Thursday, 5 April 2018

V&A's Ethiopian treasures: A crown, a wedding dress and other loot

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V&A's Ethiopian treasures: A crown, a wedding dress and other loot

V&A Museum, Maqdala 1868 display: Crown, gold and gilded copper with glass beads, pigment and fabric, made in Ethiopia, 1600-1850Image copyrightV&A MUSEUM
Image captionThis crown is admired for its filigree designs and religious embossed images
The UK's Victoria and Albert Museum has offered to return on loan treasures to Ethiopia seized by British troops 150 years ago, including an ornate crown, a royal wedding dress and a gold chalice.
The overture came as some of the objects go on display until June 2019 at the museum in London to mark the anniversary of the Maqdala battle in 1868.
Historians say 15 elephants and 200 mules were needed to cart away all the loot from Maqdala, Emperor Tewodros II's northern citadel capital.
V&A Museum, Maqdala 1868 display: Cotton dress embroidered with silk, said to have belonged to Queen Woyzaro Terunesh, made in the 1860sImage copyrightV&A MUSEUM
Image captionMade in the 1860s, this wedding dress is thought to have belonged to Queen Woyzaro Terunesh
Ethiopia lodged a formal request in 2008 at various British institutions for the return of the treasures worth millions of dollars taken from Maqdala.
V&A director Tristram Hunt has reiterated that the items would remain the property of the museum but said they could be sent back home on "long-term loan".
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Maqdala 1868

V&A Museum, Maqdala 1868 display: Photograph of the Camp at Zoola during the Abyssinia Expedition 1868-9 by the Royal EngineersImage copyrightV&A MUSEUM
  • In the mid-19th Century Emperor Tewodros decided to modernise his empire, Abyssinia, by opening up relations with the UK
  • But things deteriorated after requests for military assistance were ignored
  • In protest the emperor detained the British consul and other foreigners
  • Britain reacted by sending an army to the emperor's fortress in Maqdala
  • Rather than become a prisoner, Emperor Tewodros took his own life
  • British forces left with manuscripts, crowns, crosses, chalices, religious icons, royal and ecclesiastic vestments, shields and arms
  • The emperor's seven-year-old son was also taken to Britain and then educated at Rugby School:
Maqdala 1868 display: Prince Alámayou, photograph, taken on the Isle of Wight, by Julia Margaret Cameron, July 1868Image copyrightV&A MUSEUM
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Mr Hunt told The Art Newspaper that the offer had been made to the ambassador at Ethiopia's embassy in London, which advised the V&A in its preparations for the exhibition, which opens on Thursday.
The V&A says the 20 exhibits going on display will allow a new audience to appreciate the beauty of their craftsmanship, with examples of intricate and skilled metalwork and textiles, and to reflect on their controversial history.
V&A Museum, Maqdala 1868 display: L: Ethiopian silver leather and amber necklace formerly in the possession of Queen Terunesh R: Gold chalice with incised inscription, made by Walda Giyorgis, Gonder, Ethiopia, 1732-1740Image copyrightV&A MUSEUM
Image captionOther items on display are a necklace that belonged to Queen Terunesh and a solid gold chalice
The display will also have some of the earliest examples of military photography in the UK, which the museum says was the precursor to modern photojournalism.
V&A Museum, Maqdala 1868 display: Maqdala church photograph by the Royal Engineers, Albumen printImage copyrightV&A MUSEUM
Image captionThis image of a church in Maqdala was photographed by the Royal Engineers

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Letter from Africa: Why Nigeria's hate speech bill is a jokes killer


