To piggyback off of yesterday's post (I should have shared this then). Anyway, the above is a sketched picture of Sara Baartman aka "The Hottentot Venus"
The name 'Hottentot' is derived from a Dutch word meaning 'stammerer'; it was applied to Southern Africa's Khoikhoi people as early as the 17th century, apparently in reference to the Khoikhoi and Khoisan (a related people, often referred to as 'Bushmen' [as in The Gods Must Be Crazy] language, which is distinguished by clicking sounds. By the 18th century, 'Hottentot' had been generalized as a synonym for ignorant, non-white people. The 'Hottentots' put up fierce resistance to the earliest European explorers, the Portuguese, and were subsequently labeled 'cannibals.' During the Boer land grab in South Africa they first provided supplies for Dutch ships, then fought with the Boers when the European expansionist project became clear. Defeated, they became servants and laborers.
The best known outrage against the 'Hottentots' was the European exhibition of a Khoikhoi woman, Saartjie Baartman, who was advertised as "The Hottentot Venus."
Saartje (Sara) Baartman
She was exhibited as a freak against white ideals of superiority and sexuality.
The European audiences in London and Paris found her steatopygia (protruding buttocks) particularly fascinating, as it 'proved' current medical/anthropological ideas about the sexual lasciviousness and animality of African women.
Prancing in the nude, with her jutting posterior and extraordinary genitals, she provided the foundation for racist and pseudo-scientific theories regarding black inferiority and black female sexuality. The shows involved Saartje being "led by her keeper and exhibited like a wild beast, being obliged to walk, stand or sit as ordered." Saartje's predicament drew the attention of a young Jamaican, Robert Wedderburn, who agitated against slavery and racism. Subsequently, his group pressured the attorney general to stop this circus. Losing the case on a technicality, Saartje spent four years in London and then went to Paris where she was exhibited in a travelling circus, and seen frequently controlled by an animal trainer in the show.
Upon her death in 1815 (after five years of degrading exhibition touring, an autopsy was performed and her genitals (interesting for the 'Hottentot apron,' a ceremonially undertaken manipulation of the labia and nymphae, which Europeans read as a natural sign of deviance) and buttocks were preserved for 'scientific' display (according to Sander Gilman,'s "Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature," Critical Inquiry 12 (1985) 204-242, they are still on display in Paris's Musée de l'Homme).
In post-apartheid South Africa, efforts were made to retrieve Saartje's remains. In 1994, then-President Nelson Mandela appealed to his French counterpart, but it was not until 2002 that the French Senate approved a bill for repatriation of Saartje's remains to South Africa. In May 2002, her remains were brought home to South Africa after nearly 200 years of humiliation and abuse. In August 2002, she was finally laid to rest in the Eastern Cape.
Something to think about in regard to the ponderings of the previous post!
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Posted by JustMeWriting at 5:32 PM