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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Zimbabwe bird 'flies' home

A unique piece of Zimbabwe's cultural heritage has been returned after being looted almost 100 years ago.

Zimbabwe flag
The bird is on Zimbabwe's flag

A fragment of Zimbabwe's soapstone carved bird sculpture taken from the Great Zimbabwe ruins was handed back to President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday by a German museum, AFP news agency reports.

The stone-carved Zimbabwe Bird is an emblem of the country, appearing on the national flag and on bank notes and coins.

The famous elegant bird carvings stood on walls and monoliths of the ancient city built it is believed sometime between the 12th and 15th century by ancestors of the Shona.

The ruins, which gave their name to modern Zimbabwe, cover some 1,800 acres and are the largest ancient stone construction south of the Sahara.

Journey

However, in what President Mugabe described as "ruthless cultural plunder", the British coloniser of Zimbabwe, Cecil Rhodes, took several birds from Great Zimbabwe to South Africa in about 1906.

Great Zimbabwe ruins
The Great Zimbabwe ruins are a major tourist attraction

"The fraction of the bird that we are officially welcoming back today has had a very eventful if not troubled existence during its almost 100 years in exile," President Mugabe was quoted by AFP as saying.

Four were returned to Zimbabwe by South Africa after independence in 1981, but a pedestal of one ended up in the hands of a German missionary who sold it to the Ethnological Museum in Berlin in 1907.

When Russian forces occupied Germany at the end of the Second World War, the bird was taken from Berlin to Leningrad, where it remained until after the Cold War, when it was returned to Germany.

Another collection of the bird's remains is at Cecil Rhodes's former home in Cape Town. President Mugabe has promised to talk to President Thabo Mbeki to try to get it returned.




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