Two locks of hair belonging to widely revered Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros will be repatriated after a request from Addis Ababa, the National Army Museum in Britain announced yesterday, as more African countries seek to reclaim heritage they say was taken decades, even centuries, ago.
An outcry erupted last year among some Ethiopians over an exhibit by another institution, the Victoria and Albert Museum, on the 1868 British expedition to what was then called Abyssinia. During that campaign, in which 13,000 troops were deployed to free several British hostages, the emperor killed himself and his fortress was captured and looted.
Ethiopia’s government at the time said it would use “whatever legal and diplomatic instruments” to secure the return of related items including an intricate golden crown. That another British museum, the National Army Museum, held locks of the emperor’s hair was seen as particularly sensitive. “Displaying human parts in websites and museums is inhumane,” Ethiopia’s minister for culture and tourism, Hirut Woldemariam, told The Associated Press last year.
That museum has said the hair was donated in 1959 by relatives of an artist who painted the emperor on his deathbed. “Our decision to repatriate is very much based on the desire to inter the hair within the tomb alongside the emperor” at a monastery in northern Ethiopia, Terri Dendy, the National Army Museum’s head of collections standards and care, said in a statement.