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Cambridge University college returning looted bronze cockerel to Nigeria

Written by on 27/10/2021

A Cambridge University college will return a looted bronze cockerel to Nigeria.

The statue, known as the Okukur, was looted by British colonial forces in 1897 and given to Jesus College in 1905 by the father of a student.

Students campaigned for the artefact to be returned, and the college’s Legacy of Slavery Working Party concluded in 2019 that it “belongs with the current Oba at the Court of Benin”.

The Oba of Benin is head of the historic Eweka dynasty of the Benin Empire, centred on Benin City in modern-day Nigeria.

The looted Benin bronze cockerel, known as the Okukur
Image: The looted Benin bronze cockerel, known as the Okukur

Handover documents will be signed at a ceremony at the college on Wednesday to transfer ownership of the Okukur to the delegation from Nigeria.

The ceremony, to include speeches and music, will be streamed online in Nigeria.

Sonita Alleyne, master of Jesus College, said: “It’s massively significant. It’s a momentous occasion.”

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She said it was the “right thing to do” to return the artefact, which is of “cultural and spiritual significance to the people of Nigeria”.

“It’s part of their ancestral heritage,” Ms Alleyne added, adding that the Nigerian delegation will decide how and when to move the Okukur.

Master of Jesus College Sonita Alleyne (left) with Director General of Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments Professor Abba Isa Tijani ahead of a ceremony at Jesus College, Cambridge, where the looted bronze cockerel, known as the Okukur, will be returned to Nigeria. The Legacy of Slavery Working Party concluded that the statue, which was looted by British colonial forces in 1897 and given to Jesus College in 1905 by the father of a student, "belongs with the current Oba at the
Image: The pair stand with the statue ahead of the ceremony

Ms Alleyne said museums in France, Germany and the Netherlands are engaged in discussions about returning Benin bronzes.

“We hope they do get to the same position as we do,” she said. “We think it’s a morally grounded position.”

The statue was removed from display at the college in 2016 and will be given to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments in a ceremony attended by delegates from the commission and Benin.

His royal majesty, Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, said in a statement: “We truly hope that others will expedite the return of our artworks, which in many cases are of religious importance to us.”

 Sky News

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