Saartjie (Sara) Baartman, a Khoikhoi woman, was born in c. 1789 in South Africa’s Eastern Cape and moved in 1810 to England, under what are widely believed to be exploitative and false pretenses.
Dubbed the “Hottentot Venus” by English promoters of the time, Baartman was publicly exhibited as a “Phenomenon of Nature” in London alone more than 200 times. In 1814 she was sold to an animal trainer in France, where she was exhibited alongside a baby rhinoceros. She was also subjected to study by George Cuvier, the French naturalist, as evidence of the link between animals and humans.
When Baartman died in 1816 at age 26, just six years after leaving South Africa, Cuvier dissected her body and preserved her sexual anatomy, which was used to promote and justify scientific bases for racism, sexism, and colonialism. Paris’ Musée de l’Homme displayed her remains until 1974.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Sara Baartman is among the first known black female victims of human trafficking. Her story is seen as a wrenching example of the dehumanization of people of color, especially as justified by biological determinism and scientific racism, and the economic and sexual exploitation of black women. Yet much of Baartman’s individual humanity has been overshadowed by the symbolic weight of her story. In recent years, an effort has mounted to remember Baartman as an individual. In 1994, President Nelson Mandela initiated the repatriation of Baartman’s remains to her home country. The process took eight years. On Women’s Day, August 9, 2002, Sara Baartman’s remains were buried in the area of her birth in the Eastern Cape, 192 years after she had left for Europe.⠀
The Mismeasure of Man by paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. (This book is credited for reintroducing the story of Sara Baartman.)
By: Katie Okamoto, NY