Who is Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman?
In 1810, when Saartjie Baartman was in her early twenties, she was persuaded by an English ship’s doctor, William Dunlop, to travel to England to make her fortune. However, as a Khoikhoi woman she was considered an anthropological freak in England, and she found herself put on exhibition, displayed as a sexual curiosity. Dubbed The Hottentot Venus, her image swept through British popular culture. Abolitionists unsuccessfully fought a court battle to free her from her exhibitors.
Saartjie Baartman was taken to Paris in 1814 and continued to be exhibited as a freak. She became the object of scientific and medical research that formed the bedrock of European ideas about black female sexuality. When she died in 1816, the Musee de l’Homme in Paris took a deathcast of her body, removed her skeleton and pickled her brain and genitals in jars. These were displayed in the museum until as late as 1985.
After five years of negotiating with the French authorities for the return of Saartjie Baartman’s remains, the South African government, together with the Griqua National Council which represents the country’s 200 000 Griqua people, part of the Koi-San group, brought Saartjie Baartman back to South Africa. On Friday 3 May 2002, in a moving ceremony attended by many representatives of the Khoikhoi people, Saartjie Baartman was welcomed back to Cape Town. Her final resting place is in the Eastern Cape, where she was born.