A caricature of Baartman drawn in the early 19th century
Near Gamtoos River, Eastern Cape, Dutch Empire
|Died||29 December 1815
|Resting place||Vergaderingskop, Hankey, Eastern Cape, South Africa
|Other names||Hottentot Venus|
|Occupation||"freak show" performer|
Saartjie "Sarah" Baartman (before 1790 – 29 December 1815) (also spelled Bartman, Bartmann, Baartmen) was the most famous of at least two Khoikhoi women who were exhibited as freak show attractions in 19th-century Europe under the name Hottentot Venus—"Hottentot" as the then-current name for the Khoi people, now considered an offensive term, and "Venus" in reference to the Roman goddess of love.
Sarah Baartman was born to a Khoisan family in the vicinity of the Gamtoos River in what is now the Eastern Cape of South Africa. She was orphaned in a commando raid. Saartjie, pronounced "Sahr-kee", is the diminutive form of her name; in Afrikaans the use of the diminutive form commonly indicates familiarity, endearment or contempt. Her birth name is unknown.
Baartman was a slave of a Dutch farmer named Peter Cezar near Cape Town, which had recently come under British control. Alexander Dunlop, a military surgeon with a sideline in supplying showmen in Britain with animal specimens, suggested she travel to England for exhibition. Lord Caledon, governor of the Cape, gave permission for the trip, but later regretted it after he fully learned the purpose of the trip. She left for London in 1810.
Baartman was exhibited first in London, entertaining people because of her "exotic" origin and by showing what were thought of as highly unusual bodily features. She had large buttocks (steatopygia) and also the elongated labia of some Khoisan women. To quote historian of science Stephen Jay Gould, "The labia minora, or inner lips, of the ordinary female genitalia are greatly enlarged in Khoi-San women, and may hang down three or four inches below the vulva when women stand, thus giving the impression of a separate and enveloping curtain of skin". Baartman never allowed this trait to be exhibited while she was alive, and an account of her appearance in London in 1810 makes it clear that she was wearing a garment, although a tight-fitting one.
Her exhibition in London, scant years after the passing of the Slave Trade Act 1807, created a scandal. An abolitionist benevolent society called the African Association – the equivalent of a charity or pressure group – conducted a newspaper campaign for her release. The showman associated with her exhibition, Hendrick Cezar in an answer protested that Baartman was entitled to earn her living by this means: "...has she not as good a right to exhibit herself as an Irish Giant or a Dwarf?". The African Association took the matter to court and on 24 November 1810 at the Court of King's Bench the Attorney-General began the attempt 'to give her liberty to say whether she was exhibited by her own consent'. In support he produced two affidavits in court. The first, from a Mr Bullock of Liverpool Museum, was intended to show Baartman had been brought to Britain by persons who referred to her as if she were property. The second, by the Secretary of the African Association, described the degrading conditions under which she was exhibited and also gave evidence of coercion. Baartman was questioned before a court in Dutch, in which she was fluent, and stated that she was not under restraint and understood perfectly that she was guaranteed half of the profits. The case was therefore dismissed. The conditions under which she made these statements are suspect, because her declaration directly contradicts accounts of her exhibitions made by Zachary Macaulay of the African Institution and other eyewitnesses. A written contract was also produced by Dunlop, though this is considered by modern commentators as a legal subterfuge.
The publicity given by the court case increased Baartman's popularity as an exhibit. She later toured other parts of Britain and visited Ireland. On 1 December 1811 Baartman was christened at Manchester Cathedral.
Baartman was sold to a Frenchman, who took her to his country. She was in France from around September 1814. An animal trainer, S. Réaux, exhibited her under more pressured conditions for fifteen months. French naturalists, among them Georges Cuvier, head keeper of the menagerie at the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, visited her. She was the subject of several scientific paintings at the Jardin du Roi, where she was examined in March 1815: as Saint-Hilaire  and Frédéric Cuvier, a younger brother of Georges, reported, "she was obliging enough to undress and to allow herself to be painted in the nude." In accordance with her own cultural norms of modesty, throughout these sessions she wore a small apron-like garment which concealed her genitalia. She steadfastly refused to remove this even when offered money by one of the attending scientists. Once her novelty had worn thin with Parisians, she began to drink heavily and support herself with prostitution.
Death and legacy
She died on 29 December 1815 of an undetermined inflammatory ailment, possibly smallpox, while other sources suggest she contracted syphilis, or pneumonia. An autopsy was conducted, and published by French anatomist Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville in 1816 and republished by French naturalist Georges Cuvier in the Memoires du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle in 1817. Cuvier notes in his monograph that its subject was an intelligent woman with an excellent memory, particularly for faces. In addition to her native tongue she spoke fluent Dutch, passable English and a smattering of French. He describes her shoulders and back as "graceful", arms "slender", hands and feet as "charming" and "pretty". He adds she was adept at playing the jew's harp could dance according to the traditions of her country and had a lively personality. Despite this he interpreted her remains, in accordance with his theories on racial evolution, as evidencing ape-like traits. He thought her small ears were similar to those of an orangutan and also compared her vivacity, when alive, to the quickness of a monkey. Her skeleton, preserved genitals and brain were placed on display in Paris' Musée de l'Homme until 1974, when they were removed from public view and stored out of sight; a cast was still shown for the following two years.
