Ota Benga – Human Zoo Exhibit

Ota Benga (circa 1883) – March 20, 1916) was a Congolese Mbuti pygmy known for being featured with other Africans in an anthropology exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904, and later in a controversial human zoo exhibit in the Bronx Zoo in 1906. Benga had been freed from slave traders in the Congo by the missionary Samuel Phillips Verner, who had taken him to Missouri. At the Bronx Zoo, Benga had free run of the grounds before and after he was “exhibited” in the zoo’s Monkey House. Displays of non-Western humans as examples of “earlier    stages” of human evolution were common in the early 20th century, when racial theories were frequently intertwined with concepts from evolutionary biology.

Ota benga has inspired  musicians , including the Brooklyn experimental band  Piñataland .  He was a Congolese pygmy and member of the Batwa tribe.  He was a spectacle for museums goers.  He was a special 21 year old though.  Ota benga was born in Central Africa in 1881 where he grew up and spent his early years.

Ota benga was allowed to roam the zoo grounds and help feed the animals.  He was buried in an unmarked grave in the black portion of Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery.  He was a hunter and had been out hunting for an elephant, the greatest prize for his community.  He was captured in 1904 by an evolutionist researcher in the Congo