Britain rejects the return of sacred religious tablet to Ethiopia

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British museum

Despite many efforts the Ethiopian government expended the British refused to return looted artifact known as tabot. The British seized the plaques after defeating Emperor Tewodros II at the Battle of Maqdala in 1868, and they are now locked away in a vault in a British museum. Ethiopia has asked for the tabots to be returned, but the most the museum is willing to do is let Ethiopia borrow them for an extended time.

The object, known as a tabot, is a tablet that symbolically represents the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments. Every Ethiopian church houses a covered tabot, which is regarded as sacrosanct and must be seen only by the priest. The tablets, which are made of wood or stone, are believed to be inscribed with a cross and the name of a saint.

In 2007, the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox church, Abune Paulos, traveled to London to meet the abbey’s receiver-general and to call for the return of the tabot. A representative of the abbey said that this would be considered, but nothing more was heard.

British soldiers reportedly took the tabots, jewelry and other precious items after Tewodros committed suicide instead of surrendering to British soldiers. More than 500 soldiers were killed in the battle. Some of the other items were returned to Ethiopia last month, but they are still negotiating the return of the tabots.

Supporters argue that since the tabots cannot and have not been exhibited, they should be returned to Ethiopia. Images of the tabots are not even made available on the museum’s website.

Ethiopia announced the retrieval of a ceremonial crown, an imperial shield, a set of silver-embossed horn drinking cups, a handwritten prayer book, crosses and a necklace from the 1868 battle last week. Some other European countries have also returned items to countries they have looted.