A significant historical restitution took place on Thursday as a lock of hair belonging to an Ethiopian prince and a collection of artifacts looted during a battle in the 19th century were returned to its rightful home.
The ceremony, held at the Ethiopian embassy in London, saw the handover of three silver cups, a shield, and the lock of hair.
The items, which originated from Ethiopia’s Emperor Tewodros II, were pillaged during the battle of Magdala in 1868. The brutal battle involved a siege where 13,000 British soldiers surrounded the emperor’s fortress, Abyssinia, as it was known at the time. Rather than surrender, Emperor Tewodros II chose to take his own life.
The lock of hair, which was returned, belonged to the emperor’s son, Prince Alemayehu. It was given back by a descendant of Captain Tristram Speedy, a member of the British expedition who became the prince’s guardian.
Following the battle and the death of his father, Prince Alemayehu was brought to England at the tender age of seven. He resided in Britain for the next decade, but tragically passed away in 1879, at the age of 18.
By the reported request of Queen Victoria, Prince Alemayehu was laid to rest in the catacombs of St. George’s Chapel, located in Windsor Castle, the royal residence situated west of London.
However, when the family of the prince requested repatriation of his remains, the British monarchy respectfully declined the request. Their decision was based on the need to preserve the dignity of others interred at the chapel.
The return of the stolen artifacts serves as a significant step towards rectifying historical injustices. It acknowledges and addresses a dark chapter in Ethiopian history and is a testament to the importance of cultural heritage. The restitution not only symbolises a restoration of dignity but also promotes healing and reconciliation between nations.
Efforts to repatriate cultural artifacts and human remains have gained momentum globally in recent years. Numerous countries have called for the repatriation of items that were taken during periods of colonisation, war, or looting. These items hold immense cultural, historical, and spiritual value to their rightful owners.