Ota Benga

>>  Friday, September 23, 2016

Cog and I went to the Birmingham Sealife in the summer.  I hesitatingly call it summer, as it was cold and throwing it down with rain or sea 'life' as it appeared to be no life at all for the poor creatures in it.  There was a small poking pool in which starfish could be systematically tortured by toddlers, some penguins that had clearly drawn the 'confinement' card and a lot of other water dwellers that seemed cramped and overcrowded in inadequate surroundings.  I was unimpressed.

But didn't think too hard about it until I read feuerthoughts describing exactly how I felt as I shuffled around Sealife  "The justifications for these exhibits fall flat, sound weak and defensive"  But tucked away in a quiet corner it also mentions Ota Benga.

The story of Ota Benga's life was dreadful.  He was taken from the Congo to New York, put in a monkey cage at a zoo and exhibited.   He was eventually released and taken to an orphanage and then he worked but when all hope of returning home was lost he shot himself.

This Guardian write up details his life and it is shameful.  Initially I thought it must have been an ironic living art piece or a demonstration of some sort but no, this was 1906, it was the actual belief that the pygmies were worthless enough to be displayed as animals in a zoo.

The African Pygmy, "Ota Benga."
Age, 23 years. Height, 4 feet 11 inches.
Weight, 103 pounds.
Brought from the Kasai River, Congo Free State, South Central Africa by Dr. Samuel P. VernerExhibited each afternoon during September.

A New York Times article said it was absurd to imagine Benga’s suffering or humiliation. “Pygmies are very low in the human scale, and the suggestion that Benga should be in a school instead of a cage ignores the high probability that school would be a place of torture to him … The idea that men are all much alike except as they have had or lacked opportunities for getting an education of books is now far out of date.”

A statement like that leaves us reeling now and yet at the time it was believed.  In the same way now we still believe it is ok to take Orca babies from their mums for our entertainment and shoot gorillas when that entertainment is not safely controlled.

"Two years before Ota Benga arrived in New York, Daniel Brinton, a professor of linguistics and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania, had used his farewell address as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science to attack claims that education and opportunity accounted for varying levels of achievement among the races. “The black, the brown, and the red races differ anatomically so much from the white, especially in their splanchnic organs, that even with equal cerebral capacity they never could rival its results by equal efforts” "

100 years ago in the UK the class system was holding down the poor,  people with few rights. It was then the very start of welfare reforms. Despite the massive changes with the welfare state, education for all and the opportunities available today we still have a them and us feeling.  We know that the class system still exists to a certain extent and that the most of us will always be in the lower parts of it.  Its no wonder we have so many disenfranchised people here.

100 years ago in America black men were put in zoos in Monkey cages, 100 years is not enough to change attitudes completely, it's no wonder that Black Live Matter still needs to be a thing.

How many generations of knowing something is wrong must pass before there is a complete mind shift with equality for all - regardless of wealth, colour, creed and maybe even one day species.

When will Zoos and Aquariums in the form we know them now be seen as cruel and unacceptable?

As Steven Feuerstein said "simply substitute "Ota Benga" for "elephant" or "stingray" and see how it reads."


Rutland Water Circuit 24 miles

>>  Monday, September 19, 2016

When I was moaning at a consultant about wanting to do a marathon and my knees being the biggest worry, he said very earnestly "Is it not enough to know you could do it? You could you know! Now don't do it!"

But it's not enough to know is it.  I at least wanted to prove to myself I can do the distance, if not the running.

Rutland Water is ideal for the proving, it's a 24 mile walk on good paths with only the gentlest of occasional hills.

 I started at the Nature Reserve visitor centre at about 9am and decided to go anti-clockwise.  I chose this way so I would have the bulk of it done before I got to the peninsula.

There are ospreys here.  Bird watching has always been a thing of mine, I considered just staying at the reserve for the day!!

But I set off and immediately felt a bit daunted by the prospect of what lay ahead.

But the weather was perfect, cloudy and just warm.

I was round to Normanton in next to no time.
 I had a rotten cup of tea from the kiosk by the church and watched a wedding party arrive.
 The walk across the dam was lovely.
 There is a beach there now and the families were settling in for a day of play.
 People and nature co-exist very well together here.  It is well managed.

 Some areas are very 'people'
 and I made the most of that whilst I could.

As there was then quite a long length of path by the road, away from the water and fairly dull.

Luckily I took 2 weeks worth of Archers episodes to catch up on to see me through.
 Once I got to the peninsula there was a decision to make: 6 or 13 miles to the car.

I had a rather sore right achilles heel but I took some pain killers and went for it, it would seem a shame to come this far and not do it properly.
 The first mile of the peninsula is also pretty dull but once this is done it was the best part of the walk.

There was hardly anyone around, only 2 other walkers for at least 5 miles (and this was a bank holiday weekend) and very few bikes.

The fields are undulating and there are lovely views over the water.
 And there is clearly an obscene amount of money in this area, the houses are quite special.

There really aren't any facilities on this walk once you are past Barnsdale, so I braved a port-a-loo in an anglers car park - not recommended!

Once I was back on the road out of the peninsula it really felt like the home straight.
 And it was pretty much like walking around at home.
 Country paths mostly.
 But the villages were pretty.
 and occasional views of the water.

The whole route is well sign posted and only a couple of times I was wondering if I had gone the right way but a sign always popped up to confirm it.
 By 5:30 the rain was heavy on the north shore and headed in my direction.

I beat the rain back to the Nature Reserve car park by running the last mile.

It was a good day, well worth the effort.

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