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Second Tabot restored to Ethiopia

AFROMET press release 02 July 03

A Tabot - a sacred and priceless representation of the Ark of the Covenant - was yesterday (Tuesday July 1 2003) returned to Ethiopia more than 130 years after it was taken at the battle of Maqdala.

It was handed over in Addis Ababa by Dr Ian MacLennan, an Irish doctor who spotted it in a London book dealer's catalogue of Ethiopian manuscripts and artefacts.

Dr MacLennan, a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, yesterday talked of his shock after seeing the holy Tabot on sale in Maggs Bros book dealers in Mayfair, London.

He told a press conference in Addis Ababa that he started shaking when he realised what he was looking at in the store. He bought the Tabot for an undisclosed sum about three weeks ago and immediately made plans to fly to Ethiopia to return it.

It is the second Tabot to be returned in recent times.

The first Tabot to be returned was presented to representatives of the Ethiopian church at a ceremony at St John's Episcopal Church, Edinburgh, in January 2002. St John's associate rector the Rev John McLuckie found it in a cupboard while seeking a communion set. At the time, half a million Ethiopians greeted that Tabot's return to Ethiopia.

In a recent related development the Italian government is making preparations to return an obelisk that Mussolini's troops took from Aksum, northern Ethiopia during their occupation of parts of the country.

Yesterday, Addis Ababa University President Andreas Eshete, who is the Chair of AFROMET, announced the Tabot's return, adding that a total of around a dozen Tabots were looted from Maqdala in northern Ethiopia during the time of Emperor Theodore and taken to Britain in 1868. The majority of them are currently in the British Museum.

The Tabot returned today was brought to England by Hormuzd Rassam, a scholar and Queen Victoria's Special Representative to Emperor Theodore. It was later purchased by an English collector who recently put his entire stock of Ethiopian books and artefacts on sale through Maggs.

At the press conference Professor Richard Pankhurst of AFROMET said: "When AFROMET was established many said that it was like 'believing in flying-saucers', and declared that the Italians would 'never return the obelisk'.

"But now the Italians are in the process of dismantling the Aksum Obelisk in Rome, and Signor Franco Frattini, the Italian Foreign Minister, has expressed the hope that the example of Italy will be followed by other countries holding cultural loot.

"An Amulet that Emperor Theodore was wearing on the day of his historic suicide has been returned and is in the Institute of Ethiopian Studies archive. And now two out of about a dozen looted Tabots have been returned. The objectives of AFROMET are thus being achieved."

The Tabot, will NOT be put on display in Addis Ababa display because of religious considerations. It will be handed over to the Ethiopian Church later this week.

Read the BBC's story on the return
Raided Lost Ark returns home (BBC 1 July 2003)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3034860.stm

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