Looking in the Mirror

Spiritual Revelations for those seeking Humanity in Humans ~~CordieB.

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Who is Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman?

Sarah Bartman Skelatal
Photograph courtesty of  ” Mail and Guardian On-Line, Article Entitled, “Fetching Saartjie.”

Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman was born on the Gamtoos River in the Eastern Cape in 1789 of a Khoisan family in what is now known as South Africa.  British ship’s doctor William Dunlop persuaded her to travel with him to England by prominsing her a great fortune if she visited Europe and exhibited herself.   I’m sure Saartjie had no idea of her ill fate as she stepped on board, on her own free will, a ship for London. 

It is said that the first time Saartjie Baartman was dragged out to squat before the mob at 225 Piccadilly, the show’s promoters billed her genitals as resembling the skin that hangs from a turkey’s throat.  For several years, working-class Londoners crowded in to shout vulgarities at the protruding buttocks and large vulva of the unfortunate woman made famous across Europe as the “Hottentot Venus”.  The aristocracy were no less fascinated at what they saw as a sexual freak, but they had private showings.  

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.

Soon the Parisians tired of the Baartman show.  It is alleged that she was forced to turn to prostitution and that she became penniless and succumbed to alcolism.  Her body was unable to become acclimatised to the cold weather; her spirit could not endure the cruel culture; and Saartjie’s mind, body and soul could no longer endure further abuse.  Saartjie died in 1815 at the tender age of 25.

Sarah’s death was as ill-fated as her life.   She was carved up by Napoleon’s surgeon, who made a cast of her body, pickled her genitals and brain, and put her skeleton on display in a museum.

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

Other pleas 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 2002, Sarah Baartman’s remains were finally returned. 

Photo Courtesy of Washington Post

“The story of Sarah Baartman is the story of the African people,” President Thabo Mbeki said at the funeral. “It is the story of the loss of our ancient freedom … It is the story of our reduction to the state of objects who could be owned, used and discarded by others.”

May Miss Baartman finally rest in peace.  

Who are the Sarah Baartman’s of Today, a poem written by Cordieb

For a detailed story of Saartjie Baartman’s life, listen to Anchor Marco Werman’s interview with Rachel Holmes, author of the book, “African Queen: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus.”

Listen to the interview and the story

Diana Ferrus, of Khoisan descent, wrote “A poem for Sarah Baartman” while studying in Utrecht, Holland, in 1998.   It is widely believed that Ferrus’ poem played a major part in the return of Sarah’s remains.  Ferrus said, “One evening I was looking at the stars and I thought to myself, ‘They’re so far away. But if I were home, I’d be able to touch every one of them.’ My heart just went out to Sarah, and I thought, ‘Oh, god, she died of heartbreak, she longed for her country. What did she feel?’ That’s why the first line of the poem was ‘I’ve come to take you home.’

“I’ve come to take you home –
home, remember the veld?
the lush green grass beneath the big oak trees
the air is cool there and the sun does not burn.
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white
and the water in the stream chuckle sing-songs
as it hobbles along over little stones.
I have come to wrench you away –
away from the poking eyes
of the man-made monster
who lives in the dark
with his clutches of imperialism
who dissects your body bit by bit
who likens your soul to that of Satan
and declares himself the ultimate god!
I have come to soothe your heavy heart
I offer my bosom to your weary soul
I will cover your face with the palms of my hands
I will run my lips over lines in your neck
I will feast my eyes on the beauty of you
and I will sing for you
for I have come to bring you peace.
I have come to take you home
where the ancient mountains shout your name.
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white –
I have come to take you home
where I will sing for you
for you have brought me peace.”
Diana Ferrus, “A poem for Sarah Baartman”


  • A French print
  • Guardian article on the return of her remains
  • South Africa government site about her, including Diana Ferrus’s pivotal poem
  • A documentary film called The Life and Times of Sara Baartman by Zola Maseko
  • http://www.heretical.com/miscella/baker4.html
  • http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~anthro/courses/306/Sarah%20Burial.html
  • Other Links: