In the early years of the abolition of slavery, injustice and oppression continued to befall black people. One of the most striking testimonies to this is the story of Ota Benga, a man from an African tribe. In 1906, Benga became an exhibit in the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo. It’s an exhibit! He was presented to zoo visitors in a cage, like the rest of the animals.

ota benga

Ota Beng’s life was tragic from the very beginning. His people, the Mbiti, lived in an area known as the Belgian Congo. Troops under the command of King Leopold of Belgium killed Beng’s wife and two of their children in a massacre that arose from a dispute over the control of rubber trees in the region. Benga survived by chance, being at that time not at home, but on a hunt. Benga was later captured by slave traders and later sold to missionaries for cloth and salt.

From the hands of the missionaries, Benga got to a very unusual exhibition, in which he was an exhibit, and one of the most popular: he was presented as the only true African cannibal. Later, Benga returned to the Congo, where he remarried, but his wife died from the bite of a poisonous snake. After such a tragedy, he could not stay still and went back to America. Benga stopped at the Natural History Museum and soon became a sight to behold for museum visitors.

Out of desperation, into which Benga was driven by a lack of funds, he was eventually transferred to the Bronx Zoo. He was not immediately placed in an enclosure with monkeys. Initially, this person was granted the right to move around the zoo. Later, noticing a significant increase in visitors to the zoo who wanted to see Beng, the administration put him in an enclosure with monkeys. Calling the new exhibit “African Baby”. Nearby was a sign: “African Baby”, Ota Benga. “Age: 23. Height: 4’11”. Weight: 103 lbs. Brought from Kasai, Congo Free State, South and Central Africa. Over the weekend, 40,000 people came to see Benga.

After a long stay at the zoo, Benga, thanks to the priest James H. Gordon, was sent to an orphanage. To avoid constant media attention, Benga then moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, where he acquired a more American style of dress, improved his English, and began working in a tobacco factory, but dreamed of returning to his native Africa.

The First World War made it impossible for Beng to return to his homeland. Over time, he became more and more depressed and frustrated. On March 20, 1916, Ota Benga shot himself with a pistol.