100 years ago, on March 20, 1916, Ota Benga took a gun and fired a bullet into his own heart, ending the short and tragic life of the “missing link” from Africa.
His treatment at the hands of so-called gentlemen from New York’s Bronx Zoo and the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri came in the height of the eugenics movement, forty years after the end of (legal) slavery in America.
- Related: NewsRescue–Pictures: Human Zoos In Europe And America Where Blacks, Others Were Displayed
We remember our dear brother Ota Benga, An African subjected to the inhumane treatment of “Human Zoos” in the 1900s pic.twitter.com/7u7pc9MChK
— #GTGH (@NeferFej) February 8, 2016
Exactly 100 years ago on March 20, 1916, Ota Benga returned home, but not to his homeland, when he died in… https://t.co/3GfT4JSooK
— Jannette Mugisha (@Nyirabusizori) March 19, 2016
Today, Benga is remembered for his sacrifice in documentaries and on social media networks like Twitter, a martyr for the cause to end racism.
The 32-year old Mbuti man from along the Kasai River in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo stood just four feet, eleven inches tall and had teeth filed to sharp points, which was reportedly a tradition for his tribe.
His early life in the forests of Belgian Congo were violent and his wife and two children were killed by the Force Publique.
Samuel Phillips Verner, an American businessman in Africa tasked with acquiring pygmies for a “cultural evolution” display at the World’s Fair’s Louisiana Purchase Exposition, encountered Benga in 1904.
Ota Benga, Bronx Zoo, 1906. pic.twitter.com/mADk705Zts
— Humans Photography (@humansphoto) March 16, 2016
— Mark Elliott (@markmobility) December 22, 2015
Wonder what Saartjie Baartman would think about the descendants of her captors striving to have her ‘obscene’ body pic.twitter.com/suZZF6rGcR
— zelda (@SagalMahamud) February 16, 2016
How Verner came to “acquire” Benga is unclear, with the “pioneering” Presbyterian missionary claiming to have “saved”him from a cannibalistic tribe who had kidnapped him.
Using Benga as a recruitment tool who could downplay the rightfully-distrustful attitude about white men, Verner managed to find more natives and brought them all to the US to be part of the exposition’s human displays.
The controversial exhibit showed real humans from a number of “exotic” ethnicities dressed in their native gear on a staged reproduction of their homes.