A lock of hair from a deceased Ethiopian prince, who passed away more than 140 years ago, has been presented in the UK to delegates from his native country.
In 1868, Prince Alemayehu was taken by British soldiers following their invasion of his father, Emperor Tewodros II’s fortress, after the emperor’s death by suicide.
The crown prince, who had an unhappy upbringing in Britain, died at the age of 18 in 1879. He was laid to rest at Windsor Castle, near London, and recent appeals to repatriate his remains have been denied.
Fasil Minas, one of the prince’s descendants, expressed optimism that the return of the prince’s hair might open the door for his body to be returned to Ethiopia.
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At a London ceremony on Thursday evening, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to the UK, Teferi Melesse, officially received the lock of hair along with several other artifacts that had been looted from Emperor Tewodros’s Maqdala fortress.
Ambassador Melesse expressed his appreciation for their return, stating that they would be returned to their rightful place where they can serve as sources of inspiration and education for future generations. He also indicated that Ethiopia would continue to advocate for the return of more items taken from the fortress.
Prince Alemayehu was taken to London at the age of seven, where his orphan status elicited Queen Victoria’s sympathy.
She agreed to provide financial support and placed him under the guardianship of Captain Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy, the man who had accompanied the prince from Ethiopia.
The Scheherazade Foundation, which facilitated the return of the lock of hair, mentioned that it had originally been in Captain Speedy’s possession. Leonie Turner, a descendant of Speedy, discovered the artifact among her family’s heirlooms and decided to return it.
Alula Pankhurst, a member of Ethiopia’s Heritages Restitution National Committee, welcomed the return of the hair but emphasized that this should be just the beginning.
He stated that the restitution of Ethiopian artifacts looted during the 1868 British expedition to Magdala is crucial for restorative justice and for fostering better relations and collaborations between British and Ethiopian institutions.
Despite calls for the return of the prince’s body, Buckingham Palace rejected the request, citing concerns that exhuming his remains would disturb the remains of others buried in the catacombs of St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.