Jesus College Cambridge to return Benin Bronze to Nigeria

The college will be one of the first institutions to return looted bronze statues to Nigeria

Jesus College Cambridge, have announced that they will be returning a Benin bronze statue of a cockerel to Nigeria.

Delegates from Nigeria will arrive at the college on 27th October for a handover ceremony and formal dinner to mark the returning of the bronze cockerel. This repatriation of a Benin bronze is among the first of its kind for a UK institution.

The statue, known as the Okukor, was described by the college as a “royal ancestral heirloom”, and was stolen from the then kingdom of Benin (which later became part of Nigeria) in 1897 alongside thousands of other bronzes.

The oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, said: “We are indeed very pleased and commend Jesus College for taking this lead in making restitution for the plunder that occurred in Benin in 1897.”

“We truly hope that others will expedite the return of our artworks which in many cases are of religious importance to us.”

The Oba added thanks for the students of Cambridge for “bringing to light the historical significance of this revered piece of the royal court of Benin.”

This announcement follows the removal of the Okukor from public display in 2016 following calls from the student body. The college first announced their intention to return the bronze in 2019, and caused other institutions which hold looted bronzes to consider returning artefacts as well – the largest collection of over 900 is held in the British museum.

The master of Jesus College, Sonita Alleyne, said: “This is a historic moment … it is the right thing to do out of respect for the unique heritage and history of this artefact.”

This move comes in the context of increased calls for a decolonised education and critical examination in how Britain and old institutions like Cambridge deal with their colonial history – like the numerous artefacts that were looted from across the world that retain significance to their home countries. 

Cover Photo Credits: Jesusgreen on Wikimedia Commons via The Creative Commons Licence