Calls for the return of ‘stolen’ artefacts have been renewed following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Britains’s longest reigning monarch. Citizens of South Africa and India say their countries own some of the world’s most expensive treasures, used by the British monarch, and have asked the royal family to return them to their countries of origin. Upon the Queen’s death, South Africans started trending ‘Great Star of Africa’ on Twitter with tweets asking that the biggest stone cut from the Cullinan diamond, discovered in a South African mine in 1905, be returned.
A Twitter user, @KimataVedastus wrote, “now it’s time to take back our Great Star of Africa :Cullinan I(Diamond) to South Africa. That’s the symbol of African greatness, the power of African God blessings. It shows how Africa is rich but you don’t even get tired of stealing its resources.”
The Great Star of Africa or Cullinan I (diamond), is cut from a larger gem that was mined in South Africa in 1905 and handed over to the British royal family by South Africa’s colonial authorities. It is currently mounted on a royal sceptre belonging to the Queen. It was added to the royal sceptre with a cross, which dates back to the 1600s, and used during coronation ceremonies in 1910. It is also on public display in the Jewel House at the Tower of London. It is the largest gem-quality uncut diamond ever found. Another diamond obtained from the source (the Cullinan) is set in the Imperial State Crown. Known as the Second Star of Africa, it was made for the coronation of King George VI in 1937 and worn by the monarch upon leaving Westminster Abbey after the coronation. The same crown was placed on Queen Elizabeth’s coffin as she lay in state at Westminster Hall.
According to Britannica, the colourless stone was purchased by the Transvaal government and was presented in 1907 to the reigning British monarch, King Edward VII. It was cut into 9 large stones and about 100 smaller ones by I.J. Asscher and Company of Amsterdam, famed for their cutting of the Excelsior diamond, which until the discovery of the Cullinan had been the largest known diamond. The stones cut from the Cullinan diamond are now part of the British regalia.
Over 7,000 people have signed a Change.org petition asking for the return of the Cullinan diamond to South Africa.
Almost simultaneously, Indians on Twitter also started a campaign asking the monarch to return the Kohinoor. The 105.6-carat Kohinoor diamond was mined in India thousands of years ago and is one of the largest cut diamonds in the world. It was initially worn as a brooch by Queen Victoria and later mounted on the crowns of Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary. It is currently set in a crown that was created for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother for her coronation as queen consort in 1937. She wore it again at the coronation of her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, in 1953. It is on public display in the Jewel House at the Tower of London and will reportedly be worn by Camilla, Queen Consort, at King Charles III’s coronation. The true origin of the Kohinoor is however in question as several countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India have laid claim to it demanding its return. In 2010, the then British Prime Minister, David Cameron, during a two-day visit to India, said the diamond was staying put in Britain amidst calls from India to return the diamond as atonement for the colonial past.
Six years after (2016), the Indian Culture Ministry said it would make “all possible efforts” to have the diamond returned to India.
Indian journalist Aditya Kaul said the best way for the British Royal Family to give farewell to Queen Elizabeth would be to do a historic course correction; apologize to South Africa, India and other former colonies where people were persecuted, looted and treated as slaves and return the stolen diamonds and Kohinoor. There has yet to be any official statement from the governments of India and South Africa on these calls.