Following the Cecil Rhodes controversy at Oxford University, Jesus College Cambridge has witnessed a similar debate in its own Students’ Union. The Benin Bronze Appreciation Committee (BBAC) put forward the motion to return the statue to Nigeria in a repatriation ceremony, in an effort to “weed out the colonial legacies that exist” in the University. The 11-page document that proposed the motion emphasises that the gesture to return the cockerel would be the “just” thing to do.
The sculpture, named “Okukor”, along with several other Benin Bronze items, was looted by the British during the ‘Punitive Expedition’ in 1897. The expedition is remembered as a brutal act of imperialism, in which the British killed thousands of citizens and destroyed the city of Benin, leading to an annexation of the Kingdom. Nigeria has made several requests for Benin artwork to be returned to its rightful home, as the art is essential to Nigerian history and culture. Students state the returning of the okukor would provide mutual benefit both for the university and Nigerian culture.
The Benin bronze cockerel has been situated in Jesus College since the 1930s. The cockerel is the mascot for the College, named after its founder, John Alcock, the Bishop of Ely. Students suggested Okukor could be replaced with something of the college’s choice.
The BBAC presented their debate successfully, meaning that the College’s council will discuss their proposals on the 7th of March. It was a unanimous decision in the Students’ Union, however there has been discussion elsewhere to allow the cockerel to tour different places of the world. Jonathan Jones from The Guardian argues that this way it can be seen by many people, whilst being reminded it is a piece of Nigerian culture.
Jason Okundaye, a Pembroke College student involved in the discussion, brought forward the point that black students should have more say in the cockerel’s repatriation.