Who Was Sarah Baartman?
When 20 year old Sara Baartman got on a boat that was to take her from Cape Town to London in 1810, she could not have known that she would never see her home again. Nor, as she stood on the deck and saw her homeland disappear behind her could she have known that she would become the icon of racial inferiority and black female sexuality for the next 100 years.
The English media dubbed her the “Hottentot Venus.” Born 1789 in South Africa to the indigenous Khoi Khoi tribe, Sara was taken to London in 1810 and exhibited naked in a freak show type atmosphere to European spectators who paid to gaze at her large breasts and behind. She spent four years in London, and then moved to Paris, where she continued her degrading round of shows and exhibitions.
No one knows if Baartman was paid for her “services”, but if she was paid, it wasn’t sufficient to buy herself out of the life she was living. Once the people in Paris got tired of the Baartman show, she was forced to turn to prostitution. She didn’t last the ravages of a foreign culture and climate, or the further abuse of her body. She died in 1815 at the age of 25.
Sarah became the object of scientific and medical research that formed a lot of the stereotypical and false European ideas about black female sexuality. After her death, Sara Baartman remained “an object of imperialist scientific investigation.” In the name of science and as a further insult to women of African descent, until as recently as 1985 Sara’s sexual organs and brain were on display in a French museum. Sarah’s remains were finally returned to her homeland in 2002 on Woman’s Day (August 9).
It took nearly 200 years for Sarah to regain her dignity. How does this story make you feel about women who willingly compromise their self respect today?