Friday, February 20, 2009

Exhibit in the human zoo

I haven't seen "Benjamin Button," but I understand there's a character in there based on Ota Benga, a man from the Congo who was taken to the U.S. and exhibited as a pygmy in the Bronx Zoo, alongside an orangutan.

The Wikipedia entry is one of the best I've read, nicely capsulizing a fascinating and little-known life. In the Congo, Ota Benga had filed his teeth into sharp points, but after he was removed from exhibit and introduced to standard American life in Virginia, his teeth were capped.

The Wikipedia entry rather heartbreakingly brings that fact full circle with this.

"Ota Benga was caught between two worlds, unable to return to Africa, and viewed mainly as a curiosity in the U.S. On March 20, 1916, at the age of 32, he built a ceremonial fire, chipped off the caps on his teeth and shot himself in the heart with a stolen pistol. The death certificate listed his name as "Otto Bingo"."

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