Originally from Khosa culture, Sarah Baartman (or Saartjie Baartman) was born in South Africa in 1789. She was shown as a freak show attraction in Europe in the early 18th century due to her enormous buttocks, which were considered odd and exotic at the time.
Baartman’s birthplace was the Gamtoos Valley, which is today part of the Eastern Cape region in South Africa. She was a native of the region and a member of the Khoikhoi ethnic group. At an early age, Baartman was abducted from her home by British ship’s doctor William Dunlop, who promised to find her work as a servant in Cape Town. Instead of being put to work as a maid, Baartman was shipped off to a sideshow in England, where she was dubbed the “Hottentot Venus” and used as a novelty.
People in London and Paris paid to take a look at Baartman because her huge buttocks and extended labia were considered exotic. She was also made to do a series of antics, including singing and dancing, for the enjoyment of the crowd. During this time, Bartman was subjected to abuse and was not compensated for her work.
Bartman, who was just 26 when she died in 1815, succumbed to syphilis. Sephra, better known by her stage name Hottentot as Her Venus, was the victim of several sexual assaults, and her body was later dissected and put on display in a Paris museum so that visitors may learn from her experience rather than witness it. Yes, I was granted permission to do so. The government of South Africa successfully fought for Bartman’s burial to take place in 2002.
The sad events of Bartman’s life are emblematic of the centuries-long oppression and mistreatment of people of colour. I pray that she finds peace at last.