Europe’s former colonial powers are trying desperately to shed the burden of history. France’s Emmanuel Macron has been visiting four African countries with a promise of “deep humility” towards the continent. In Britain, Buckingham Palace sidestepped a diplomatic clash with India by announcing that King Charles III’s wife, Camilla would not wear the Kohinoor diamond at the May 6 coronation.
But the baggage of the past remains unwieldy. New questions have arisen over the baubles that will feature in the royal ceremony. These gems will be from the Cullinan, the world’s largest diamond, which was mined from South Africa in 1905 and gifted to Charles’s great-great-grandfather King Edward VII. Camilla’s crown will have three substantial chunks from the Cullinan, while the sceptre Charles is set to receive during the coronation contains another large hunk from it — the 530-carat Star of Africa. Historians say the Cullinan is a symbol of European exploitation of Africa’s resources and a months-long social media campaign is calling for the diamond’s return to South Africa. Even with the Kohinoor banished from public view, it’s fair to say 21st century Britain is feeling the weight of its colonial past as the debate over sovereignty, historic injustice, possession, dispossession and restitution gathers steam in European capitals. It’s hard to predict what happens next considering the Manchester Museum, founded at the height of the Raj, reopened mid-February with a bold new reassessment of empire as well as the first permanent museum gallery on the South Asian diaspora.
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