Pygmies Belittled: “Exhibited” At Zoo

Posted by: Loren Coleman on July 15th, 2007

History has repeated itself. Hominids have diminished others hominids, once again.

Ota Benga

Ota Benga and a chimpanzee, Bronx Zoo, 1906.

“A hundred years ago, on September 8th, 1906, the Bronx Zoo in New York unveiled a new exhibit that would attract thousands of visitors to come and marvel. Inside a cage, in the monkey house, was a man. His name was Ota Benga. He was 22 years old, a member of the Batwa people, pygmies who lived in what was then, the Belgian Congo,” noted National Public Radio (NPR) last year.

Protests occurred, and the Bronx Zoo closed the exhibit. A ministers’ group “moved Ota Benga to the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum in Brooklyn. He stayed there for a short time before being relocated to Lynchburg, Va., where various families housed him and tried to help him live a normal life. Ota Benga lived in Lynchburg until March 1916, when he borrowed a gun from one of his host families, went to the woods on the edge of the town, and shot himself.”

NPR ran a radio documentary about Ota Benga on September 8, 2006.

Now comes news from the Brazzaville Zoo that something similar has been happening over the last few days.

Congo authorities say a troupe of pygmy musicians made to live at the zoo while performing at a music festival in the country’s capital have been given accommodation in a local school.

The plight of the 22 pygmies, whose tents became an attraction for curious Brazzaville zoo visitors, provoked outrage among civil rights groups in Congo.

All the other musicians playing at the July 8-14 pan-African FESPAM festival were provided with hotel rooms.

The pygmies, from Congo’s north-east Likouala forest region, had been gathering wood daily in the zoo to prepare fires to cook their food, often with tourists snapping photos of them.

The Congo Government says it ordered the relocation of the pygmies late on Friday.

Organisers of the music festival, which ends later today, told Radio France International that as pygmies normally live in the forest, they had hoped to recreate their natural habitat by housing them in the zoo, which has wooded areas.

Pygmies frequently complain of being marginalised and treated with disrespect by governments in central Africa, while their jungle habitat is degraded and destroyed.

The term pygmy, introduced by European explorers, refers to various ethnic groups of central Africa whose adults are shorter than 1.5 metres.

They use the term themselves but many of them regard it as derogatory and point out there is scant evidence of linguistic or ethnic ties between the different groups.Reuters, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “Pygmies move from zoo after outcry,” July 14, 2007.

The 2007 group includes a three-month-old baby.

Why do humans in power treat other humans who happen to physically appear to be different than them, so inhumanely?

What if Bigfoot and their kin are discovered to be phenotypically varied hominids? How do you think humans will react and behave toward the first captive Sasquatch during that time it remains an unclassified species, or to a unknown hairy hominid, perhaps a Homo erectus?

Carter Family Drawing

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

26 Responses to “Pygmies Belittled: “Exhibited” At Zoo”

  1. Scott C. responds:

    The captive-bigfoot scenario doesn’t worry me: evolutionist cryptozoologists who expect to find a missing link in bigfoot will be dissapointed. Closer inspection will show the species to be no more human than gorillas.

    Of course, I’d be as outraged as anybody over the inhumane treatment of captive bigfeet! They are a wonderful part of God’s creation, and He hates cruelty. Any killing must be purposeful and humane.

  2. dstageberg responds:

    What a bunch of bone heads…they should have rolled out the red carpet.

  3. Ceroill responds:

    I think that in essence it reduces back to the ancient ‘us vs them’ instincts. There is also an aspect of basic curiosity. The first is the ultimate basis of just about all racist reactions, while the second is the origins of the people with the cameras taking snaps of the folks going about their usual daily routines. Of course the zoo officials don’t (or at least didn’t) see anything untoward or insulting in their actions. In their own view they were simply trying to be sensitive to the smaller folks’ ways, and attempting to provide something familiar. Very sad. Perhaps exposure of this happening will have some small effect toward changing thought patterns. One can hope.

    As to other species, such as BF, I fear that treatment would be at least as bad. The initial huge challenge would be the recognition of personhood in these other beings. If a previously unrecognized hominoid is ever acknowledged, the initial categorization is likely to be as an ape, and as we all know apes are not people. Thus, while many will see them as a step above animals they will still be viewed as at least a step below human. The greedy will see them as a target for exploitation. The superstitious will see them as a resource, as doubtless there will be declared to be a plethora of ailments and problems that can be cured by the ingestion or application of various body parts of the species in question. The ambitious will see them as a cause to promote. And so on. Bear in mind that these are generalized musings, and not intended as judgments.

  4. darkshines responds:

    I gotta say, this atricle disturbed me. Someone once pointed out to me, that whether we are black, white, tall, short, male, female, gay, straight, it doesn’t MATTER. We are all HUMAN. And what makes us human is our ability to feel compasion for others.

  5. mystery_man responds:

    It is just shocking sometimes what humans can do to each other whether it be intentional or out of ignorance. The question was posed about what we think would be done with a sasquatch if it was proven to be phenotypically linked to humans and I have to say in all honesty, with the track record humans have with this sort of thing, the prognosis is not good. We can’t even treat people who are clearly and definitely human with respect, not to mention our closest relatives the chimps and bonobos.

    On a side note, there was an interesting case in Europe about a court case involving seeking to grant pretty much human status to a chimp, or at least acknowledgment that it is a person. The reason why this came about is that the chimp was receiving donations but by some legal technicality, the chimp wasn’t entitled to receive them because it isn’t human and so if the chimp can be proven to be a legal person he can receive money for himself. So now the whole argument of what constitutes being human is being cast into the limelight. The case could have major repercussions for great apes. I do not intend to take this thread off into a debate about this, just mentioning it in passing. Does anyone else know about the case that I’m talking about?

  6. mystery_man responds:

    Here is an article on the chimp I am referring to and the efforts to get him declared a person.

    It seems like something very much like this could happen if Bigfoot is ever discovered.

  7. Regan Lee responds:

    Tbat’s very sad and disturbing.

  8. shumway10973 responds:

    yes, as disturbing as this article is, it makes a couple valid points. First of all, look where this took place. We here in America (Canada too) are usually unaware of the problems in other parts of the world. We have had equal rights for so long that, unless you live in a racial hot spot, we forget that people elsewhere still use race, religion, sex (male or female) as barriers for certain ones to rule (I didn’t put sexual preference in there only because some places haven’t even gotten that far in the issues to deal with). Some may not agree with me on what I am going to say next, but I did hear an advocate for “true evolutionism”, as he called it, saying that the problem with the evolution being taught in schools right now is that it is based off of a racially discriminating view. In other words, many of the “fathers of evolution” were looking for ways to use the evolutionary idea to separate people by their races. They separated them into categories of true human, lesser human and subhuman, and if we look at how different races were treated, you can see the lines that were drawn. Unfortunately, in such places where European countries had major colonies and such ideas were practiced, that idea is still kind of being used, except that in this case it is more the fact that the “pygmies” are not “civilized” or living in cities and using the modern conveniences.

  9. Scott C. responds:

    I appreciate what shumway10973 brought up. Evolution-theory’s historic relation to racism isn’t pretty. Of course, there have been some self-titled “Christians” who waged massive racist campaigns… but when they did so, they were contradicting everything they supposedly believed. That can not be said for evolution-based racism.

    Today, I would never assume that someone was racist just because he was an evolutionist. That simply isn’t (normally) the case anymore.

    The root of racism is ethno-centric pride… similar to what Ceroill said- “us vs. them.” It is the belief that there is something inherently “better” about one people-group than another. It isn’t difficult to see how evolution-theory encouraged this attitude in the past.

    Many creationists avoid the term “race” altogether: more precisely, there is one race: the human race. “From one blood He made every nation of mankind…” (Acts. 17:26)

    As far as bigfeet go- they are animals. To some, that means they are fair game for inhumane treatment; to others, that means they are entitled to more rights than humans are. In reality, that means that we are responsible to manage them responsibly and ethically. In my mind, that means:

    #1. Captivity must avoid all cruelty.

    #2. It would be irresponsible to kill any of such an endangered species (except to save the life of a human).

  10. AtomicMrEMonster responds:


    Whoever said that is very mistaken. What I think you’re/they’re referring to is how people latched onto evolution (or at least what they thought was evolution) to justify their own prejudiced beliefs about their being “the best”. Before evolution came along, things like religion were used to make such justifications (In fact, there are those who still use the “old ways,” but they try to use science to sound credible).

    This misunderstanding is due to someone whittling down the concept of natural selection involving the survival of organisms “best suited to their environment[al niche]” into the misleading “survival of the fittest.” “Best suited” roughly means that something can successfully survive and reproduce enoguh so that its kind isn’t wiped out.

    For example, let’s imagine a forest with only insects and birds. A bird with a long beak could eat insects in places where birds with shorter beaks can’t reach. This lessens the chances of starvation and allows the bird to devote time that others spend looking for food to hiding from predators and mating. It isn’t “better” than other birds; it’s just able to survive and reproduce. If a predator came along and the long-beaked bird (and its eggs) stood out more than the other birds, it’d be at a disadvantage since it’s easier for that predator to detect it that the other birds. In short, being “the best suited” doesn’t mean that something is “the best” of its kind.

  11. BadState responds:

    Did anyone ask the pygmies how they felt about it? Maybe they would have preferred staying at the zoo rather than being shuffled of to “accommodations at a local school,” which I read as folding cots in the gym. Want to treat them with due respect? Give them the choice. Don’t dictate what’s best for them.

