Who is Sarah Baartman?
In 1810, when Sarah Baartman was in her early twenties, she was persuaded by an English ship’s doctor, Alexander 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.
She was taken to Paris in 1814 and sold to Jean Riaux who continued to exhibited her 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 on 29 December 1815 around age 26, of an undetermined inflammatory ailment, possibly smallpox. A deathcast of her body was made, he skeleton removed and her brain and genitals were preserved in jars. These were displayed in the Musée de l’Homme, until the mid 1970s.
After five years of negotiating with the French authorities for the return of Sarah Baartman’s remains, the South African government, together with the Griqua National Council brought Sarah Baartman back to South Africa. She was buried on 9 August 2002 on Vergaderingskop, a hill in the town of Hankey in the Gamtoos Valley where she was born over 200 years before.
Her grave is to become part of the Sarah Baartman Centre of Remembrance being constructed.