Emperor Tewodros II’s hair is returned to Ethiopia 

The National Army Museum in the United Kingdom has returned the hair of former Ethiopian Emperor, Tweodros II, to Ethiopia. The hair was cut from the head of the Emperor after he had comitted suicide during an attack by the British in 1868.


In 1862, Emperor Tewodros was facing many attacks from rebels. Tewodros sent letters to Britain, France and other countries asking for help, but only France replied. Over the next few years, Tewodros began to hold European people captive (including British missionaries) to force the countries to provide help. The British sent troops to free those held as prisoners led by Robert Napier. After both sides started fighting, Tewodros released the prisoners. However, the British did not stop fighting. They advanced on the Emperor’s fortress in Maqdala. The Emperor, not wanting to be killed by the British, killed himself with a gun gifted to him by Queen Victoria.


When the British found the body, Frank James, a soldier, cut locks of hair from the Emperor’s dead body whilst he painted an image of him. The soldier’s family gave the locks to the British Army Museum along with watercolour paintings of Maqdala created by James. The British took many precious items from Maqdala including: two gold crowns, around 500 manuscripts, and a royal wedding dress. Other very significant stolen items included replicas of the tablets which people say the 10 Commandments (the rules given by God to Moses in the Bible) were written on. It is estimated that it took 15 elephants and 200 mules to carry the stolen goods away.

The British also took Prince Alemayehu— the Emperor’s son. The Prince was raised in England and died aged eighteen from an illness. Ethiopia has asked for the return of his body so he could be buried in Ethiopia. So far, there has been no promise to return the body.


Ethiopia is one of many countries, along with Ghana and Nigeria, asking for the return of cultural items which have been stolen from them in the past. There is a movement in many countries to reclaim parts of their cultural history. However, whilst the hair has been returned this time, many museums have stated that this does not mean they will be returning others.



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