Ota Benga and the Worlds Fair
Although nowadays we would consider the exhibition and exploitation of humans in a socially accepted way to be wholly inappropriate, in 1904 it was considered a form of entertainment at the Saint Louis World's Fair. Although there were many exhibits on show at this event I feel that the most shocking and disgraceful was the Human Zoo. After the Spanish-American War the United States gained new territory, such as Guam, the Philippines and Peurto Rico – in order to show their ‘achievements’ they took the people from their homeland in order to place them on display in Human Zoos.
Ota Benga with an orangutan named Dohong at the Bronx Zoo in 1906
These exhibitions were designed to make people think that the white race was superior; many of the world’s leading scientists swore by the anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon’s theory when he said that, "on the whole, the white race has progressed beyond the black race." People left the World’s Fair fascinated by these ‘uncivilised savages’ as they were initially described - it’s hardly giving them the respect, equality and civil rights that the human beings deserve.
I was first aware of the World’s Fair after seeing a documentary telling of the poignant story of the Batwa pygmy Ota Benga and his struggle to secure his own independence and identity within the western world. His harrowing tale is both upsetting and fascinating, from being born in the Belgian Congo he was brought into the public eye and described as being a savage and a primitive human, when in actual fact he was friendly, kind, peaceful and gentle - if anything he was more of a human than the people exhibiting him were.
The lessons we have learned throughout history have taught us that no good has ever come from any of this pseudo-research, just more reasons to oppress and persecute others. We are all human and we all express the same feelings and emotions, therefore we all deserve to be treated equally without fitting into the stereotypical categories that the society we live in has created.