A Black Man, Ota Benga, Held In The Bronx Zoo As Exhibit, Ended His Life 100 Years Ago [Images]

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If you have not heard about the story of Ota Benga, we are telling it today. We are not telling Benga’s story to spark hatred. We are only reminding ourselves of some of the horrible things that have happened in the past, so that we will all join hands and say “Never Again,” should these things be repeated.

Benga was born around 1883 in the then Congo Free State, Africa. The Congo Free State is the modern day Democratic Republic of the Congo. The so-called Free State was ruled by the brutal Belgian leader, King Leopold II.

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Leopold had annexed the Congo as his private property, plundering the resources of the region with impunity. Besides looting resources, he instituted the Force Publique, a brutal forced labor system. The Force Publique forced the locals to produce rubber for Leopold. Many atrocities were committed during this time. It is estimated that more than 12 million people lost their lives through King Leopold’s hard labor policy.




Benga was a member of the Mbuti people. He and his people lived in the equatorial forests near the Kasai River. One day, when Benga had returned from a hunting expedition, he was faced with a terrifying scene. All his people, including his wife, parents and children had been massacred by the militia enforcing the Force Publique. Benga was lucky to survive; if he had been present when the militia attacked his village, he would have shared the same fate.

With this devastating blow, Benga decided to roam the forest alone. However, he was soon captured by slave hunters. The American businessman and explorer, Samuel Phillips Verner will later buy Benga from his captives with a pound of salt and a bolt of cloth. Verner had traveled to the Congo under contract from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis World Fair) to bring back an assortment of pygmies for an exhibition. A pygmy is a member of any human group whose average height is very short.

Therefore, when Verner saw Benga, he marked him as the perfect addition to the exhibition. Having bought Benga with those ridiculous items, Verner continued his search for more pygmies.

After getting the number he wanted, Verner shipped them back home. Verner took a special interest in Benga, due to his unique physical characteristics. Benga was considered more unique than the others because his teeth were sharp, which is said to be a tradition of his tribe. It was custom for the young men of the tribe to have sharp and pointed teeth.

With a height of four feet, eleven inches, and weighing just 103 pounds, Benga was ready to begin a very sad journey. Benga, together with others, was put on display. The exhibition showed real humans from a number of “exotic” ethnicities dressed in their native gear on a staged reproduction of their homes.

After the exhibition, Verner became even closer to Benga. Verner traveled with Benga to Africa, where he allowed him to marry for the second time. However, when Benga’s wife died of a snake bite, Verner took him back to America.

Verner got him a place to live at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where he was “free to roam” until he threw a chair at Florence Guggenheim. He was then relocated to the Bronx Zoo as a punishment.

In 1906, 40 years after the abolishment of slavery, Benga was billed as the “missing link,” on display in the Bronx Zoo cage alongside a monkey. Crowds flocked to see Benga. While some of the visitors were entertained by the display, black activists became so infuriated they called for Benga to be released.

Benga was constantly put on display alongside the monkey. Soon, Benga became the most popular exhibit in the Zoo.

A disappointed and disgusted reader of The New York Globe wrote: “I lived in the south several years, and consequently am not overfond of the negro, but believe him human. I think it a shame that the authorities of this great city should allow such a sight as that witnessed at the Bronx Park — a negro boy on exhibition in a monkey cage.”

After receiving backlash in the media, the authorities were forced to free Benga. The Colored Baptist Ministers Conference protested and played a key role in Benga’s freedom.

Some black activists helped him move to Lynchburg, Virginia, where his teeth were capped and his name was changed to Otto Bingo. Benga was then made to attend school for a short time, until he felt his English was sufficient. Thereafter, he found employment at a tobacco factory.

As he began to live out his new life, he expressed his desire to return to Africa. However, due to the outbreak of World War I, this was not possible. The war prevented passenger ships from travelling.

Depression took over his life. Although he was free, he was still being sought after by those who wanted to catch a glimpse of him. He gave up all hope.

On March 20, 1916, Benga removed the caps from his teeth, built a ceremonial fire, and with a stolen gun, shot himself. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Lynchburg.

