Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog

OCTOBER, 14TH 2013

Sarah-Baartman 03

Who Is Sara Baartman?

Every Black Woman

Should Know Her Name


BY  – Sarah Baartman Fred Mpuuga (459x640)I first read about Sarah Baartman, very casually and in passing, many years ago. I didn’t know her by her real name. Rather, I knew her as the ‘Hottentot Venus.’

Not until recently, when I stumbled upon a historic film about her, was I filled with rage about the injustice she suffered in the hands of the Europeans. Sometimes, I find it difficult to imagine why the early Europeans saw us, Africans as savages…when indeed they were the true perverts and savages. You need to see the way those white men leered at her with lustful eyes.

I have taken time to research on Sarah Baartman. The most comprehensive report comes from SouthAfrica.Info. I have taken the liberty of culling their report so that we could all learn about this incredible South African woman from the Khoisan tribe who was mistaken for a freak because she had very big hips, buttocks and an enlarged VJJ.

Culled From, SouthAfrica.Info:

Sarah Baartman, displayed as a freak because of her unusual physical features, was finally laid to rest 187 years after she left Cape Town for London. Her remains were buried on Women’s Day, 9 August 2002, in the area of her birth, the Gamtoos River Valley in the Eastern Cape.

Baartman was born in 1789. She was working as a slave in Cape Town when she was “discovered” by British ship’s doctor William Dunlop, who persuaded her to travel with him to England. We’ll never know what she had in mind when she stepped on board – of her own free will – a ship for London.

But it’s clear what Dunlop had in mind – to display her as a “freak”, a “scientific curiosity”, and make money from these shows, some of which he promised to give to her.

Baartman had unusually large buttocks and genitals, and in the early 1800s Europeans were arrogantly obsessed with their own superiority, and with proving that others, particularly blacks, were inferior and oversexed.

Baartman’s physical characteristics, not unusual for Khoisan women, although her features were larger than normal, were “evidence” of this prejudice, and she was treated like a freak exhibit in London.

The ‘Hottentot Venus’

She was called the “Hottentot Venus”, ‘Hottentot’ being a name given to people with cattle. They had acquired these cattle by migrating northwards to Angola and returned to South Africa with them, about 2 000 years before the first European settlement at the Cape in 1652. Prior to this, they were indistinguishable from the Bushmen or San, the first inhabitants of South Africa, who had been in the region for around 100 000 years as hunter-gatherers.

Khoisan is used to denote their relationship to the San people. The label “Hottentot” took on derogatory connotations, and is no longer used.

Venus is the Roman goddess of love, a cruel reference to Baartman being an object of admiration and adoration instead of the object of leering and abuse that she became.

She spent four years in London, then moved to Paris, where she continued her degrading round of shows and exhibitions. In Paris she attracted the attention of French scientists, in particular Georges Cuvier.

No one knows if Dunlop was true to his word and paid Baartman for her “services”, but if he did pay her, it wasn’t sufficient to buy herself out of the life she was living.

Once the Parisians 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.

The cause of death was given as “inflammatory and eruptive sickness”, possibly syphilis. Others suggest she was an alcoholic. Whatever the cause, she lived and died thousands of kilometres from home and family, in a hostile city, with no means of getting herself home again.

Cuvier made a plaster cast of her body, then removed her skeleton and, after removing her brain and genitals, pickled them and displayed them in bottles at theMusee de l’Hommein Paris.

Some 160 years later they were still on display, but were finally removed from public view in 1974. In 1994, then president Nelson Mandela requested that her remains be brought home.

Other representations were made, but it took the French government eight years to pass a bill – apparently worded so as to prevent other countries from claiming the return of their stolen treasures – to allow their small piece of “scientific curiosity” to be returned to South Africa.

In January 2002, Sarah Baartman’s remains were returned and buried on 9 August 2002, on South Africa’s Women’s Day, at Hankey in the Eastern Cape Province.

Her grave has since been declared a national heritage site.

Marang Setshwaelo, writing for at the time, said Dr Willa Boezak, a Khoisan rights activist, believed that a poem written by Khoisan descendant Diana Ferrus in 1998 played a major role in helping bring Baartman home. Boezak said: “It took the power of a woman, through a simple, loving poem, to move hard politicians into action.”

Whatever the reason, Sarah Baartman is home, and has finally had her dignity restored by being buried where she belongs – far away from where her race and gender were so cruelly exploited.

