The Slave Woman Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman

Sawtche_(_dite_Sarah_Saartjie_Baartman),_étudiée_comme_Femme_de_race_Bôchismann,_Histoire_Naturelle_des_Mammifères,_tome_II,_Cuvier,_Werner,_de_LasteyrieUntil today, I had never heard of this woman.

In recent months I have found myself haunted by the eyes of refugees, and have felt my discomfort, my helplessness around the country l live in and their inhumane treatment of them, no matter whether from an African nation or the Middle East.

Today, I was watching a short film called, “ You Can Touch My Hair” by Un’ruly.  It was about African-American allowing people (white of course) to touch their hair!! There also featured those who did not allow people to touch their hair.

There was a mention of Sarah Baartman and I looked her up.  My God, I am truly shocked at the antics of white men and women!

Back in the days of slavery, Sarah Baartman was taken by a Doctor from Capetown in South Africa to London and displayed as a freak because of her unusual features, in particular her large buttocks and genitals. Sarah was known as the ‘ Hottentot Venus”.  ‘Hottentot’ being a name given to people with cattle.  This name of course took on derogatory terms in Sarah’s case.  She was leered at and ogled with disdain along with racial ignorance and cruelty.

Sarah’s physical characteristics were not unusual for a Khoisan woman, however in the early 1800’s, the Europeans, who were pretty much obsessed and arrogant about their superiority, (in my view there are those who still think like that), saw her as a freak and a curiosity.  She was on display in London for 4 years, then taken to Paris where the parading of her continued before she finally died at 25 years of age after being forced into prostitution, when the novelty of ogling at her had worn off.

When she died, a Parisian made a plaster cast of her body and pickled her brain and genitals!!!

It took the Master of Forgiveness himself, the incredible Nelson Mandela to have her remains brought home so she could be laid to rest at her place of birth.  Her grave has since been declared a national heritage site.

I am reprinting a poem in honour of the woman Sarah Baartman which was written by Diana Ferrus.

Sarah Baartman

Sarah Baartman

A poem for Sarah Baartman

By Diana Ferrus

“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 wretch 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.”


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