Scientific Racism Ota Benga the human exhibited at the Bronx Zoo
Ota Benga, the pygmy held captive at the 1904 St. Louis worlds fair, American Museum of Natural History and as a human zoo exhibit in New York.
Scientific Racism and the Human Zoo.
He purchased him and several other Pygmies who were brought to live in the anthropology exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. The pygmies took up residence in the anthropology exhibit, next to a group of Native Americans that included the legendary Geronimo. Benga and his group won the gold medal for entertaining the crowds with their dances and other tribal rituals.
Two years later in 1906 when Verner and Benga arrived in New York City from Africa, he arranged for Ota Benga to live at the American Museum of Natural History. Benga was later that year exhibited in a cage with animals, first a chimpanzee, and then an orangutan named Dohang at the New York Bronx Zoo.
By the end of September, against a wall of white indifference more than 220,000 people had visited the zoo, twice as many as the same month one year earlier. Nearly all of them headed directly to the primate house to see Ota Benga.
“Bushman Shares a Cage with Bronx Park Apes,” The New York Times headlined on Sept. 9, 1906. The subhead reported: “Some Laugh at his Antics, But Many are Not Pleased.” William Temple Hornaday, the zoo’s founding director, and curator, defended the exhibition on the grounds of science. I am giving the exhibition purely as an ethnological exhibit,” he said. The display, he insisted, was in keeping with the practice of “human exhibitions” of Africans in Europe.
The editorial also declared, “As for Benga himself, he is probably enjoying himself as well as he could anywhere in his country, and it is absurd to make moan over the imagined humiliation and degradation he is suffering.” Claiming, “Pygmies are very low in the human scale, “We do not quite understand all the emotion which others are expressing in the matter,” the paper said in an unsigned editorial. “Ota Benga, according to our information, is a normal specimen of his race or tribe, with a brain as much developed, as are those of its other members.
Ota Benga, in Africa, had children and was married twice but all his loved ones were either murdered or died of disease.