Weeks after France returned a stolen sword to Senegal, Britain is set to return a 19th century Benin Bronze Cockerel also Known as “Okukor” which means “fowl” in Igbo Language.
The cock is an important animal in the religion of Benin, treated as a worthy animal sacrifice to deities such as Olokun, a spirit of wealth and of the sea. More than two dozen bronze cocks (Eson) are known in the art of Benin, dated between the 17th and 19th centuries. These statues of male chickenswere typically cast using a lost wax process, modelled with comb, tail and spurs, and incised patterns representing feathers, mounted on a large square base which was often decorated with a guilloche pattern. They may have been ceremonial objects, displayed on an ancestral altarcommemorating a queen mother (Iyoba), an unusual example of a male animal being used to commemorate a woman, attributable to the traditional power and privileges of the queen mother. The Oba’s senior wife, and thus often the mother of a future king, was given honorific title “Eson, Ogoro Madagba” (“the cock that crows at the head of the harem”).
After students and academics who are part of the Legacy of Slavery Working Party (LSWP) took a vote and insisted that the Benin Bronze Cockerel be repatriated to Nigeria, Cambridge University’s Jesus College will return a bronze cockerel which was looted by the British in Benin City, now Nigeria, in the 19th century, and given to the Jesus College.
The Bronze Cockerel was removed from display back in 2016 shortly after students at Oxford University had called for the removal of the statue of British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes from Oriel College.
At least 900 bronze artifacts are still housed within the British Museum after imperialist troops occupied and pillaged what was then Benin City in 1897. The Daily Telegraph reports that in 2016, students managed to obtain the support of Prince Edun Akenzua, the great-grandson of King Oba Ovoramwen, from whose kingdom the bronze artifacts were looted. In an interview, Prince Edun said, “It is something I have been campaigning for myself for many years without much success.” The then 82-year-old added that, “It is about time these statues came home to their original owners.”
Speaking about the bronze cockerel which stood for years in the main hall of Jesus College, Master of Jesus College Sonita Alleyne says, “We are an honest community, and after thorough investigation into the provenance of the Benin bronze, our job is to seek the best way forward.” She denied that the college was attempting to erase history and claimed that the decision to return the Benin bronze was a result of the LSWP’s work.
The LSWP, which includes both students and academics, was launched in May of this year to investigate the links the Benin bronze may have to slavery and the slave trade.