This is Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman. She was born in 1789 at the Gamtoos River, Eastern Cape, Dutch Empire in South Africa. She belonged to a South African cattle-herding group called the Khoikhoi or Khoisan people. The Khoisans were sometimes referred to as Bushmans or Hottentots (thus Sara’s nickname “The Hottentot Venus”) and were the original inhabitants of South Africa. The Khoisans suffered under European colonialism. The large buttocks and Asiatic eyes were distinct physical characteristics of the Khoisans and were used by Europeans as grounds to emphasize their differences from the indigenous people, categorizing them as “primitive” and “less evolved. “Sarah grew up on a colonial farm where here family worked as servants. Her mother died when she was two years old and her father, a cattle driver died by the time she reached adolescence. She married a Khoikhoi man who was a drummer and they had one child together who died shortly after birth. Colonial expansion caused conflict between the Dutch and the Khoikhoi and as a result the Khoikhoi people were absorbed into the labor system. When Sarah was sixteen, her fiance was murdered by Dutch colonist and soon afterwards sold into slavery by a Dutch slave trader named Pieter Willem Cezar. He took her to Cape Town where she became a domestic servant to his brother. She was given the name Saartjie, the Dutch diminutive for Sarah.
On October 29, 1810, Sarah allegedly signed a contract with an English ship surgeon William Dunlop, a friend of Cezar and his brother Hendrik. The terms of the contract was that Sarah would travel to England and Ireland with Dunlop and Hendrik Cezar to work as a domestic servant and for entertainment purposes. She was to receive a portion of earnings from her exhibitions and allowed to return to her home in five years. Many people have come to strongly believe that Sarah did not sign any contract because she was illiterate, she came from a cultural tradition that did not write or keep records, and the Cezar family were experiencing financial difficulties and it is strongly suspected that Sarah was used to reap them financial benefits.
Dunlop and Cezar transported Sarah all across Europe subjecting her to unimaginable exploitation and ridicule due to her unique anatomy (according to European standards). Sarah was forced to entertain white crowds (both men and women) by them looking, touching, poking, pulling, and shaking her buttocks. Dunlop and Cezar sold her to Regu, an animal trainer who exhibited, caged, and treated her like a circus animal. Due to the subhuman treatment, Sarah began to drink heavily and went into prostitution to support herself.
A “naturalist” named George Curvier “studied” Sarah as if she was a science specimen and concluded that she was a “link between animals and humans”. This reduction of Sarah’s huemanity to that of subhuman status by Cuvier has helped in the centuries old stereotyping of ALL African peoples as an oversexed and subhuman species. Sarah died in 1815 at the age of of 26 of either alcoholism, smallpox, or pneumonia. Cuvier obtained Sarah’s remains from local police and dissected her body. He made a plaster cast of her body, pickled her brain and genitals and placed them in jars. Sarah’s remains were put on display at the Musee del’ Homme (Museum of Man) in Paris until 1974.
South African President, Nelson Mandela, requested that the French government return Sarah’s remains. She was finally laid to rest on May 6, 2002 in the town of Hankey more than 200 years after she was born.
Sarah suffered unimaginable abuse, exploitation, and humiliation from the pale European degenerates who kidnapped her from her home and subjected her to cruel and unusual treatment. Sarah’s herstory is a testament as to how the African Woman have been treated as subhuman by the European for centuries; denied her huemanity and femininity. The African Woman (especially the dark-skinned woman) today (as in Sarah’s time and before) continues to be an object of hate and envy because of her uniquely beautiful racial features and characteristics. Sarah did not run for office, win any awards, or had any advanced degrees but she was an AMAZING and BEAUTIFUL woman and hueman being. May she now rest in peace and may we always pay homage to her and honor her memory.
Sources: “Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman. South Africa History Online. Retrieved from http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/sara-saartjie-baartman