  12. Lee Murphy responds:

    That drawing looks like the Mafia caught Bigfoot.

  13. jodzilla responds:

    Wow. Just wow. Food for thought. Such abuse is sickening.

  14. silvereagle responds:

    “Why do humans in power treat other humans who happen to physically appear to be different than them, so inhumanely?”

    It’s all for the Money!! Oh, and the face time on TV!

    “What if Bigfoot and their kin are discovered to be phenotypically varied hominids?”

    Then we will discriminate against them like everybody else who doesn’t fit in.

    “How do you think humans will react and behave toward the first captive Sasquatch during that time it remains an unclassified species, or to a unknown hairy hominid, perhaps a Homo erectus?”

    Terror, then outrage, then the Feds will take him and we will then be given some BS story about it dieing in their hands.

    And make that at least the 4th Captive Sasquatch. The first captured Bigfoot in the U.S. was captured in Juneau, AK for the petty crime of raiding chicken coops on the outskirts of town. It was weak and elderly, and shipped to Morningside Mental Hospital in Portland, OR about 1936. It lasted about one week at the hospital and then disappeared. Some said it died. The records were immediately lost, according to the Multnomah County deputy who performed the intake procedure. The 2nd and 3rd were held by the U.S. Government for research. They both outwitted their captors and escaped. There is unsubstantiated rumor that the Feds have some currently in captivity for the purpose of turning them into the ultimate ASSASIN. The Bigfoot are not supposed to be cooperating. As for the next Bigfoot to be held in captivity, don’t hold your breath for that day to come. Why? Because the people who think that they can capture one, do not know what they are messing with.

  15. Mothmanfan responds:

    Some people are just freakin’ messed up! Me and my mom say “we are all one race” not several. We are all humans, no matter what color, gender, disabled or not, ect.

    Just so sad..

  16. harleyb responds:

    The things that go on in this world are very disturbing to say the least. But everything will balance out, those that are oppressed and down will rise, those in power will fall. Yin and Yang.

  17. Mnynames responds:

    Darkshine, if what makes us human is our ability to feel compasion for others, then there are a lot less people in the world than the population tables tell us….maybe the tables include the other primates to make up the difference? (o:

    Racists will use whatever is at hand to reinforce their beliefs, Shumway, evolution included. Long before they invoked Darwin, they invoked the Bible as proof of white supremacy (more recently there are those who use it to promote black supremacy too…at least there’s equality among bigots). I posted the basic biblical racist viewpoint some time ago on another thread that I’m afraid I can’t recall now, but the gist of it is that the races are descended from the sons of Noah- Japheth, Ham, and Shem.

    Traditionally, Japheth is seen as the progenitor of the Caucasian race (Called so not for any scientific reason, but because biblical scholars thought the sons of Japheth first settled in the Caucasus). Ham is seen as the progenitor of the Black races, which causes no end of trouble, because he’s usually condemned for getting his father drunk and looking at him naked, which is then used as an excuse for persecuting said race. Of course, the Tutsis of Rwanda used it to support their superiority over the Hutus and their resulting slaughter. Shem is seen as the progenitor of the Arab and Semitic races, and sometimes Asian as well, depending on the viewpoint.

    The following is from Wikipedia (Not the most reliable, I know, but it reiterates what I’ve read elsewhere, and unlike that source material, I can copy and paste it)-

    “During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Biblical statement that God shall enlarge Japheth (Genesis 9:27) was used by some Christians as a justification for the “enlargement” of European territories through Imperialism, interpreted as part of God’s plan for the world. However, rather than being a prediction, the statement appears, in the eyes of scholars, to be a pun on Japheth’s name meaning beauty, since the statement literally translates as God shall beautify Japheth.

    Religious Jews and Arabs consider themselves sons of Shem (thus, Semites). There is a current dispute over whether or not Ishmael was the legitimate son of Abraham. Nevertheless, though the term Semitic has come to be attached to their language group including Hebrew and Arabic, in the opposing term anti-Semitic it is generally regarded in modern times as referring solely to the Jews. While, apart from Lydia and Elam, the groups usually associated with Shem are also identified as having a shared origin, the groups of Japheth and Ham are not always agreed to, and most secular and religious scholars have abandoned all claims of absolute accuracy for the table.”

    Genocide over a misinterpreted pun…you gotta love religion! Seriously, this is why you shouldn’t believe everything you read.

    Some medical researchers still claim the notion of race has value for its cultural/environmental reasons, meaning that the study of minority health risks is still valid because they have traditionally been exposed to different environmental factors than others in this society. I happen to agree with them, as historically so-called minorities have been restricted to poorer areas and denied such basics as clean air and water, not to mention health care. Many studies have shown that race is a consistent predictor of location of pollution sources, with pollution sources occurring more often in minority areas. But this is social, not biological. Cultural, not genetic. It has nothing to do with any underlying physical difference between minority or majority. It is imposed from without, not expressed from within.

