Ota Benga

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After Darwin claimed that human beings evolved from ape-like creatures in his book The Descent of Man, a search began for fossils to back up his theory. Some evolutionists, however, believed that half-man, half-ape creatures could be found not only in the fossil record, but still living in various parts of the world. In the early part of the 20th century, this search for living intermediate forms led to various shameful actions. One of these involved the pygmy Ota Benga.

He was captured in Congo in 1904 by an evolutionist researcher named Samuel Verner. Ota Benga, whose name meant friend in his own language, was married with two children. Yet he was chained, placed in a cage like an animal and transported to the U.S.A. There, evolutionist scientists put him in a cage with various apes at the St. Louis World Fair and exhibited him as the closest intermediate form to man. Two years later they took him to the Bronx Zoo in New York and exhibited him together with a few chimpanzees, a gorilla named Dinah and an orangutan called Dohung as man's oldest ancestors.

The evolutionist director of the zoo, Dr. William T. Hornaday, made long speeches about how honored he was to own this intermediate form, and visitors to the zoo treated Ota Benga like any other animal.

Unable to withstand the treatment he was subjected to, Ota Benga committed suicide.161
An article published in The New York Times at the time described visitors' behavior:

40,000 visitors roamed the New York Zoological Park… the sudden surge of interest… was entirely attributable to Ota Benga.  The crowds were so enormous that a police officer was assigned full-time to guard Ota (the zoo claimed this was to protect him) as he was "always in danger of being grabbed, yanked, poked, and pulled to pieces by the mob." 162

The 17 September 1906 edition of The New York Times emphasized that although this was all done in order to prove evolution; it was actually a great injustice and act of cruelty:

Further, many of the ministers opposed the theory of evolution, concluding that "the exhibition evidently aims to be a demonstration of the Darwinian theory of evolution."

These men, without thought and intelligence have been exhibiting in a cage of monkeys, a small human dwarf from Africa. Their idea, probably, was to inculcate some profound lesson in evolution.

As a matter of fact, the only result achieved has been to hold up to scorn the African race, which deserves at least sympathy and kindness from the whites of this country, after all the brutality it has suffered here …

It is shameful and disgusting that the misfortune, the physical deficiency, of a human being, created by the same Force that puts us all here and endowed with the same feelings and the same soul, should be locked in a cage with monkeys and be made a public mockery. 163

The New York Times also covered the way in which Ota Benga was put on display in the zoo in order to demonstrate evolution. The defense issued by the Darwinist zoo director was lacking in all conscience:

The exhibition of an African pygmy in the same cage with an orang outang at the New York Zoological Park last week stirred up considerable criticism. Some persons declared it was an attempt on the part of Director Hornaday to demonstrate a close relationship between Negroes and monkeys. Dr. Hornaday denied this. "If the little fellow is in a cage," said Dr. Hornaday, "it is because he is most comfortable there, and because we are at a loss to know what else to do with him. He is in no sense a prisoner, except that no one would say it was wise to allow him to wander around the city without some one having an eye on him." 164

Ota Benga's being put on show in the zoo alongside gorillas, just like an animal, made many people uneasy. Some organizations declared that Ota Benga was a human being and that such treatment was very cruel, and applied to the authorities to put an end to the situation. One of these applications appeared in the 12 September 1906 edition of the New York Globe:

Sir- I lived in the south several years, and consequently am not overfond of 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 . . . 

This whole pygmy business needs investigation . . . 165

161. Engin Korur, "Gözlerin ve Kanatların Sırrı," Bilim ve Teknik, No: 203, October 1984, p. 25.
162. Ibid., p. 269.
163. Ibid.,  p. 267.
164. Ibid.,  p. 266.
165. Geoffrey C. Ward, "The Man in the Zoo," American Heritage magazine, October 1992, Vol: 43, Issue 6.

2009-08-15 20:02:15
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