In a handover ceremony held on Thursday, the Dutch government returned an artifact that was stolen from Ethiopia in the 18th century. The crown, which is of high religious relevance, was taken from a church in Ethiopia 21 years ago, the Dutch government stated this.
Fortunately, the priceless artifact somehow ended up in the hands of Sirak Asfaw, a Dutch national of Ethiopian origin who immigrated to the Netherlands in the late 1970s. According to him, the crown came into his hands in 1998. He found it in a suitcase which was left behind by a guest in his apartment.
According to Asfaw, he had kept the crown for twenty years because he was skeptical about returning it to the same government that was in power when it was stolen. He was reluctant to hand over the “looted heritage to the same regime like the one during which it was stolen…That is why I have waited for 21 years and have safeguarded it all those years,” he said.
Asfaw also mentioned that he was worried the Dutch government might want to temporarily lend the looted heritage to its rightful owner (Ethiopia). This was the case when the British government offered to temporarily loan the Benin bronze, which it stole from Nigeria to its rightful owner.
Asfaw, however, reached out to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs last year, to let them know that he had the artifact. According to the ministry, “Last year Asfaw got in touch through the mediation of art detective Arthur Brand, to discuss how to return this important cultural artifact to Ethiopia.”
This move by Asfaw would be the beginning of several discussions that have eventually resulted in a special handover ceremony which took place on Thursday.
The president of Ethiopia, who received the crown at the event, thanked the Dutch government for bringing home the “precious crown.” The event was also attended by Asfaw, and Sigrid Kaag, Netherlands foreign trade and development cooperation minister.
Kaag said the Dutch government was happy to aid the return of the artifact. In his words, “We’re honored and delighted to have been able to facilitate the rightful return. This is the crowning achievement of returning this heritage to its rightful place”
It is honorable that more European countries have pledged to restore precious artifacts such as this, back to Africa, where they were forcefully taken from. It is not only good that Africa gets back what is rightfully hers, but it also tells her story. Young Africans can have a glimpse of what Africa used to be before slavery and colonialism, Africans can be sure and proud of their heritage, Africans can decipher lies told about their heritage and civilization and choose what to believe.
According to CNN “French collections house at least 90,000 pieces originating from sub-Saharan Africa with around 70,000 works in Paris’ Quai Branly museum alone.”