The government of Ethiopia is making efforts to prevent an auction of a stolen Maqdala shield in the UK. Rephrasing: The Ethiopian government is working to halt the UK auction of a Maqdala shield that was taken without permission.

Estimated read time 3 min read

The Ethiopian authorities have denounced the auction of a stolen shield from the colonial era as “inappropriate and unethical”, as they work to halt its sale this week and prevent it from being acquired by a private collector.

The Ethiopian National Heritage national restitution committee reached out to the Anderson & Garland auction house in Newcastle upon Tyne regarding a 19th-century Abyssinian shield that they believe should be withdrawn from the scheduled auction on Thursday.

“The ministry for tourism in Ethiopia has requested that the auction house initiate the restitution process and return the item to its country of origin, East Africa, as it was taken during the Battle of Maqdala (also known as Magdala) in 1868, specifically from the village now known as Amba Mariam.”

The conflict resulted in Emperor Tewodros II’s loss to Lord Napier, whose soldiers plundered numerous objects and brought them back to the UK. These items eventually found their way into personal collections, as well as the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).

According to the auction house, the shield is a circular dome made of a hide material and embellished with blind decorations, including white metal straps and floral appliques. It features a central boss with an engraved inscription that states “Magdala 13th April 1868.”

The committee’s letter states that the sale of this artefact in your auction is inappropriate because it was taken during a punitive expedition to Ethiopia, where it was wrongfully acquired through looting.

An employee from Anderson & Garland confirmed that they received the letter, but the company did not offer any additional remarks.

For years, the Ethiopian government has been requesting the return of items taken in 1868. In 2007, it made a plea for the return of numerous Maqdala artefacts from British institutions, but was unsuccessful. These artefacts include manuscripts, regalia, and jewellery.

In the year 2018, the V&A museum announced the possibility of returning some Maqdala artifacts to Ethiopia on a long-term loan. An appeal supported by Stephen Fry and Lemn Sissay requested for the British Museum to also return its Maqdala items.

In Dorset, a Coptic bible and a collection of horn beakers bound in leather were removed from an auction in Bridport in response to a successful appeal from the Ethiopian embassy. The auction house and seller were asked to discontinue the trend of dispossession.

Avoid the newsletter advertisement

The Ethiopian embassy reported that over 20 individuals who possess items from Maqdala have returned them in response to requests for restitution.

There has been increasing pressure in recent years for European institutions to return items that were taken during the colonial era. Some of the Benin bronzes, which were seized by British forces in 1897 from what is currently Nigeria, have been given back by British institutions after years of advocacy.

Earlier in the current month, Westminster Abbey has given its initial consent to returning a revered tablet to the Ethiopian Orthodox church. This action taken by the abbey has raised expectations for the British Museum, as they possess 11 similar tabots that are not publicly exhibited but are accessible for Ethiopian Orthodox priests to view.


You May Also Like

More From Author