Ota Benga lived in a cage at the Bronx Zoo with the monkeys in 1906 and became a hugely popular exhibit as proof of evolution. Ota was a Pygmy from the Congo when the Congo was the playground and money making property of King Leopold of Belgium.
The pygmies were competitors in the ivory trade and were systematically killed off; the rationale being that the pygmies, so small and stupid, were obviously just one evolutionary tick away from the little monkeys. Darwin once wrote: “The civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace, the savage races throughout the world.” No biggie. Science was the new religion–minus the love and compassion.
Ota came to America after he was purchased by a noted American explorer from South Carolina, Phillips Verner, who planned to exhibit him at the 1904 World’s Fair. Falling on hard times…
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