Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman: Biography, all you need to know

Who is Sarah Baartman ?

Sarah Baartman was born Saartjie and nicknamed Hottentot Venus.

She is a late 18th century from Eastern Cape (modern-day South Africa), who was used as a spectacle to please white masters across Europe.

Sarah suffered from steatopygia, so she had excess fatty tissue around her hip and backside. She was hypersexualized and mocked and represents a dark time in black history. Many still associate it with the fetishization and hyper-sexualization of curvy black women by white-folk.

In the 1770s, Saartjie was born in the Camdeboo valley in the eastern part of the Cape Colony, modern day South Africa. After her birth, her family moved to Gamtoos Valley.

As she grew, she suffered from steatopygia which made her have excess fatty tissue around her waist and buttocks. While the African woman is usually curvy, her curves were really pronounced.

In 1810, she moved to England with her employer, Hendrik Cesars, and an English doctor William Dunlop. It was during her time in Manchester, England that she was baptized and renamed Sarah.

When Baartman left the cape, it was under the pretext of treating her rare condition in Piccadilly. But instead, they started showing her for money across England and Ireland. Her curves were brought out in scanty outfits to satisfy the vain folly and fetish of the white master. This was way before slavery was abolished in 1880.

But when she was getting displayed at exhibition, British abolitionists who were aggressively campaigning against slavery saw her. They also saw the conditions of duress she was made to perform under as well as the indentured servitude she was made to go through. Some parts of history even said white women treated her poorly while white men poked her with sticks.

These British abolitionists then sought a redress of Baartman’s unfair treatment in court. However, the court infamously ruled in favour of the derogatory exhibition after William Dunlop produced a contentious document. It was meant to be a contract signed between Dunlop and the illiterate Baartman.

After Dunlop’s death, Henry Taylor took Baartman to Paris and made her thrill onlookers. There, a scientist named George Curvier researched and experimented on her as he aimed to find a link between men and animals.

According to Wikipedia sources, Baartman was then sold to Sean Reaux who raped and impregnated her as an experiment. A daughter born and named Okurra Reaux was born, but she died at age 5. Throughout this time, she lived in penury and could barely afford to feed.

In December 1815, she died in Paris, France. Until 2002, when her remains were moved to South Africa, they were on display in France after being dissected by George Curvier.

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