When he was just seven years old, Prince Dejatch Alemayehu of Ethiopia was taken to the United Kingdom by British army officer Captain Tristram Speedy. His father, Emperor Tewodros II, had just died by suicide during the Battle of Magdala rather than surrender, and his mother, Empress Tiruwork Wube, had also just died.
Prince Alemayehu was raised in the UK, but he was reportedly "deeply unhappy" and longed to return home. At age 18, he died, and was buried in St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. At the time of his death, Queen Victoria wrote in her journals, "Very grieved & shocked to hear by telegram, that good Alamayou had passed away this morning. It is too sad! All alone, in a strange country, without a single person or relative belonging to him. His was no happy life, full of difficulties of every kind, and was so sensitive, thinking that people stared at him on account of his colour... Everyone is very sorry."
Now, many Ethiopians describe what happened to Prince Alemyahu as a kidnapping—and urge Buckingham Palace to repatriate his remains to his home.
In 2007, Ethiopian president Girma Wolde-Giorgis formally sent a request for his return to Queen Elizabeth. As Ethiopian novelist Maaze Mengiste wrote in an op-ed in 2015, "There is no viable reason to continue to hold his remains hostage. He has become, like the sacred and valuable objects still in British museums and libraries, a possession."
The subject of Prince Alemyaehu reemerged this week when Buckingham Palace said they would not return his remains to Ethiopia.
The palace says it cannot remove his remains without disturbing others buried at St. George's Chapel. "It is very unlikely that it would be possible to exhume the remains without disturbing the resting place of a substantial number of others in the vicinity," the palace said in a statement, via the BBC. They added that authorities were "very sensitive to the need to honour the memory of Prince Alemayehu" but also had a "responsibility to preserve the dignity of the departed."
Many are upset by this news. "We want his remains back as a family and as Ethiopians, because that is not the country he was born in," his distant relative Fasil Minas told the BBC. "The fact that he was buried there is meaningless and it was not right."
Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry said the Prince was a "prisoner of war." In a statement to the Washington Post, they said, "We believe Prince Alemayehu deserves a descent burial in his home country. The Government of Ethiopia remains committed to redouble efforts to realize the repatriation of the remains … as well as several looted items from Magdala, which are of great historical, cultural and religious significance to Ethiopians."
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