    According to modern genetic, evolutionary, and biological science, race as it is commonly categorized in the western world has no scientific basis whatsoever. As a person of Irish/Swedish/German descent, I am probably more likely to have more genetically in common with say, any given Inuit, Basque, Turk, or Baka than I am to any given resident of Dublin, Stockholm, or Berlin. Genetic variation is actually greater within ethnic groups than without.

    Scientifically, we are all the same. Human. And as much as I don’t wish to rain on Darkshine’s parade concerning the better part of our nature, that includes the serial killer as well as the saint.

    I am reminded of something I heard long ago, and which I had the presence of forethought to write down-

    “It takes a long time not to feel like an alien, a long time to feel at home, and a long time to search out and discover who you are. But if you go all the way with that exploration, it takes you beyond race, beyond colour, beyond class, beyond every kind of category, and you find that you belong to Humanity, and that’s who you are. When you no longer feel like an alien anywhere, you’ve come home, you know who you are. You’ve found your family, the Human family, and there is no such thing as the Human family and others, not anymore. As long as you leave anyone out, you are the alien, and that search for wholeness, for oneness, for who you are, has to continue.”
    -Wilfred Peltier

  18. Mnynames responds:

    harleyb responds: The things that go on in this world are very disturbing to say the least. But everything will balance out, those that are oppressed and down will rise, those in power will fall. Yin and Yang.

    One can only hope, but I imagine that it’ll be small consolation to all the native peoples that are now little more than an historical footnote in the book of Humanity. Extinction is not just an evolutionary concept…

    Here’s another quote I found while looking for the one by Peltier-

    “I am not so interested in what monkey man was derived from as I am in what kind of monkey he is to become.”
    -Loren Eiseley

  19. Loren Coleman responds:

    Boing Boing has this interesting update to the above story that Cryptomundo passed along to them:

    BB reader Chris Zable says, “My first question when I read the item about the pygmies lodged at the zoo instead of a hotel was, has anyone asked THEM what they want?” He found the answer in a BBC report:

    “It’s not good for men, women and children to all be in this one tent. We need some space,” dancer and musician David Motambo told the BBC. “We can’t live here where there are so many mosquitoes. Here in the city we can’t stay in the forest.”Boing Boing

  20. DARHOP responds:

    It will be a very, very sad day on this planet when A Big One is captured. It will be poked, prodded, this test, that test, put on display and who knows what else. I for one hope this day never comes. As much as I want their existence proven. And I hate what I’m about to say but  I would rather see a dead body brought in than a captured animal. You’d have proof and they could be put on an endangered species list. And it wouldn’t have to go through the hell it will go through if captured. Poeple are so damn cruel. It hurts thinking about what would happen to a captured one. Dang it. Eyes watering. Got something in my eye…

  21. alcalde responds:

    “There is unsubstantiated rumor that the Feds have some currently in captivity for the purpose of turning them into the ultimate ASSASIN.”

    Yes, their vast height and weight, fur covering, and stench will enable them to blend in completely in human civilization, get up close to their target, and dispatch him/her and slip away completely unnoticed, just like a ninja…?

  22. DARHOP responds:

    Ya, I see it now, NinjaFoot. 🙂

  23. silvereagle responds:

    alcalde, That’s the beauty of their camoflage. You are expecting one thing, making it highly likely that you will never see them coming and be completely taken by surprise, so to speak.

  24. mystery_man responds:

    DARHOP- I’m afraid that even if a dead one was brought in initially, there would still be scientists who would want to get their hands on a live one to study. I don’t agree with it, but I’m pretty sure at least one is going to have to take one for the team in the end.

  25. dogu4 responds:

    I just got the pun in the title…duh.

  26. DARHOP responds:

    mystery_man responds:

    July 17th, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    DARHOP- I’m afraid that even if a dead one was brought in initially, there would still be scientists who would want to get their hands on a live one to study. I don’t agree with it, but I¹m pretty sure at least one is going to have to take one for the team in the end.

    You know the worst thing about this statement is? In all actuality, you are right. Their will always be those wanting a live animal to study. My question is, will they study it to death? Probably. Will it be released after it has been studied? Probably not. If it dies during these studies, will they seek another to continue the study? Or will they leave well enough alone? Will just knowing they exist be enough
    after one dies because of these studies? How was was the mountain gorilla studied in captivity before they went to studying them in the wild? Why do they need a live animal to study? Don’t they pretty much just want to dissect it like a frog in science class? Isn’t that what the study will eventually lead to, dissecting the Big One? So why do they need a live one? Poor things. Like I said, people can be so damn cruel. LONG LIVE THE BIG ONES!

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