Jesus College in Cambridge has decided to return its Benin Bronze sculpture to Nigeria, the first British institute engaging in repatriation.
The object in question is a sculpture called the Benin Cockerel (called an Okpa in Edo). The sculpture originally belonged to George William Neville, who was a shipping agent in Africa. Neville was known for looting a variety of local objects from Africa during his career. In 1905, he gifted the Benin Cockerel to Jesus College, where his son studied.
The sculpture is part of a large range of objects known as the Benin Bronzes. A large number of these objects were looted by the British forces from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897. These objects were assumed to have been made to pay homage to the queen mothers in Benin. A large number of Benin Bronzes today are spread across the world, including MMA and British Museum.
The story of its repatriation began when Amatey Doku and Ore Ogunbiyi, two of the first Black students of the college, spotted the Okpa in 2015. They started to research its history and conveyed their findings to the college administration. In 2019, Sonita Alleyne, a teacher at the school, notified the students that the Okpa was not owned by the college. Now, the sculpture will finally head back to its original home in Nigeria.
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With this, Jesus College became the first-ever institution to return a Benin Bronze. However, many museums and governments have already engaged in the repatriation of the Benin Bronzes. The most recent example was when Germany signed an accord, promising the return of thousands of Benin Bronzes to Nigeria by 2022.