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Okukor

Okukor is the name given to a bronze statue of a cock from West Africa, held by Jesus College, Cambridge. One of the Benin bronzes, it was taken from the Kingdom of Benin by the British expedition of 1897, sent to punish the Oba of Benin after several British officials were killed. It became controversial in 2016 as a symbol of looted art and colonialism, with demands that it be sent back to Nigeria.

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 chickens were 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 altar commemorating 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").

There are examples of historic Benin bronze cocks in many museum collections, including the National Museum of African Art in Washington DC; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Museum Five Continents (formerly the Museum für Völkerkunde) in Munich; the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford; the Etnografiska Museet in Stockholm; the Museum of African Art, Belgrade, Serbia; and the Benin City National Museum, in Benin City, Nigeria. Reproductions are still made in Nigeria by traditional processes.

The statue at Jesus College, Cambridge was described as an artistic masterpiece by The Guardian's art columnist, Jonathan Jones. It was bequeathed to the college in 1930, on the death of George William Neville, who had been a student at the college and then served as a captain in the British Army in the 1897 Benin Exhibition. The heraldic arms of the college include three cocks, a form of canting arms in honour of its founder Bishop John Alcock. The statue was displayed in the dining hall at Jesus College until 2016. In the aftermath of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, there were demands that the statue should be returned to Africa. It was removed from public display in March 2016, with the intention of repatriating it to Nigeria. In 2017, it was still in storage at the college.

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