There were sporadic calls for the return of her remains, beginning in the 1940s. A poem written in 1978 by Diana Ferrus, herself of Khoisan descent, entitled "I've come to take you home", played a pivotal role in spurring the movement to bring Baartman's remains back to her birth soil. The case gained world-wide prominence only after Stephen Jay Gould wrote The Hottentot Venus in the 1980s. After the victory of the African National Congress in the South African general election, 1994, President Nelson Mandela formally requested that France return the remains. After much legal wrangling and debates in the French National Assembly, France acceded to the request on 6 March 2002. Her remains were repatriated to her homeland, the Gamtoos Valley, on 6 May 2002 and they were buried on 9 August 2002 on Vergaderingskop, a hill in the town of Hankey over 200 years after her birth.
Baartman became an icon in South Africa as representative of many aspects of the nation's history. The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, a refuge for survivors of domestic violence, opened in Cape Town in 1999. South Africa's first offshore environmental protection vessel, the Sarah Baartman, is also named after her.
- On 10 January 1811 at the New Theatre, London, a pantomime called 'The Hottentot Venus' featured at the end of the evening's entertainment.
- In his 1847 novel Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray referred to the Hottentot Venus, explaining George's aversion to marrying a woman of color.
- Dame Edith Sitwell referred to her allusively in "Hornpipe", a poem in the satirical collection "Façade".
- Poet Elizabeth Alexander explores her story in a 1987 poem and 1990 book, both entitled The Venus Hottentot.
- Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks used the story of Saartjie Baartman as the basis for her 1996 play Venus.
- Artist Lyle Ashton Harris collaborated with the model Renee Valerie Cox to produce a photographic image, Hottentot Venus 2000
- Poet Cathy Park Hong wrote a poem entitled Hottentot Venus in her 2007 book Translating Mo'um.
- A movie entitled Black Venus, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche and starring Yahima Torres as Sarah, was released in 2010.
- Composer Hendrik Hofmeyr composed a 20-minute opera entitled Saartjie which was to be premiered by Cape Town Opera in November 2010.
- Poet Douglas Kearney published a poem titled "Drop It Like It's Hottentot Venus" in April 2012.
- Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: a ghost story and a biography. Princeton University Press. 2009. ISBN 0-691-13580-0.
- Holmes, Rachel (2006). The Hottentot Venus. Bloomsbury, Random House. ISBN 0-7475-7776-5.
- Qureshi, Sadiah (2011). Peoples on Parade:Exhibitions, Empire and Anthropology in Nineteenth-Century Britain. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-2267-0096-8.
- Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: a ghost story and a biography. Princeton University Press. 2009. p. 184. ISBN 978-0-691-13580-9.
- Another "Hottentot Venus" featured at a fête given in 1829 for the Duchess of Berry :Poster
- Davie, Lucille (14 May 2012). "Sarah Baartman, at rest at last". SouthAfrica.info. Retrieved 2012-08-06.
- Qureshi, Sadiah, 'Displaying Sara Baartman, the ‘Hottentot Venus’' History of Science, Volume 42, Part 2, Number 136, June 2004, p.233-257: "The woman ... is now called Sara Baartman. Unfortunately, no record of her original name exists and she is better known by her epithet, the ‘Hottentot Venus’, to her contemporaries, present-day historians, and political activists."
- Venus abused | Salon Books
- Sara Story
- According to a law report of 26 November 1810, an affidavit supplied to the Court of King’s Bench from a “Mr. Bullock of Liverpool Museum” stated: “...some months since a Mr. Alexander Dunlop, who, he believed, was a surgeon in the army, came to him sell the skin of a Camelopard, which he had brought from the Cape of Good Hope...Some time after, Mr. Dunlop again called on Mr. Bullock, and told him, that he had then on her way from the Cape, a female Hottentot, of very singular appearance; that she would make the fortune of any person who shewed her in London, and that he (Dunlop) was under an engagement to send her back in two years...” "Law Report." Times [London, England] 26 Nov. 1810: 3. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 7 Aug. 2012.
- A handwritten note made on an exhibition flyer by someone who saw Baartman in London in January 1811 indicates curiosity about her origins:“Sartjee is 22 Years old is 4 feet 10 Ins high, and has (for an Hoteentot) a good capacity. She lived in the occupation of a Cook at the Cape of Good Hope. Her Country is situated not less than 600 Miles from the Cape the Inhabitants of which are rich in Cattle and sell them by barter for a mere trifle, A Bottle of Brandy, or small roll of Tobacco will purchase several Sheep – Their principal trade is in Cattle Skins or Tallow. - Beyond this Nation is an other, of small stature, very subtle & fierce; the Dutch could not bring them under subjection, and shot them whenever they found them. 9th Jany. 1811. [H.C.?]” Document in the collection of the New York Public Library
- Gould, 1985
- (Strother 1999)
- The Times, 26 November 1810, p. 3: "...she is dressed in a colour as nearly resembling her skin as possible. The dress is contrived to exhibit the entire frame of her body, and the spectators are even invited to examine the peculiarities of her form."
