Following the recent statement made by a museum administrator in England that Ethiopia would be allowed to borrow its looted heritages of Mekdela, in short or long terms to display them on exhibitions, concerns of heritage restitution have been posed.
The Ethiopian Heritage Studies and Protection Authority says that even if the idea might have some positive aspects, Ethiopia would not accept such an offer for the fact that there are reasonable approaches to restitute the heritages.
Desalegn Abebaw Cultural Heritage Inventory, Inspection and Standardization Director at the Authority told The Ethiopian Herald that borrowing ones own heritages and returning them where they never belong is giving legal recognition for those, who have no right, to claim ownership.
Even though the challenges are tough, the Authority in collaboration with different institutions and individuals is exerting its level best effort to restitute heritages that are not only taken from Mekdela but also others looted in different times and situations, notes Desalegn.
As a result, several heritages have been restituted though still more remain in the hands of individuals and national museums and libraries of western countries.
The restitution process is taking too long for various reasons. Tesfaye Arrage Senior Cultural Heritage Researcher says that even if countries have agreed and signed conventions for the return of illegally possessed heritages to the rightful nations, they still bring different cases to prevent the effort.
There are also two contradictory ideas that have been entertained by scholars of the global community and the first one has been posing challenges on the efforts of heritage restitution.
This idea reflects that no matter how heritages are moved out of their origin, they are common values of all human kind. As a result, they have to be kept and protected where ever they were taken, illegally, and there is no reason that countries of origin should claim their return. This could be the result of the ideology of cultural internationalism, according to him. On the contrary others argue that heritages are not only materials but also cultural, spiritual and historical values that have strong bondage with the societies they originated from. When a heritage is kept in a society that does not have any cultural, spiritual attachment with it or that does not honor its original cultural, spiritual and historical values, it will have no meaning beyond a material. Therefore, they stress that such heritages must be returned to the rightful societies.
“The second idea is getting more acceptance and having more weight than the first one these days,” says Tesfaye.
However, some countries incline not return heritages they have possessed illegally due to some irrational reasons which they put as being considerate about the heritages’ wellbeing. “They tell us that they couldn’t give back our heritages for we do not have organized facilities to keep and protect the heritages as they do. But most of the countries, which their heritages have been looted including Ethiopia, argue that they are the origins of the heritages and there is no one that would care and protect them more than they do,” notes Tesfaye.
On the other hand, the International Conventions, that have been made so far, lack strict rules that would oblige the countries to return heritages which they illegally possessed and do not belong to themselves for the rightful ones.
As a result, countries like Ethiopia have left no choice but to bring back their own heritages either by purchasing them, through diplomacy or international courts or even by receiving them as gifts from these countries and their citizens possessing them.
Meanwhile, one of the factors that posed challenges on the effort towards the restitution of Mekdela and other heritages is related to the sophisticated international conventions. Despite the fact that the Conventions affirm the return of looted heritages during wars, lack of awareness and organized information to trace gifted heritages from the stolen ones has allowed the possessing countries to illegally keep the heritages in their hands.
Therefore, the task still needs all-inclusive and integrated diplomatic, public and religious institutions’ as well as individual efforts. “We need to organize ourselves with the new global thoughts and ideologies in order to have our heritages back,” notes Tesfaye.
Y HENOK TIBEBU