On Saturday, September 23rd, a significant step towards restorative justice was witnessed as a lock of hair belonging to Ethiopian Prince Alemayehu, along with other artifacts looted by British soldiers during the 19th-century battle of Magdala, were returned to Ethiopia. The ceremonious return took place in London on the evening of September 23, marking a momentous occasion in the ongoing dialogue concerning the restitution of looted cultural heritage.
In 1868, following the battle of Magdala, seven-year-old Prince Alemayehu was taken to England after his father, Emperor Tewodros II, committed suicide rather than surrender to the invading British forces. The young prince, who later died in 1879 at the age of 18, was buried at Windsor Castle near London. Despite recent requests for the repatriation of his remains, the British monarchy has declined, citing the need to “preserve the dignity” of others interred at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
The return of the prince’s lock of hair and other artifacts, including three silver cups and a shield, was facilitated by the Scheherazade Foundation and was handed over to Ethiopia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Teferi Melesse. The artifacts were initially in possession of Captain Tristram Speedy, a member of the British expedition who became the prince’s guardian, and were later discovered among family heirlooms by Leonie Turner, a descendant of Speedy.
Fasil Minas, a relative of Prince Alemayehu, expressed hope that this gesture could pave the way for further restitution, including the return of the prince’s remains to Ethiopia. Alula Pankhurst, a member of Ethiopia’s Heritages Restitution National Committee, echoed this sentiment, stating that the restitution of Ethiopian artifacts “is crucial for restorative justice and fostering better relations between British and Ethiopian institutions.”
Ethiopia’s ambassador, Teferi Melesse, welcomed the return of these significant artifacts, stating that they will now “resume their rightful place in Ethiopia, where they can continue to inspire and educate future generations.” This event underscores the broader global movement towards the restitution of cultural heritage, reflecting a growing recognition of the importance of addressing historical injustices and fostering international collaboration and understanding.