A Scottish priest is to head a new pressure group calling on UK museums and libraries to return scores of sacred manuscripts and artefacts to Ethiopia.
The Revd John McLuckie has become chairman of AFROMET UK - the Association for the Return of the Maqdala Ethiopian Treasures UK. The move will step up pressure on the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Royal Library at Windsor Castle and other organisations that are still holding on to Ethiopian treasures stolen by British troops about 130 years ago.
Fr McLuckie got involved after finding a holy Ethiopian tablet hidden in a cupboard in his own Scottish Episcopal church - St John's, Princes Street, Edinburgh - late last year. He returned the tablet - a symbolic representation of the Ark of the Covenant known as a Tabot - to Ethiopia amid great celebrations in January. AFROMET UK is now calling on the British Museum and other institutions to follow his lead.
Campaigners are planning to start by focussing on nine other Tabots, currently hidden away in store cupboards at the British Museum. Fr McLuckie said: "We have a very straight forward case to make. The Tabots are items of religious significance to a living faith. They cannot be displayed and they are of very, very limited interest to scholars. They should be returned."
Tabots are among the holiest objects in Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity. The simple carved wood or stone tablets represent the presence of God in a church and can only be seen by senior priests. AFROMET UK is hoping to rely on persuasion to win the day. Both the Ethiopian Parliament and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church have now made official requests for the return of the Tabots.
The group is also planning public meetings and, if all else fails, vigils and protests.
In the past, the British Museum has pointed to a 1753 law, prohibiting it from disposing of parts of its collection. Fr McLuckie said, "If this is a real obstacle, not just a delaying tactic, then we will campaign to have the law changed."
The Tabots, and the other treasures, were taken by British troops who invaded Ethiopia in 1868 to free British subjects, imprisoned by Emperor Theodore (or Tewodros) II. Soldiers stormed the Emperor's mountain fort at Maqdala (or Magdala), and loaded 200 mules and 15 elephants with gold crowns, crosses and other plunder. Emperor Theodore committed suicide, preferring death to surrender. British troops stripped his body and cut off clumps of his hair as souvenirs. Some of his hair is now owned by the National Army Museum in London. One Tabot was bought and presented to St John's by a Scottish officer.
Find out more about the campaign at www.afromet.org or contact:
Gail Warden - Committee Member
AFROMET UK, 51 Rattray Road, London SW2 1BA
Tel: +44 20 7838 3880
Article from: Scottish Episcopal Church