- "Nothing more is known about Cezar. Percival Kirby, op. cit. (ref. 5), suggests he may have been Peter Cezar’s brother, and possibly the keeper to whom contemporary accounts of Baartman’s show refer (since the name is Dutch and the keeper spoke to Sara in Dutch)." Qureshi, Sadiah, 'Displaying Sara Baartman, the ‘Hottentot Venus’' History of Science, Volume 42, Part 2, Number 136, June 2004, p.233-257
- Sadiah Qureshi, Displaying Sara Baartman, the ‘Hottentot Venus’ History of Science, Volume 42, Part 2, Number 136, June 2004, p.233-257
- William Bullock, b. early 1780s, d. 1849, English naturalist and antiquary.
- "Dunlop produced a contract signed by himself and Sara dated 29 October 1810, which was to run from the preceding March for five years. This stated that she was his domestic servant and would allow herself to be exhibited in public in return for 12 guineas a year." Karen Harvey, ‘Baartman, Sara (1777x88–1815/16)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- The Times, Thursday 12 December 1811, p.3:'The African fair one who has so greatly attracted the notice of the town...is stated to have been baptized on Sunday week last, in the Collegiate church at Manchester, by the name of Sarah Bartmann.'
- England Births and Christenings 1538-1975, Sarah Bartmann http://www.familysearch.org
- "'Hottentot Venus' goes home". BBC. 29 April 2002. Retrieved 13 October 2008.
- Karen Harvey, ‘Baartman, Sara (1777x88–1815/16)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- possibly Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire
- “It is but justice to the modesty of the Hottentots to say that I have constantly found as many difficulties in the part of the women to submit to the exposure parts which a closer inspection required, as in all probability would have occurred in persuading an equal number of females of any other description to undergo examination.” William Somerville, a British surgeon stationed at the Cape between 1799 and 1802, describing his difficulty in gathering information about Khoisan anatomy.
- The Journal of Science and the Arts III (V): p. 154. 1818 http://www.archive.org/stream/journalsciencea02britgoog#page/n187/mode/1up/search/venus
|url=missing title (help). Retrieved 19 July 2010.
- In The Blood by Steve Jones has it that "Saartje's hands are covered by the marks of the smallpox that killed her" (p. 204).
- “The Hottentot Venus, it appears from the French papers,died at Paris last week, after an illness of eight days. Her malady is said to have been the small pox, which the physicians mistook successively for a catarrh, a pleurisy, and a dropsy of the chest.” Times [London, England] 6 Jan. 1816: 3. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 7 Aug. 2012.
- Cuvier refers to her instrument as a "guimbarde", usually translated into English as "jew's harp".
- Hal Morgan and Kerry Tucker. Rumor! Fairfield, Pennsylvania: Penguin Books, 1984, p. 29.
- Untrodden fields of anthropology : observations on the esoteric manners and customs of semi-civilized peoples. American Anthropoligical society. Retrieved 19 July 2010.
- Kerseboom, Simone. ""Burying Sara Baartman": Commemoration, Memory and Historica Ethics.1". Stellenbosch University History Department. Retrieved 23 October 2008.
- The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Woman and Children
- "SA takes on poachers". 11 November 2005. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007.
- The Times, 10 January 1811; p. 2
- Walton: 'Hornpipe' from Facade
- National poetry month at the rumpus
- Crais, Clifton and Pamela Scully (2008). Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography. Princeton, Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-13580-9
- Fausto- Sterling, Anne (1995). "Gender, Race, and Nation: The Comparative Anatomy of 'Hottentot' Women in Europe, 1815–1817". In Terry, Jennifer and Jacqueline Urla (Ed.) "Deviant Bodies: Critical Perspectives on Difference in Science and Popular Culture", 19-48. Bloomington, Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-32898-5.
- Gilman, Sander L. (1985). "Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature". In Gates, Henry (Ed.) Race, Writing and Difference 223-261. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
- Zhao, V. H., Lin, S. W., Liu, K. J. R. (2011). Behavior dynamics in Afrikaan culture. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
- Ritter, Sabine: Facetten der Sarah Baartman: Repräsentationen und Rekonstruktionen der ‚Hottentottenvenus‘. Münster etc.: Lit 2010. ISBN 3-643-10950-4.
- Strother, Z.S. (1999). "Display of the Body Hottentot", in Lindfors, B., (ed.), Africans on Stage: Studies in Ethnological Show Business. Bloomington, Indiana, Indiana University Press: 1-55.
- Qureshi, Sadiah (2004), 'Displaying Sara Baartman, the 'Hottentot Venus', History of Science 42:233-257. PDF available here.
- Willis, Deborah (Ed.) "Black Venus 2010: They Called Her 'Hottentot' ISBN 978-1-4399-0205-9. Philadelphia, PA. Temple University Press
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