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UK museum to return stolen imperial artefact to Ethiopia

A museum in Britain has agreed to return strands of hair taken from the body of the Ethiopian Emperor, Tewedros II. The artefacts will be given back to government officials in Addis Ababa after an appeal for their return.

The hair is currently in the possession of the National Army Museum which says it’s not releasing any images of the artefact as a matter of respect. It was given the hair sixty years ago but now talks on returning it to Ethiopia are set to begin within days.

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The two strands of hair, said to be no bigger than a 2p coin, were cut from the body of Emperor Tewedros after his death in 1868. As British troops, led by Robert Napier, surrounded his fortress in Maqdala, he took his own life rather than become a prisoner. It followed an attempt by the emperor to modernise his country. He had tried to develop stronger relations with London but when a diplomatic impasse arose, he detained the British consul at Maqdala leading to soldiers surrounding his stronghold.

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The hair wasn’t the only thing taken following his defeat and death. Treasures from his palace were brought to England as was his seven year old son, Prince Alemayehu, who became a favourite of Queen Victoria. Alemayehu died at the age of eighteen and is buried at Windsor. Requests for his remains to be returned to Ethiopia have so far been rejected.

The National Army Museum told the BBC that the return of the hair doesn’t signal a precedent for other items to be be sent back. In 2008, Ethiopia lodged formal requests with a number of institutions for the return of artefacts taken from the country. Several other African nations, including Ghana, have also asked for items now in British museums and galleries to be returned.

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Lydia is a writer, blogger and journalist. She's worked in the media for over twenty years as a broadcast reporter, producer and editor as well as feature and online writer. As well as royals and royal history, she's a news junkie and podcaster.