Ethiopia is still awaiting the long-promised return from Italy of a priceless obelisk that was taken from Axum in northern Ethiopia on Mussolini's orders in 1937, but they can now console themselves with the return of a sacred church tablet known as the "Tabor", taken by the British in 1868 from Maqdala in northern Ethiopia and kept in Scotland for 133 years.
Under the 1947 Peace Treaty and a 1997 treaty signed between Ethiopia and Italy, both of which stipulated that all of the objects looted from Ethiopia by Italy (including the obelisk) be returned, Addis Ababa has had no joy so far -- the obelisk still stands tall in Rome.
But Scotland has proven not to be as mean as Italy. On 27 January, at a colourful ceremony in Edinburgh, Scotland handed over the "Tabot", Ethiopia's equivalent of one of the 10 tablets of the Jewish "Ark of the Covenant", to Archbishop Isaias, a member of the holy synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahido Church.
The Tabot was found in a cupboard in the Scottish Episcopal Church of St John in Edinburgh by the Rev John McLuckie. He recognised it as he was familiar with Ethiopian Orthodox objects. He had visited Ethiopia in 1986.
The Tabot was "donated" to the Church by a returning English officer, Captain Arbuthnot, who brought it back in 1868 after the invasion of Maqdala in 1863 by the British expedition led by Gen Sir Robert Napier which was triggered by a bitter diplomatic row between Queen Victoria and Emperor Tewodors II of Ethiopia.
When they were withdrawing, the British army looted Ethiopian treasures, including sacred artefacts, manuscripts, and historical and cultural valuables which are now owned by individuals and institutions scattered all over Britain and beyond.
"If someone else had found the Tabot, perhaps they would not have recognised its deep significance and it would have remained in the cupboard," said the Rev McLuckie.
Archbishop Isaias travelled from Ethiopia to receive it and return it safely to Addis Ababa. The ceremony was attended by a huge congregation, including hundreds of Ethiopians in the UK.
The Tabot is the most potent symbol of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. No one is permitted to look upon it except the priest. Its return heralds a turning point in the whole issue of looted treasures.
The Church of St John is now urging the British Museum to return a further 10 Ethiopian Tabots that are in its possession. They were all looted, along with other treasures, during Gen Napier's...