Cambridge College To Be First In UK To Return Looted Benin Bronze

A historic moment is set to occur as the University of Cambridge’s Jesus College will return one of the Benin bronzes to Nigeria, making it the first British institution to do so. The Okukor, a royal ancestral heirloom, was taken from the kingdom of Benin during a punitive expedition in 1897 by British forces. The return of the bronze is expected to spark further repatriation ceremonies, bringing to light ongoing concerns over the ethics of plundered historical artifacts. This decision was made after calls from students to return the artifact in 2016. The college created a Legacy of Slavery Working Party to investigate its history, and upon finding that it was looted directly from the court of Benin and given to the college in 1905, the decision was made to return it. The campaign to repatriate Benin bronzes has gained momentum over the years, with much of the focus being on the British Museum, which holds the largest collection of Benin bronzes in the world. The return of this bronze by Jesus College has been hailed as a trailblazer, and other institutions with similar artifacts are urged to follow suit. The Nigerian officials expressed their gratitude, and the return of the Okukor has been described as "a new evolving approach whereby nations and institutions agree with source nations on return without rancor."

Rosetta Stone, the most popular item of the British Museum, was taken from Egypt when Napoleon invaded it in 1798 and later on acquired by the British in 1801. Despite movements for its repatriation for years, the head of archaeology at the Grand Egyptian Museum said that it would never return to the Egypt.

Following the plundering of Maqdala in what was previously known as Abyssinia in 1868, Ethiopians have been actively campaigning for the return of the items taken from them. Despite the formal restitution claim lodged in 2007 for several prominent artefacts from Maqdala, it was declined by various British institutions. However, the Victoria and Albert Museum is currently in talks with the Ethiopian embassy to return the prized possessions in its collection, such as the gold crown and the royal wedding dress.

The British Museum currently houses thousands of stolen Aboriginal artefacts, including bark art and the Gweagal shield, which depicts resistance from the Indigenous people when Captain Cook’s men first encountered them in 1770. Rodney Kelly, a descendant of the Gweagal warrior Cooman, spoke out against Britain’s denial to return the artefacts, stating that it was unjust for them not to be given to their rightful owners.


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