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AFROMET - The Association for the Return of The Maqdala Ethiopian TreasuresDetail from the amulet of Emperor Tewodros
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Appeal sent to 10 Downing Street

Letter 17 June 07

Letter sent to British Prime Minister Tony Blair by Gabriel Berhanu Kassayie and friends from Year 5, Rosary RC Primary School

To Mr. Tony Blair
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
10 Downing Street
London

Dear Mr. 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 artifacts. Among them we find several ancient manuscripts, Ethiopian crowns, tabots, or altar slabs, golden church crowns, gold chalices, several processional crosses. All these and other artifacts were looted almost 140 years ago during the British expedition against Emperor Theodros of Ethiopia in 1867-68. 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 Manuscripts.

Most of the looted manuscripts and other artifacts ended up at the British Museum- now in 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: Miracles of Lord Jesus, a huge and exceptionally beautifully illustrated 160-page manuscript, dated from 1725, and measuring no less than 13 1/2 inches by 11 1/2 inches, almost a foot square.

  2. MS Eth Windsor II: Discourse of John Chrysostom in Praise of John the Baptist, oldest 106-page Ethiopic manuscript, ably decorated in so-called Gondarine style and profusely illustrated dating from early 17th or late 16th century.

  3. MS Eth Windsor III: Discourses of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, 18th century, 140-page manuscript includes a picture of St Gabriel bringing the good news to Mary, bound in heavy wooden boards covered with stamped leather and lined with cloth, measuring 14 inches by 12 inches.

  4. MS Eth Windsor IV: Nagara Maryam- History and Miracles of the Virgin Mary, 18th century manuscript, 159 pages with painting on nearly every page, measuring 15 inches by 13 1/2 inches.

  5. MS Eth Windsor V: Miracles of the Virgin Mary, Large 242-page manuscript dated around 1766, particularly artistic manuscript, includes a full page painting of the head of Christ, 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: The Four Gospels, a valuable manuscript composed of a copy of the Four Gospels, over 188 pages, dating from the late 17th or early 18th century, and beautifully handwritten over vellum.

There is no doubt about the origin of the above Windsor Castle manuscripts. Each of the six manuscripts above has a note indicating that it belonged to the Church of Madhane Alam- Emperor Tewodros's church looted in April 1868.

The looting of Maqdala required fifteen elephants and 200 mules to carry it away. This is nothing other than an act of brute force. As the great British leader William Gladstone said in 1871, the looting and possession of these Ethiopian antiquities has no justification and is unlawful. These historical 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 invaluable symbols of their rich history and culture. It is their lawful heritage. Ethiopian children deserve to see these looted artifacts to understand and appreciate the cultural heritage from their ancestors.

There were some attempts to return the articles to Ethiopia and those that succeeded were no more than simple 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 the most important private collector of Ethiopian manuscripts. In her will, dated 13 January 1910, she left her entire collection of Ethiopian manuscripts to Emperor Menilek. However, opposition indicating that Emperor Menilek was dead at the time stopped the return. This was false since the Ethiopian monarch was in fact alive until December 1913. He also had heirs and the artifacts could have been returned to them. Hence, Lady Valorie Meux collection is still unlawfully retained in the UK.

Efforts to obtain the restitution of the Maqdala loot from the British Library have been blocked over the years by the argument that it cannot return them without Parliament passing a law allowing restitution.

Many Ethiopians and people of good-will in Britain and elsewhere have long felt that the dispute between Emperor Tewodros and the British Government did not justify the looting of Maqdala. International justice requires all looted Ethiopian antiquities be returned 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 artefacts to Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people.


Yours Sincerely,

Gabriel Berhanu Kassayie and friends
Year 5
Rosary RC Primary School
238 Haverstock Hill
London NW3 2AE

LINKS TO RELATED CORRESPONDENCE

Gabriel Berhanu Kassayie replies to UK Department for Culture, Media & Sport Page 1, 2 - August 06 (jpegs)
UK Department for Culture, Media & Sport writes to Gabriel Berhanu Kassayie - July 24 (PDF)
Downing Street replies to Gabriel Berhanu Kassayie - June 20 (Word)

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