Mourners carry banner who shows picture of people who died following clashes between Fulani herdsmen and natives of Guma and Logo districts at Ibrahim Babanginda Square in the Benue State capital Makurdi, on January 11, 2018, during a funeral serviceImage copyrightAFP
Image captionWould this banner be classed as hate speech?
In our series of letters from African journalists, novelist and writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani looks at the fine line between hate speech and harmless stereotypes in Nigeria.
The Nigerian parliament is considering a bill under which anyone found guilty of "hate speech that results in the death of another person shall die by hanging upon conviction".
The law also seeks the establishment of an "Independent National Commission for Hate Speech", to enforce hate speech laws across the country, including jail terms and fines.
This is just the latest in a number of attempts to address what appears to be a rise in hate speech across Nigeria.
In a recent talk, titled, Hate Speech: Halting the Tide Before it is Too Late, the Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, called for "an organised war against hate speech".
Last year, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo likened hate speech to an act of terrorism.
"[The government has] drawn a line against hate speech," he said. "It will not be tolerated, it will be taken as an act of terrorism and all the consequences will follow."
And, while making references to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda which was fuelled by that country's media, Nigeria's Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed, said: "In Nigeria today, the hate being spewed on radio stations across the country is so alarming.
"If you tune into many radio stations, you will be shocked by the things being said, the careless incitement to violence and the level of insensitivity to the multi-religious, multi-ethnic nature of our country."

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani:
Adaobi Tricia NwaubaniImage copyrightADAOBI TRICIA NWAUBANI
"Nigerians have always derived entertainment from poking fun at each other's differences."

These respected political and traditional leaders have spoken well.
Nigeria has experienced numerous horrific cases of ethnic violence, from the pogrom in the run-up to the 1967 civil war, right up to the present day.
But, what exactly is "hate speech"? That part is still unclear.
And what better time to leave the public with no doubts whatsoever as now that the threat of death by hanging looms?
But, unlike many parts of the western world where the slightest expression of prejudice is anathema, Nigerians have always derived entertainment from poking fun at each other's differences.
There are popular stereotypes about the three major ethnic groups—Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa—which everyone draws upon for fun.

'Give me your knife Mr President'

Shortly after Muhammadu Buhari was elected as president of Nigeria, for example, he attended the anniversary celebration of one of the south-west states.
The master of ceremonies was a popular Nigerian comedian, Ali Baba. When it was time for the dignitaries present to cut the cake, a brief delay ensued while a knife for the proceedings was being sought.
Ali Baba then turned to President Buhari and said: "Mr president, please, give me your knife. I hear that all Hausa people carry knives with them."
The entire audience, including the president, burst into wild laughter, as I did along with everyone else watching the event with me on the TV screen in a Hausa friend's office.
Nigeria's President Buhari laughs with state officialsImage copyrightAFP
Image captionPresident Buhari shares a moment of levity with some of his officials
Ali Baba, from the Niger Delta region, had drawn upon a popular stereotype of the Hausa ethnic group of northern Nigeria as ever-ready for a fight, with daggers concealed in their full and flowing robes.
But, his comment was not perceived as abusive.
Similarly, the Igbo of the south-east, like me, are often amused when people tease us about our supposed money-mindedness.
There is this popular joke about an Igbo child who continued to fail the most basic sums in his mathematics class.
But, when his teacher included dollar signs before the figures, the boy was suddenly able to add and subtract the most complex numbers with alacrity.

More like this:

The Yoruba of the south-west are teased for their two-facedness, a tendency to be fawning before you and scorning behind your back.
And any joke teller is guaranteed an instant laugh if he suddenly switches to a thick Yoruba accent, complete with the misplaced "h" sounds and the heavyweight tones.
There is a joke about a Yoruba girl who was shouting "Hamisu! Hamisu!" to her boyfriend.
He thought she was mistakenly calling the name of a secret lover, not knowing that she was actually telling him: "I miss you! I miss you!"
Man listening to radioImage copyrightAFP
Image captionHate speech laws could be used to harass journalists
The same string of words can be considered hate speech in one context, and completely harmless - fun, even - in another.
Told in a different setting and with a different motive, Ali Baba's words could easily fall into the realm of hate speech.
If hate speech in Nigeria is not clearly defined, someone somewhere may sometime someday, on a whim, decide that a crime has been committed in a similar situation, then decide to prosecute.
After all, we are talking about a country where cybercrime laws have been used to press charges against journalists who criticised politicians and businessmen online and on social media.
The tide of hate speech in Nigeria definitely needs to be stemmed. Peace and harmony among the country's more than 300 ethnic groups is essential for the country to survive and thrive.
However, the dictionary definition of hate speech will not suffice when addressing the issue.
Bearing in mind that elections are coming up in less than a year and all sorts of creative means will likely be deployed to halt political opponents—including vague laws and bogus charges.
More Letters from Africa:

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