Ota Benga’s Short, Tragic Life As A Human Zoo Exhibit

His family was killed, he was taken as a slave, and he lived in the Bronx Zoo’s monkey house as a human exhibit.

Ota Benga Chimp

Ota Benga on display at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

On March 20, 1916, a 32-year-old African man named Ota Benga shot himself in the heart while being held against his will in the United States. Benga’s short, sad life was shaped by colonial avarice justified by the quack science of eugenics.

Through it all, he did what he could to keep his dignity intact despite being subjected to the most degrading treatment imaginable. His story, like far too many tragedies, begins in the Congo, then known as the Congo Free State.

Richard Stockton
Richard Stockton is a freelance science and technology writer from Sacramento, California.
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