Cambridge to return looted Benin statue


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A Cambridge University college has said it will return a bronze cockerel statue looted from Nigeria, which formed the focus of protests over symbols of Britain’s colonial past.

Cambridge to return looted Benin statue
The statue known as “Okukor” was taken in 1897 from the former kingdom of Benin
[Credit: Chris Loades, AFP]

The statue known as “Okukor” was taken in 1897 from the former kingdom of Benin, which is now part of southern Nigeria, and given to Jesus college in 1905 by the father of a student.

In a statement issued on Wednesday (27th Nov.), the college said the recommendation to return it was made by a working group investigating the legacy of slavery.

“This royal ancestral heirloom belongs with the current Oba (king) at the Court of Benin,” it said, adding that the details of how and when it would be returned had yet to be resolved.

The statue was removed from display in 2016 following protests by students, who said it was looted by British troops during a “punitive expedition” as revenge for the killing of officers.

Around the same time, Oxford University faced an angry but unsuccessful campaign to remove a statue of 19th-century British imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

Nigerian royals in Benin City have repeatedly called for the return of hundreds of ancient artefacts, known as the Benin Bronzes, which were looted by the British in the 19th century.

The highly decorative pieces, depicting the oba and his courtiers from centuries earlier, are still housed at leading museums around the world, including the British Museum in London.

There has been resistance to any return from western institutions, primarily because of concern about how the treasures would be maintained.

But the young brother of the current oba, Prince Edun Akenzua, told AFP in 2016: “If a man stole my car and admitted that he stole it and returned it to me, what is his business whether I have a garage or not to keep the car?

“These artefacts belong to our ancestors. They must be returned to us. It’s nobody’s business how we preserve them.”

Source: AFP [November 28, 2019]



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