Saartjie Baartman was born on the Gamtoos River in the Eastern Cape in 1789 of a Khoisan family in which is now South Africa. The Khoisan are among southern Africa’s oldest known inhabitants, people who made a major role in shaping South Africa’s past and present. Back in those days, bands of Dutch raiding parties went on horseback to the eastern and northern Cape frontiers to hunt down and exterminate these ‘bushmen’ groups who were considered cattle thieves and a threat to settler society. There was never any light and air for Saartjie. In her late teens, she migrated to Cape Flats near Cape Town where she became a farmer’s slave and lived in a small shack until 1810. That year, she was sold in Cape Town in 1810 at the age of 20 to a ship’s doctor, William Dunlop, who persuaded her that she could make a great deal of money by displaying her body to Europeans. Dunlop put her on a boat and she ended up in London.
There she was put on display in a building in Piccadily and paraded around naked in circuses, museums, bars and universities. She was most obliged to walk, stand or sit as her keeper ordered, and told to show off her prodruding posterior, an anatomical feature of her semi-nomadic people, and her large genitals, which varied in their appearance from those of Europeans.
After four years in London, Saartjie was handed to a showman of wild animals in Paris, where she was displayed between 1814 and 1815 in a travelling circus, often handled by an animal trainer.
Saartjie Baartman died in 1816, an impoverished prostitute, a lonely woman, and an alcoholic. She had come to be known as the ‘Venus Hottentot’ which was a derogatory term used to describe ‘bushmen’ of Southern Africa.
Instead of providing her a decent burial, cuvier made a plaster cast of Baartman’so body, dissected her and conserved her organs, including her gentiles and brain, in bottles of formaldehyde. Along with her skeleton. Baartman’s brain and genitals were stored somewhere in the back room of the Musee De L’Homme in Paris her remains including those in the jars were displayed there until 1976.
Some women today pay a great deal of money to have plastic surgery to look like Saartjie. Her ordeal must of been horrendous used as an animal. There was no regard for her only as an animal who made money as some sort of a freak being. Saartjie was a human being who was used and abused. Treated in a grotesque way as ‘scientific proof’ of ‘European white superiority.’