Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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Peter GAEHTGENS, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Kebra Nagast describes the legendary visit of the Queen of Saba to King Salomon which led to the birth of their son Menelik who, when grown up to be a young man and returned from a visit to his father in Jerusalem removed the arc of covenant from the Great Temple and brought it to Axum. Symbolically, this narrative stands for a transfer of God's blessing to the Ethiopian people and claims spiritual power and divine legitimacy for the „Salomonic dynasty“ of Ethiopian Emperors. Compiled from much older legends passed on through generations in the persian/arabic/judaic world, the text was written down around the end of the 13th century AD. Its message legitimised and thus stabilised Ethiopia's monarchy and was highly valued over many centuries. None of the important manuscripts of Kebra Nagast had been left in Ethiopia, when, in the wake of the Napier expedition against Emperor Tewodros I. in 1868, the loot of Magdala had been transported to England. Yet, following a request from Emperor Yohannis IV in a letter to Queen Victoria, one of the Magdala manuscripts which had been deposited in the British Museum under signature OM819 was restituted, in December 1872, to Ethiopia by decision of the Museum's Trustees. In 1914, this manuscript was shown,, by Emperor Menelik II to the French Hugues LeRoux. Today's location of OM819 is kept a secret and not accessible for academic study, conservational assessment or public view. Besides presenting the fascinating fate of OM819, the Poster proposes, in support of cultural ownership and identity of the Ethiopian public, an exhibition of this manuscript together with its „sisters in kind“ from London, Oxford, Paris and Berlin, on occasion of the 150th anniversary (December 2022) of Kebra Nagast's return to Ethiopia.