What: A necklace of silver and glass beads threaded onto blue silk cord, worn by Prince Alamayu. He was photographed and painted many times wearing it.
Where: The British Museum, Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG
Photo: The British Museum charges people to reproduce images of things in its collection, even plundered things. My budget won’t stretch that far, so you’ll have to go to the museum website to see the necklace as it looks today – britishmuseum.org/collection/object/E_Af1912-0410-7
Here are some of the photos and pictures of Alamayu wearing it – two in Ethiopia soon after the Battle of Maqdala, one on Malta and the rest soon after his arrival in Britain in 1868.
There it is on the British Museum website, that necklace, the one Alamayu wore in the first photograph the Royal Engineers took of him when he was still reeling from the shock of war. You can see him wearing it again and again in the black-and-white engravings and the staged studio photographs on his rush out of Ethiopia and his first years in Britain.
It is still a jolt to see it today, in three dimensions, in colour, like the jolt when the colour floods into the old First World War footage in Peter Jackson’s documentary film They Shall Not Grow Old, something
out of distant history shifting into present reality.
Twenty-three teardrop or shell-shaped silver pendants, separated by bright red and white glass beads and threaded onto a blue silk cord. What had once been an emblem of rank for Dejazmatch Alamayu must have become something much more personal, something of home to hold on to as the world kept shifting from Ethiopia, to Britain, to India, back to Britain. He may have got a bit more tired of it as photographers kept insisting on him wearing it, even over his Western clothes.
It became a prop, a shorthand for the exotic, and disappeared from his portraits as he got older. The necklace ended up with Speedy – something of Alamayu for him to hold on to.
The British Museum catalogue entry describes a “necklace of silver and glass beads threaded onto blue silk cord, previously owned by Prince Alamayu , Son of Emperor Tewodros of Ethiopia”.
Museum number: Af1912,0410.7
Donated by: Mrs Cornelia Mary Speedy
Field Collection by: Capt Tristram C S Speedy
Acquisition date: 1912