A Benin bronze cockerel at Jesus College, Cambridge has been taken down from display after students argued it should be returned to Nigeria where it was looted from by the British in 1897.
Last week The Mancunion reported on the Jesus College Students Union’s (JCSU) debate, where the Benin Bronze Appreciation Committee (BBACs) was successful in passing the motion to repatriate the cockerel—named Okukor—to Nigeria. The university agreed on Tuesday 8th March that the cockerel should be permanently removed from its place in the main dining hall. Discussions are now underway to decide the Okukor’s future, including the possibility of its repatriation to Nigeria.
In a statement made by Cambridge University, a spokesperson said Jesus College will work with the wider university, and resources will be put toward developing new initiatives with Nigerian heritage and museum authorities “to discuss and determine the best future for the ‘Okukor’, including the question of repatriation”.
The spokesperson added that the recommendations made by students in the JCSU debate will be taken on board: “The college strongly endorses the inclusion of students from all relevant communities in such discussion.”
The cockerel, along with hundreds of other bronzes, was looted in a punitive expedition by British imperialists when it occupied Nigeria in 1897. The expedition was said to be a brutal act of imperialism, and left the Benin City, now Nigeria, completely destroyed, with thousands dead. Nigeria has made several pleas for its traditional bronzes to be returned, as the pieces are a part of its culture and its history.
For this reason the BBAC claims that returning the Okukor to the “community from which it was stolen” was “just”. According to the committee, “the contemporary political culture surrounding colonialism and social justice, combined with the University’s global agenda, offers a perfect opportunity for the College to benefit from this gesture.”
The controversy followed the ‘Rhodes must fall’ debate at Oriel College, Oxford where the university turned down students’ demands to remove a statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes. Claims state that this was because the university was being influenced by “a dictatorship of donors” that threatened to withdraw funds.