This is a very interesting story. Funny how I never knew about it until today when I came across this article that I just had to read and share. It is somewhat interesting to see how some of us just go through life not knowing how we got where we are, and who made it happen. Most favorite -we remain insensitive to history. But if you are one of those who are curious about the past and anxious to make the best future, then this story is for you. Good viewing !
Sarah Baartman, displayed as a monster because of her unusual physical characteristics, was finally put to rest 187 years after leaving Cape Town to London. Her remains were buried on Women’s Day, August 9, 2002 in the region of her birth, the Gamtoos Valley in the Eastern Cape. Baartman was born in 1789. She worked as a slave in Cape Town where she was “discovered” by the doctor of the British ship William Dunlop, who persuaded her to travel with him to England. We’ll never know what she had in mind when she came on board – on her own – a ship to London. But it is clear that Dunlop had one – on her show as a “freak,” a “scientific curiosity” and make money from these shows, some of which he has promised to give her. Baartman had unusually large buttocks and genitals, and in the 1800s were Europeans arrogantly obsessed with their own superiority, and to prove than others, especially blacks, were less obsessed. The physical characteristics of Baartman, not unusual for Khoisan women, although her features were larger than normal, were “evidence” of that damage, and she was treated like a freak show in London.
It was called the “Hottentot Venus,” “Hottentot” is the name given to people affected cattle.They had acquired these animals migrating north to Angola and returned to South Africa with them, some 2000 years before the first European settlement in Cape Town in 1652. Before that, they were indistinguishable from the Bushmen or San, the first inhabitants of South Africa, who had been in the area for about 100 000 years as hunter-gatherers. Khoisan is used to describe their relationship with the San people. The label “Hottentot” has pejorative connotations, and will not be used. Venus is the Roman goddess of love, a cruel reference to Baartman be an object of admiration and adoration instead of the object of leering and abuse she has become. She spent four years in London, then moved to Paris, where she continued her round degrading shows and exhibitions. In Paris, she attracted the attention of French scientists, in particular Georges Cuvier. Nobody knows if Dunlop was true to his word and paid Baartman for its “services”, but if it did pay him, it was not enough to redeem the life she lived.Once the Parisians’m tired of the spectacle Baartman, she was forced to turn to prostitution. It did not last the ravages of a foreign culture and climate, or the abuse of her body. She died in 1815 at age 25. The cause of death was given as “inflammatory disease and eruptive” perhaps syphilis. Others suggest that she was an alcoholic. Whatever the cause, she lived and died thousands of kilometers from home and family, in a hostile city, with no way to get home itself again. Cuvier made a plaster cast of her body, then removed the skeleton and, after removing her brain and genitals, pickled and displays them in bottles of the Musee Hommein Paris.
Some 160 years later, they were still on the screen, but were eventually removed from public view in 1974. In 1994, then President Nelson Mandela asked that her remains be brought home. Other performances were made, but it took the French government eight years to pass a bill – apparently drafted to prevent other countries to demand the return of their stolen treasures – to allow their little piece of “curiosity science “to be returned to South Africa. In January 2002, the remains of Sarah Baartman were returned and buried 9 August 2002, the Women’s Day in South Africa, Hankey in the Eastern Cape province. Her grave has since been declared a national heritage site. Marang Setshwaelo, writing for Africana.com at the time, said Dr. Willa Boezak, Khoisan rights activist, believes that a poem written by Khoisan descendant Diana Ferrus in 1998 played a major role in helping bring them home Baartman.Boezak said: “It took the power of a woman through a simple poem, loving, hard move politicians into action. “Whatever the reason, Sarah Baartman is at home, and finally had their dignity restored by being buried where it belongs – far from where race and gender have been so cruelly exploited.