The Black Boy Who Was Showcased in a Zoo Cage
Showcased by humans as if he were an animal
Society kinda stopped to surprise me of how deranged some people are, however, there are certain things that still amaze me to this day such as the story of Ota Benga who was treated by the white people of America as an animal. How could you put a person, let alone a small child in a cage whilst having thousands of people coming from different places to look at the way he lives? He was humans just like all of us, most probably even more human than most of us.
Far from Home
Ota Benga was born in a tribe from Congo known as the Mbuti. A tribe which at the time was quite isolated from the rest of the world and living a happy life for the same fact. However, at the end of the 19th century, King Leopold II of Belgium decided that he wanted to set up a Belgian colony in Congo, around the area where the Mbuti tribe was located. It is said that the Belgians who colonized Congo mass murdered many African natives during the process.
One of the people enslaved was young Ota, who was chosen to work in America. In 1904, Ota Benga was displayed at the St. Louis World’s Fair where he was bought by an America “businessman” by the name of Samuel Phillips Verner. Samuel was actually an American slave trader who enslaved native people from Africa for ethnographic spectacles around the world but especially in the United States. He also supplied wild animals from Africa to the zoos all around America at the time.
Samuel actually spent quite some time in Africa, some would say too much time. He originally moved to Africa in 1895 as he wanted to travel and most importantly study various African tribes through their way of living as well as culture. It was said that in 1892, Samuel suffered a mental breakdown which changed him into a different man. Not that this would be any sort of excuse for the way he treated African natives.
In 1905 Ota was delivered to the Bronx Zoo with a couple of Animals that also came from Africa. He was given his own cage and showcased just like an animal. It is said that over a period of 1 year, over 200,000 people came to see Ota at the zoo. Samuel presented Ota as if he was someone out of this world or even a different race from the human race.
African-American newspapers from the United States published stories that protested Ota’s treatment in the Bronx Zoo, but in reality, no one took action to the way that Ota was being treated as if this sort of behavior was normal. It was only in late 1906 when Matthew Gilbert, the pastor of a Baptist church officially protested that the boy would be taken out of the cage as well as the zoo. Another pastor by the name of James Gordon supported this protest by wanting to take Ota into his custody.
A month later the Mayor of New York released Ota which was taken into custody by James Gordon who supervised the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn.
Let this story showcase just how broken our society was and how even 100 years later remnants of this despicable mindset still remain among some people. We, as a united and equal society, must play an important part in supporting the right type of behavior and abolishing once and for all the people who treat others as if they are “less human”.