The Pygmy in the Zoo
An account of the exploitation of Ota Benga, a Congolese pygmy, describes how, in 1906, a missionary in Africa brought Benga to the United States, placed him on display at the World's Fair, and eventually caged him at the Bronx Zoo.
Blackwell North Amer
Less than a century ago, a human being was put on display in the Bronx Zoo in New York City.
Ota Benga, an African, came to be the symbol of an era awestruck by anthropology and Social Darwinism. Ota Benga: The Pygmy in the Zoo is the story of the Congolese pygmy Ota Benga, spirited away from "captors" in Africa to be put on display at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, and later, in the Bronx Zoo.
Ota's odyssey stretched from the Belgian Congo far beyond the Bronx, to a Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, to an orphans' home in Brooklyn, and finally, to a seminary in Virginia. His journey began in 1903, when an eccentric and ambitious missionary with scientific intentions, Samuel Phillips Verner, arrived in the Congo on a "specimen-gathering mission" for the World's Fair committee. He introduced Ota Benga to the States to be ogled and prodded, examined and questioned - an object for gawking tourists and budding scientists. Ota's journey ended when he sought refuge under the tutelage of the poet Anne Spencer; he committed suicide before he could return to Africa one final time.
The early part of the American twentieth century fulfilled its share of demagogues and party bosses, quacks and rogues, yellow journalists and dishonest preachers, and lies not so far from our own on the calendar. This is the first time Ota's story has been told.
Describes how, in 1906, a missionary in Africa brought Benga to the United States and placed him on display at the World's Fair
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