British Museum to decide the return of Ethiopian tabots within the next six months

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Timkat, the Orthodox Tewahedo celebration of Epiphany. During the ceremonies of Timkat, the tabot is reverently wrapped in rich cloth and borne in procession on the head of the priest.

The British Museum is considering to send back religious objects stored for 150 years to Ethiopia. The Museum’s Chairman, Richard Lambert, told the Guardian that the British Museum would decide “within the next six months.” The director of the museum will also visit Ethiopia later this year to discuss the potential return of the tabots.

The religious items – called ‘tabots’ – have a great place for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, the most popular Christian sect in Ethiopia.

The eleven tabots of issue, have been hidden in the storeroom of the British Museum for the past 150 years. The religious objects came into the Museum’s possession when they were taken by British soldiers after the Battle of Mekdela, during Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros II’s reign. It is believed that only the priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church can see these sacred objects.

The matter of the artifacts’ return to Ethiopia has caused tensions as of late. Just last week, Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif, resigned as one of the Museum’s trustees. Soueif cited the issue of “repatriation of looted crafts,” which includes the Ethiopian tabots, as one of her reasons.

After defeating Emperor Tewodros II at the Battle of Mekdela, (which resulted in the Emperor’s suicide after refusing to surrender to the British), troops stole various Ethiopian artifacts to take back with them. Currently, the Victoria and Albert Museum holds in its possession, about 20 looted Ethiopian artifacts.

In 2000, Ethiopia appealed for the return of these stolen artifacts. Included in this appeal was the lock of hair belonging to Emperor Tewodros II, which was successfully returned to Ethiopia earlier this year in March.