Celebrating Black History Month:Ota Benga

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Hey, my name is Isaiah White and I am Selena’s oldest son. I’m 16 and a junior in Highschool,  and I will be the guest writer for the day. I love playing baseball, running, Mechanical/Electrical engineering, I play the drums/piano, and I love studying foreign languages! I chose to write on a man named Ota Benga, a pygmy man who was put on display in the Bronx Zoo. I chose Ota because of his hardships and struggles that he went thru in the name of Racism and Evolutionary ideology, and because he is not a figure who is celebrated or even discussed during this time of the year. While he made no noteworthy contributions to the ‘Celebration of Black History’, his story is one that should be shared.


Ota Benga was born in Central Africa in 1881 where he grew up and spent his early years. He was a member of the Mbuti people, a tribe of pygmy people, so he was very short. At a height of  4’11 and weight of only 103 pounds he was called “the boy” in most occasions. One day Ota went out on a hunting expedition, that ended successfully, but when he returned home with his prize he found his wife and two children mutilated. They were a casualty of the Belgian governments campaign for the killing and study of “evolutionary inferior natives”. Ota was later captured by slavers and sold to be in the Bronx zoo as the ” Ape man” .  He was not viewed as a man at all, but a wild animal, and was placed in the monkey house to literally live with the monkeys. He was 23 at the time of his capture, but yet he was called a boy throughout his life. He was put in a cage and humiliated and mocked daily. People would come from all over to see the ” Ape Man” living in the same place as the animals. Those who called themselves Christians and non-Christian alike brought their children to be a part of the humiliation of this young man.  The inhumane treatment that he endured stayed with him throughout his entire life.



There were several pastors who lobbied for the release of Ota Benga. The frequent protests of his captivity and treatment eventually led to him being purchased, and later taken back to the Congo by a businessman and friend, Samuel Phillips Verner. The Congo is where he married a Batwa woman from a tribe he found a place with. Though he was free and had been returned home, tragedy seemed to follow him. His second wife was killed by a snake bite. It was a short time later that he came to realize that he did not belong with the Batwa people, so he returned to America.



At his return he went to the Museum of Natural History where it had been arranged that he would stay in a spare room while Verner, his old friend, attended to other business. He enjoyed his time in the museum but soon, once again, grew very homesick. Verner decided to take him to the zoo where he was able to roam freely, but still on display. Verner later gave custody of Ota Benga to Reverend Gordon. Gordon took him off of zoo grounds in 1906. He was still getting much unwanted publicity so Gordon decided to relocate him  Lynchburg, Virginia in January of 1910.  Ota was tutored by Lynchburg poet Anna Spencer so that he could improve his English, and he began to attend elementary school at the Baptist Seminary. After he felt his english improved enough he stopped his formal education and began to work at a Lynchburg tobacco factory. His fellow workers called him “Bingo, and he would often tell his life story in exchange for sandwiches and root beer, But in his heart he wanted to go home…he was planning a trip back to Africa. In 1914 with the outbreak of WWI, a return to Africa became impossible. Depressed and hopeless Ota took his own life by a shot thru the heart at the age of 32. The year was 1916.

ota benga sign

While there is more information on Ota Benga available, I just wanted to give you enough to make you want to learn more about him for yourself.  His life and tragic ending does not spotlight a shining moment in any history, but his is still a story worth being told. You can learn more, as I did, by reading the book, Darwin’s Plantation, available at answersingenesis.com. Since this post is up so late, my mom says we won’t post tomorrow, but we are looking forward to sharing more info with you guys. My sister Kayla will be back later this week! Thanks for reading, and check back soon!

ota benga


7 thoughts on “Celebrating Black History Month:Ota Benga

    scentsableliving said:
    February 6, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    We are currently reading Darwin’s Plantation together. I felt it was extremely important for the boys in understanding evolution and its racist roots. Great job on your post!


      joyfullysubmitted responded:
      February 6, 2013 at 6:32 pm

      Tanya, it is a really good book and a necessary one. Glad you guys are reading it… I pray that Isaiah’s post raises awareness of this historical happening.


        scentsableliving said:
        February 6, 2013 at 8:54 pm

        I pray that it does too, and it’s such a good price. I plan to purchase a few to give to others and pray that it open their eyes as well. Your kids are doing great while you rest, refresh and renew 😀


          joyfullysubmitted responded:
          February 24, 2013 at 4:31 pm

          I believe his name is on any museum representations of him, with ‘pygmy’ in parenthesis.


    Del Kroemer said:
    February 6, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Another truly awesome post! I hadn’t heard of this man before, but this really has stirred up an interest in me, so well written.


      joyfullysubmitted responded:
      February 6, 2013 at 6:29 pm

      Thanks Del! They are doing pretty well with just a little help 🙂


    pisces 4 life (@hotpiscesmama) said:
    February 24, 2013 at 11:53 am

    I just came across Ota Banga, and wanted to know if his name was on his was ever put on the exebhit, not just “pygmy”. I haven’t been there, please let me know, I hate thinking he is still being dehumanized.


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