Letter: Looted treasures

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Philip Hensher's perceptive article urging the return to Greece of the Elgin Marbles (Comment, 27 August) prompts us to raise the no less necessary return to Ethiopia of the loot from Magdala, taken by a British expedition in 1868.

It comprises a gold crown, some 400 manuscripts, 10 tabots, or altar slabs and other items, currently held mainly at the British Library and Museum and the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.

The changing international perspective on culture raised by Hensher applies to Ethiopia no less than to Greece. Ethiopian manuscripts in Britain were in the past much studied by European scholars, who deserve our praise. Their legacy has, however, been inherited by Ethiopian scholars. Addis Ababa, rather than London, is now the main centre of Ethiopian studies. Ethiopian libraries are, moreover, now able to preserve the county's manuscripts.

From the point of view of international law, the looting of Magdala was in no way justified. Were such action taken today there would quite rightly be a public outcry. It is to restore the past injustice that we, together with a group of Ethiopian and Ras Tafarian intellectuals, have founded a society in Addis Ababa for the return of the Magdala treasures.

Professor RICHARD PANKHURST

RITA PANKHURST

London NW3

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