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British Museum Returns Piece of Emperor's Hair to Ethiopia

FILE: An Ethiopian woman walks past a mural depicting Ethiopia's Emperor Tewodros II in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 1, 2007.
FILE: An Ethiopian woman walks past a mural depicting Ethiopia's Emperor Tewodros II in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 1, 2007.
British Museum Returns Hair to Ethiopia
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Ethiopia announced this week that a museum in Britain has agreed to return locks of hair belonging to a former Ethiopian ruler.

A British soldier cut the hair from the head of Emperor Tewodros II more than 150 years ago. Tewodros II took his own life after his defeat by British troops at the Battle of Magdala. The battle was fought in northern Ethiopia in 1868.

The locks of hair have been part of The National Army Museum’s collection in London since 1959. Museum officials said the family of an artist who painted the emperor on his deathbed donated the hair.

In a statement, the museum said it had agreed to send the hair back to Ethiopia after a request from Ethiopia’s minister of culture and tourism last year.

“The objects are considered significant to the Museum’s collection for their historical connection to a major and unique campaign,” the statement said. It added that the emperor’s hair was “collected in good faith.”

The National Army Museum said it remains in discussions with the Embassy of Ethiopia in London on details of returning the hair.

The Ethiopian Embassy in Britain said that it “welcomes... the unanimous decision by the Trustees of the National Army Museum to return the locks of hair.”

“For Ethiopians everywhere, as the locks of hair represent the remains of one of the country’s most revered and beloved leaders,” it said.

Embassy officials predicted celebrations when the hair “is returned to its rightful home in Ethiopia.”

Emperor Tewodros II claimed to be related to two people named in ancient times: King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The emperor died after a British force raided his mountaintop position to free European diplomats and others he had jailed.

The return of the hair follows a series of requests by Ethiopia for the return of human remains, documents and other objects taken in 1868.

Britain is also involved in a dispute with Greece over the return of the Parthenon Marbles. British officials have resisted those requests, noting laws that ban its museums from permanently disposing of their collections.

I’m John Russell.

Aaron Maasho wrote this story for the Reuters news agency. John Russell adapted it VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in the Story

museum – n.a center established for the care, study and showing of objects of lasting value or interest

lock– n.a small amount of hair

revere – have great respect for (someone or something); to honor someone or something

significant adj.important

unanimousadj.having agreement by all sides remove or give away in an orderly way

faith– n.belief and trust in someone