That is how our brother’s life ended. He had seen and experienced so many terrible things during his time on earth. Even as he sleeps soundly in his unmarked grave, the legacy he left behind still echoes in eternity.

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32 COMMENTS

  1. When will people realise that the white man was not responsible for the slave trade it was happening in Africa many years before we got the blame ie Africans Muslims, taking slaves look up your history before trying to make me feel guilty, what about the white slave trade in the 1800 hundreds no mention of that, yes it’s wrong what happened to this man, but I will not be made to feel guilty over some thing I had no control over, it’s done over with, learn to respect people ffs

      • I am a white person and I have never step foot in America (not to mention my people were slaves for 500 years). Am I guilty too ????

      • Obviously you’ve never read a book and are making up your own history, the black man enslaved their people the white man freed them. please stop the bullshit and the lies. it’s written and documented everywhere! again, this is 2016, stop the race shit. I think it’s safe to say that WE ARE ALL in the same shit boat together, my Family have died in the holocaust,(my mothers side is Polish) and my ancestors were enslaved on their own land (fathers native american) so its safe to say we all have a story.

    • This is the story of one man’s life, in which he was screwed over in many ways and ultimately he had enough. Pretty sad. It’s a reality that won’t be taught at all in schools in years to come. It’s a reality check of history. We celebrate our rising up against tyranny, and our independence, but those who came before us fucked over a lot of people…… FACT

    • take some of your own advice about learning how to respect people. As a white man I do not feel guilty about this horrible event because i know, like the author, that this was in the past. The author even prefaces the article with, “We are not telling Benga’s story to spark hatred. We are only reminding ourselves of some of the horrible things that have happened in the past.” Why do you feel guilty? Sounds like you have some issues within yourself that you need to address rather than spouting off on someone telling a story that would never be included in a history book. This particular story involved white slave traders, there was no need to mention the entire history of slave trading to tell this particular story. I for one am glad I came across it.

    • Gee lee, sounds like you’re the one struggling with a guilty conscience? No one said that white men were solely responsible for slavery. However they were responsible for this particular atrocity that occurred 40 years after slavery was supposedly abolished. And no, you had no control of what transpired or the horrors that poor man endured. But this should not be swept under the rug and forgotten! We are human and we should all feel shame for what was done to this man. Because we are human, we should feel in our heart that what was done to this other human being was wrong! Never forget.

    • The difference is; White men took slavery to whole new level of barbarity. The Muslim slave traders were very rarely as brutal, this is seen in their life expectancy also where they lived till their late 50’s.

    • No reason for anyone alive today to feel guilty. It was the same societies that abolished slavery. It is a very sad story but we should feel proud for how we’ve progressed

      • That’s barely saying anything as this happened in 1906 and China banned slavery in 9 AD almost 2000 years before America.

    • Yes but United States has the dubious distinction of importing over 4 million salves. Wall Street got its fame from the slabe trade. Whole families were brought over and then separated on the auction block.

  2. Let me get this straight: because other peoples also practice slavery, it’s OK if you do. I’d be interested to know who was responsible for your moral education.

  3. At this very moment in Africa, there are entire villages of native black populations being enslaved by Muslims. While the article was a sad commentary on the unfortunate circumstances and tragic ending of Ota Benga, it is a part of history that cannot be erased or undone. Our time and sympathies would be better served in attempting to eradicate the existing slavery in Africa, and aiding those treated inhumanely and suffering barbaric torture. Those who wish to preach at the “apologist” and “protestor” should make instead an effort at changing what can be changed, instead of wasting time on what cannot.

    • “At this very moment in Africa, there are entire villages of native black populations being enslaved by Muslims”
      What a load of self-righteous shite. You need to check those glasses of yours. All north African Muslims ARE black! And you’d be the first one to describe them as black if they came to your good ole USA!

      • Wrong on several items. Egypt, Libya, and Morocco are all in North Africa. They are not predominantly black. Slavery is not a mainstream problem in these countries. Slavery is a problem in The Sudan, and South Sudan, which are mostly black. Many of the Black Muslims in Africa keep Black Christians as slaves. Or they simply kill the Christians who choose not to participate.

