12 October 2017

Ethiopia: No More Pull Backs to Heritage Restitution Efforts

Photo: Ethiopian Herald
Ethiopian artefacts.

So many historical documents and heritages have been stolen from Ethiopia during the times of external invasion and missionary expeditions in different periods of time.

During the invasion of the British Empire and Italy at the reigns of Emperor Tewodros and Emperor Haile Selassie respectively; and the expeditions made by different Europeans like James Bruce were few events that the Ethiopian codices were stolen and taken to Europe.

Including the original copy of the Book of Job thousands of books and historical documents which accommodate different historical facts, Ethiopian philosophies, medical prescriptions, horological and space studies, etc. were stolen from this country and taken to Europe and other parts of the world.

The stolen codices could be more than that because this information is gathered only from the books that are found in the national libraries and museums of countries like Britain, France, Italy and Germany.

Even though these heritages were taken illegally, they are still remaining in those European libraries and museums with catalogs and name of collections by the honor and names of those who stolen them.

A catalog 'Fondo Conti Rosini', provided with a special archive for Ethiopian Brana books in the Italian National Library for instance, is one significant example. The catalog is named in the memory of the invasive Italian civil worker in Eritrea Carlo Konti Rosini (1889-1903,), the man who illegally taken several Ethiopian codices to Italy. Similarly, several books in the French National Library (BNF) are placed with catalogs named after the individuals who took them from Ethiopia to France.

While it is a concrete fact that the books were taken illegally, returning them back to their origin seems to be a difficult task. The Council for Heritage Restitution has been making several efforts for the return of cultural and historical heritages and some were successful. The restitution of the Axum Obelisk which was looted by the Fascist Italy can be mentioned as one of the greater success of the Council.

However, the effort seems to be a little beat abated. In the second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP- II) years, it was stated to repatriate some about twenty illegally taken nations heritages from different countries. But the result is still zero. This is an indicator that the Council has some shortcomings and the diplomacy to achieve such tasks is weak.

Even worse the reality that hundreds of codices that have been looted by three local individuals and restituted by the Federal police recently are indicators that the nation is still loose in protecting its heritages.

Of course, the Ethiopian Heritage Protection Authority is providing trainings for concerned bodies in different structures towards protecting heritages; but the heritages are still looted illegally.

Though not in a significant increase, the crime is still ongoing and different maneuvers are implemented.

The issue is not a simple agenda that should be left only for the Council or the Heritage Protection Authority or other governmental structures. It is a responsibility that relies on the public, different scholars and even countries that the heritages are currently kept. They have the responsibility to agree to return country's heritages for they are only the footprints of our ancient civilization. They are our cultural, religious and socioeconomic identities and if there is a place they have to be kept, it should be in their own land of origin, not in libraries and museums and fancy houses of the people that they do not belong to.

The Association for the Return of the Mekdala Ethiopian Treasures Initiative that have been started by Professor Richard Pankhurst should be revived and efforts need to continue without pull backs.


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