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Ancient Text Is Returned to Ethiopia

October 04, 2003|From Reuters

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — An ancient handwritten Book of Psalms taken from the fortress of Ethiopian Emperor Theodros by British troops 135 years ago was returned to the Horn of Africa country Monday.

Ethiopia has campaigned for years for the return of artifacts taken by European invaders.

One of the most prominent campaigns has demanded that Italy return a 3,000-year-old obelisk looted from the holy city of Axum by fascist forces in 1937. Italy is in the process of dismantling the obelisk to send it back to Ethiopia.

"The return of the ancient manuscript is symbolic," said Richard Pankhurst, a member of the Assn. for the Return of Maqdala Ethiopian Treasures, or AFROMET, which arranged the return of the 300-year-old manuscript.

"It is hoped that British government institutions like the British Library ... would follow the example and return more than 1,000 sacred manuscripts, processional crosses and golden crowns belonging to the emperor which are in their possession," Pankhurst said.

A U.S. journalist reported at the time that British soldiers took the book and other treasures when they stormed the mountain fortress at Maqdala, about 150 miles north of the capital Addis Ababa, during an 1868 invasion of Ethiopia.

Pankhurst said the book, which is considered a national treasure in Ethiopia, was purchased from a private dealer by the Rev. John MacLuckie, president of AFROMET in Britain.

"It is written in Ge'ez (an ancient Ethiopian language) and is well preserved," Pankhurst said.

Last year, MacLuckie also discovered and handed back to Ethiopia the Tabot, a sacred Ethiopian religious treasure bearing a picture of the Ark of the Covenant, which the Israelites used to house the Ten Commandments.

AFROMET will hand over the ancient manuscript to the Institute of Ethiopian Studies of Addis Ababa University at an official ceremony.

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