiopian Millennium is that the
UK government and Queen Elizabeth should return all
Ethiopian historical artifacts to Ethiopia and
Ethiopian people".

No comments:

Post a Comment