        Thanks for playing! Buh bye.

  4. History of man on earth is linked with slavery.
    Man has lived on this earth (according to sithins -the most plausible theory of mankind on earth) for 240.000 years, Man was made a slave from the beginning by our “makers” the Anunaki as the sumarians called them.
    If you havent heard the story Google it!

    Take care,

  5. Reading comments on articles like these always makes me sad. This article should be a beacon of how far we have come, make us want to work together and ensure that racism just fades away, and yet there is always this big racist mud slinging in the comments section.

    Can’t we look at the past as a horrible mistake and an expensive lesson learned? Why do we have to start the “you white folk” and “you black folk” and muslim tirades?

    This is in the past, it was seriously sick, and I am pretty sure if darwin didn’t start his stupid theory of evolution, it probably never would’ve happened. But. It is still in the past. The future is what is in our power to change.

    We were all made in God’s image, and guess what? No one knows exactly what shade he is… although I’m pretty sure it’s brown, but what shade? Extremely light? Extremely dark? Somewhere in the middle? Does it matter? No, because what we are all the same color in different shades. I have yet to seen a green or orange person running around.

    Why do we even allow racism? There is only on race. The human race.

  6. A wrong is a wrong, the degree does not mitigate it and it must not be excused nor continued. I can’t believe someone would argue who started what, when and to what degree as some kind of, “Ya, we did it, but they did it more than us!” as if that would lessen the inhumane acts that were committed against other human beings!!!

  7. Made me cry , no one should be treated with such cruelty an I truly wish everyone would reread the “so that we will all join hands and say “Never Again,” should these things be repeated. ” That statement says it all, ’cause knowing gives us responsibility for today , at this very moment . The article speaks about the way life was years ago . No one is being blamed today for what was done in the past . It is a heads up, a pay attention . For certainly we can be blamed if such horrors are repeated today an say nothing , do nothing . Like the article says , let us here join hands an say “never again ” Let us here spread the word that we have chosen to be kind, to care,to love ,an to be strong in that the whole universe is our neighbor . Let us prove that we are a better people , prove love can still exist amidst us . PEACE

  8. in my tears feeling like killing a white men i can come across..in SA one settler just called us monkey few weeks ago..prove enough thy still got their paranoir mentality..dubuli bhunu

    • The Earth is and has been a free will zone. you can do whatever you want. As long as your willing to pay the price. Evil deeds now as in the past continue. Slavery committed by a whole society and considered normal, is mass lunacy. 200 million credit card owners being used by bankers, a situation the owners agree to, is mass lunacy. Bottom line, most humans are pretty dumb. The times and situations will change but, the lunacy will remain. The masses climb aboard whatever is trending and don’t give it much thought. Well every one is doing it so it must be okay. In the US we do something and another region they do what they do and we all say to the other that’s bad, and it is. But what i’m doing makes life easier for me so it’s okay. On and on time goes and each era brings with it the sins of the past, handed down to us in a never ending cycle of lunacy. Humans are messed up, greedy, selfish, cruel, mean, etc.. We destroy oceans, rivers and forest;s. Pollute the air and soil. Stand by while millions of not so innocent people are culled. The list goes on and discussing the sins of or fore fathers, why? It is our sins that we should discuss. Those by the masses and our own personal sins that we keep hidden. Living in a free will zone where you can do anything at all, whatever you desire. As long as your willing to pay the price. Remember if you have to ask how much something costs, you can’t afford it and I’ve yet to see a price tag on the liberties we take. You might get away without paying for a while but, the day will come when it’s time to settle up and the cash of the day will be grace.

  9. Thank you for bringing this terrible atrocity to our attention. May we never forget the devastating impact colonialism had on African peoples, as well as other indigenous countries. That poor man, how very sad.

  10. this is 1 story of 1 person from 1 race, it shouldn’t start an argument only a dialog. those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. all people should stop being so sensitive about things they had no part of and just learn from history.

  11. The white man will gladly do the same today if he could get away with it. AFrican don’t do such things. They only kill and make mockery of their citizen indirectly. They rob their nations and watch other people’s little children starve to death.

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