Baartman objectified: an early nineteenth century French print titled, ‘La Belle Hottentot’

Baartman objectified: an early nineteenth century French print titled, ‘La Belle Hottentot’



Saartjie Baartman’s Story (Part 1/2)



Saartjie Baartman’s Story (Part 2/2)





Sarah-Baartman 04

Sara Baartman and

the Hottentot Venus:

A Ghost Story and a Biography

Clifton Crais & Pamela Scully

Paper | 2010 | $23.95 / £16.95 | ISBN: 9780691147963
248 pp. | 6 x 9 | 32 halftones.


Displayed on European stages from 1810 to 1815 as the Hottentot Venus, Sara Baartman was one of the most famous women of her day, and also one of the least known. As the Hottentot Venus, she was seen by Westerners as alluring and primitive, a reflection of their fears and suppressed desires. But who was Sara Baartman? Who was the woman who became the Hottentot Venus? Based on research and interviews that span three continents, Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus tells the entwined histories of an illusive life and a famous icon. In doing so, the book raises questions about the possibilities and limits of biography for understanding those who live between and among different cultures.In reconstructing Baartman’s life, the book traverses the South African frontier and its genocidal violence, cosmopolitan Cape Town, the ending of the slave trade, the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, London and Parisian high society, and the rise of racial science. The authors discuss the ramifications of discovering that when Baartman went to London, she was older than originally assumed, and they explore the enduring impact of the Hottentot Venus on ideas about women, race, and sexuality. The book concludes with the politics involved in returning Baartman’s remains to her home country, and connects Baartman’s story to her descendants in nineteenth- and twentieth-century South Africa.

Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus offers the authoritative account of one woman’s life and reinstates her to the full complexity of her history.

Clifton Crais is professor of history at Emory University. He is the author of The Politics of EvilPamela Scully is professor of women’s studies and African studies at Emory University. She is the author ofLiberating the Family?


“Professors Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully of Emory University have done an excellent job not only of telling this rebarbative story but of putting it into the context of its time. . . . No one, however, has succeeded as well as Crais and Scully in illuminating not only her important role as icon and symbol but, so important, the human being behind them. Because of their diligent research and their deep understanding of the era in which she lived–along with their sensitivity to our own time and concern–they have truly given us the ‘living breathing person’ that was ‘Sara Baartman, the human being who was ultimately destroyed by an illusion.'”–Martin Rubin, Los Angeles Times

“[Crais and Scully] chase down obscure references to Baartman’s life in South Africa and discover a rich if difficult life. The authors dig deep into the limited remaining evidence but the biography wears its research lightly, a backdrop to this well-written and fascinating story of a woman who remains an elusive figure.”–Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“The authors…look beyond Baartman’s life as a curiosity and an exhibit to explore her life as a woman. Crais and Scully place Baartman’s contributions in such areas as the rights of the unlawfully detained, global feminism, and later–when her body was returned to South Africa from France–the politics of indigenous identity. Readers who enjoyed African Queen (2007), by Rachel Holmes, will appreciate this further examination of the life of an extraordinary woman.”–Vanessa Bush, Booklist

More reviews

Table of Contents:

Introduction 1
CHAPTER 1: Winds of the Camdeboo 7
CHAPTER 2: Cape of Storms 27
CHAPTER 3: London Calling 58
CHAPTER 4: Before the Law 82
CHAPTER 5: Lost, and Found 103
CHAPTER 6: Paris, City of Light 116
CHAPTER 7: Ghosts of Sara Baartman 142
EPILOGUE: Family 170





Post a comment
  1. afroqban #
    December 16, 2013

    That poor woman went through so much.

  2. December 25, 2013

    Kalamu, Thank you for this. I’ve had some coonection to this on some level having 1st heard (scant info) in 1994.

    Interest was renewed when I was asked to create a piece of art for an exhibition on the late Nelson Mandela. I chose Sarah as part of the art & Mandela convincing the French to let her come home. But I will not dwell on her exploitation. But more of her dignity however she could find it.

    Off & on I’ve done some research on her the most suggesting she died from smallpox, possibly pneumonia rather then syphilis displayed in markings on her hands.

    And that she was self-supporting at the time of her death not prostitution as commonly reported. I plan to be in S.A in July 2014 for the opening & will visit her resting place.

    I appreciate stumbling upon this info on your website this evening. It gives me lots to think on.

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