The story of Ota Benga

Down to Earth - - HISTORY -

IN 1904, US mis­sion­ary Phillips Verner was hired by St Louis World Fair to bring pyg­mies for its "ethno­graphic ex­hi­bi­tion". One of the mis­sion­ary's ac­qui­si­tion was Ota Benga, a Con­golese. At St Louis, the crowds gawked and threw mud pies at the hu­man ex­hibit.

Verner did take Benga back to Congo. But Benga ex­pressed a de­sire to learn to read, prompt­ing Verner to take him back to the US. On re­turn Benga was sent to a New York Zoo, kept in an orang­utan's cage and en­cour­aged to play with the an­i­mal. Benga was mak­ing plans to free him­self when World War I broke out. A re­turn to Congo be­came im­pos­si­ble, and Benga be­came de­pressed. On March 20, 1916, at the age of 32, Ota Benga built a cer­e­mo­nial fire and shot him­self in the heart with a stolen pis­tol. The death cer­tifi­cate listed his name as Otto Bingo.


(Top) Ger­man an­i­mal trader Carl Ha­gen­beck's hu­man zoo ex­hibit­ing Su­danese na­tives; (right) Ota Benga

at Bronx zoo in New York

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