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Cambridge's Jesus College removes statue of cockerel after student campaign

Published 08/03/2016

Jesus College said it welcomed input from all students in the discussion
Jesus College said it welcomed input from all students in the discussion

A Cambridge college has removed an African bronze cockerel from display after a campaign by students.

Jesus College said the Benin bronze Okukor had been taken down from its hall and it would hold discussions about its future "including the question of repatriation".

The college's Student Union passed a motion in February calling for the artwork, which it said was stolen by British forces in a "punitive raid" in 1897, be returned to Nigeria.

It comes after the Rhodes Must Fall campaign at Oxford, in which some students demanded that Oriel College take down a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes.

A Jesus College spokeswoman said: "Jesus College acknowledges the contribution made by students in raising the important but complex question of the rightful location of its Benin bronze, in response to which it has permanently removed the Okukor from its hall.

"The college commits to work actively with the wider university and to commit resources to new initiatives with Nigerian heritage and museum authorities to discuss and determine the best future for the Okukor, including the question of repatriation.

"The College strongly endorses the inclusion of students from all relevant communities in such discussion."

According to the British Museum, almost 1,000 bronzes were taken after Benin City in present-day Nigeria was occupied by imperial troops in 1897. Some 900 are now in museums and collections around the world, including at the British Museum.

The minutes of the student union meeting in February says Jesus College was bequeathed the Okukor in 1930 by Captain George William Neville, a former British Army officer whose son had been a student there.

The motion says that the students' union "believes the time is right to repatriate the cockerel to the Royal Palace of Benin in line with existing protocol".

Jesus College was set up at the start of the 16th century and has 500 undergraduate and 300 postgraduate students according to its website.

In January Oriel College Oxford said it would be keeping its statue of Cecil Rhodes, the founder of the Rhodes Scholarship, following "careful consideration" and after receiving an "overwhelming" amount of support to do so.

Campaign group Rhodes Must Fall, which collected more than 2,000 signatures on a petition demanding the statue's removal, said it represented racism and oppression.

It accused the college of "selling out" in making its decision and warned that it was critical for the institution to "reckon with its past".

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