A bronze cockerel at Cambridge University’s Jesus College that had been looted from Nigeria in a British raid that occurred in the 19th century is set to be repatriated. The move came after a successful campaign from students to reject the “spoils of war”.
The Benin bronze is known as “Okukor”, a name that represents a cockerel among several tribes in Nigeria. It was stolen from present-day Nigeria by early Victorian explorers. The bronze was bequeathed to Jesus College by a former British Army officer. It has resided in the college ever since.
In March 2016, the bronze cockerel was removed from public view after protests from students. The students claimed that it celebrated a colonial narrative. Indeed, the protests came in the wake of the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes; from Oxford’s Oriel College. Equally important, Rhodes was a well-known 19th century colonialist.
Since the removal of the bronze cockerel from public view; university authorities have been deliberating on its repatriation to Nigeria from where it was stolen. Subsequently, the Legacy of Slavery Working Party (LSWP) has recommended the return of the bronze cockerel to Nigeria. The LSW includes academics and students. It was set up earlier in 2019 by the college to investigate historic links it may have to the slave trade.
However, the Jesus College has finally confirmed that the sculpture will be returned to its original home in Nigeria.
Specifically, Jesus College disclosed its decision in a statement.
Prince Akenzua decries long delay over return of prized bronze cockerel
“Following interim recommendations from our Legacy of Slavery Working Party (LSWP), Jesus College has decided that a Benin Bronze statue of a cockerel will be returned, and that we will acknowledge and contextualise Tobias Rustat’s role in our history.”
The UK Telegraph reports that the students’ campaign gained further momentum after winning the backing of Prince Edun Akenzua; the great-grandson of Oba Ovoramwen, from whose kingdom the bronzes were looted in 1897.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph at his home in Benin City in southern Nigeria; Prince Akenzua disclosed that he had written to the Jesus College students’ union to express his support for repatriation.
“It is something I have been campaigning for myself for many years without much success. It is about time these statues came home to their original owners.
Further, Prince Akenzua, whose family still serve as traditional rulers in Benin City, had described the saga as ridiculous.
“It is ridiculous. It is like tracking down a thief who has stolen your car; only for him to tell you that you can’t have it back because there is a risk it might get stolen again.”
The Benin Bronzes were a collection of 3,000 pieces of art taken by British troops during reprisals for the killing of nine of their countrymen in a trade dispute between London and the Benin monarch.
About 900 of those artefacts are housed in museums and collections around the world, including the British Museum.