A lock of hair belonging to a young Ethiopian prince, who passed away over 140 years ago, has been formally handed over to representatives from Ethiopia in the UK.
In 1868, British forces took custody of Prince Alemayehu after their invasion of his father’s fortress, Emperor Tewodros II, who subsequently took his own life.
The crown prince’s life took a tragic turn, and he passed away at the age of 18 in 1879 following an unhappy upbringing in Britain. His final resting place is Windsor Castle near London, and recent appeals to repatriate his remains to Ethiopia have been denied.
Fasil Minas, one of the prince’s descendants, expressed optimism that the return of the lock of hair could set a precedent for the eventual repatriation of his body to Ethiopia.
During a ceremony in London, Ethiopia’s ambassador to the UK, Teferi Melesse, received the lock of hair and several other artifacts that had been looted from Emperor Tewodros’s Maqdala fortress.
Ambassador Melesse welcomed their return, emphasizing that they belong to their rightful place and will continue to inspire and educate future generations. He also noted Ethiopia’s ongoing efforts to persuade the UK to return additional items taken from the fortress.
Prince Alemayehu was taken to London at the tender age of seven, where his orphaned status garnered the sympathy of Queen Victoria. She agreed to provide financial support and entrusted his guardianship to Captain Tristram Charles Sawyer Speedy, the individual who had accompanied the young prince from Ethiopia.
The Scheherazade Foundation, which facilitated the return of the lock of hair, revealed that it had originally been in the possession of Captain Speedy. Leonie Turner, a descendant of Captain Speedy, handed over the hair in London, noting her discovery of the artifact among her family’s heirlooms.
While the return of the prince’s hair is a significant step, Alula Pankhurst, a member of Ethiopia’s Heritages Restitution National Committee, emphasized that this should mark only the beginning.
He stated that the restitution of Ethiopian artifacts looted during the 1868 British expedition to Magdala is vital for restorative justice and for fostering stronger relations and collaborations between British and Ethiopian institutions.
Calls for the return of the prince’s body have been ongoing, with a renewed demand from his descendants in May.
However, Buckingham Palace has firmly rejected this request, citing concerns that exhuming the prince’s remains would disturb the resting places of others interred in the catacombs of St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.