Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ota Benga

We begin this week with an image from 1906. Ota Benga, the Congolese pygmy pictured above, was the new exhibit in the Bronx Zoo at the time. Below are several quotes taken from the New York Times article that tells the story of Ota Benga and the controversy that this exhibition stirred in New York.

“Our race, we think, is depressed enough, without exhibiting one of us with the apes…We think we are worthy of being considered human beings, with souls”
Rev. James H. Gordon, a black man who was the superintendent of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn

“The person responsible for this exhibition degrades himself as much as he does the African. Instead of making a beast of this little fellow, we should be putting him in school for the development of such powers as God gave him.”
Rev. R. S. MacArthur, a white man who was pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church

[Ota Benga] “has a great influence with the beasts — even with the larger kind, including the orang-outang with whom he plays as though one of them, rolling around the floor of the cages in wild wrestling matches and chattering to them in his own guttural tongue, which they seem to understand.”
The Evening Post

“When the history of the Zoological Park is written, this incident will form its most amusing passage.”
William T. Hornaday (pictured right), the zoo director who defended the exhibit

“Not feeling particularly vehement excitement ourselves over the exhibition of an African ‘pigmy’ in the Primate House of the Zoological Park, we do not quite understand all the emotion which others are expressing in the matter. Still, the show is not exactly a pleasant one, and we do wonder that the Director did not foresee and avoid the scoldings now aimed in his direction…As for Benga himself, he is probably enjoying himself as well as he could anywhere in his country, and it is absurd to make moan over the imagined humiliation and degradation he is suffering.”
New York Times editorial

“I lived in the south several years, and consequently am not overfond of the 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.”
Letter from a reader of the New York Globe

“His first wife excited the hunger of the rest of the tribe, and one day when Ota returned from hunting he learned that she had passed quietly away just before luncheon and that there was not so much as a sparerib for him.”
New York Daily Tribune writing facetiously about Benga’s past


Brother Lightness said...

Who/What is the contemporary equivalent of Ota Benga?

Brother Spotless said...

The current state of the rap music video industry? Specifically the treatment of women...