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Black Thought

"Whatever we believe about ourselves and our ability comes true." -Susan L. Taylor

Black Thought

The Hottentot Venus

Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman was born sometime during the 1770s in Cape Colony (present day South Africa). In the 1790s she met a free black man named Peter Caesars, and he convinced her to move with him to Cape Town. Because she was of Khoisan descent she could not be formally enslaved, however she lived in conditions similar to the slaves in Cape Town. While in Cape Town she gave birth to two children, both of them died early.

William Dunlop, a Scottish military surgeon who made extra money showcasing exotic animal specimens from his travels in Europe was stationed in Cape Town and suggested that she travel to England to make money being an exhibition. Initially she dismissed this, however he persisted and finally convinced her. In turn she convinced another free black man named Henrik Caesar to go with her, and he too initially declined the offer; but as his debt increased due to the incredulous interest rates free blacks received, he decided to escort her to Europe. In 1810 the three left for Europe. It is unknown and widely debated if Sarah went willingly or if she was forced to go, however it is highly favorable that she went against her will.

In London, William served as the business man and Henrik as the stage man that presented Sarah. On November 20, 1810 Sarah made her first public appearance in the Egyptian Hall of Piccadilly Circus.  Dunlop thought he could make money because of Londoners' unfamiliarity with Africans and because of Sarahs large bottom.

He was correct in his thoughts.


Englishmen and women paid to see Sara’s half naked body displayed in a cage. She became an attraction for people from various parts of Europe who traveled to see her ‘unusual’ skin coloring and body shape. She was displayed as a freak.

During her time with William and Henrik, the campaign against slavery in Britain was in full swing and as a result, the treatment of Sarah was called into question. Her “employers” were brought to trial but faced no real consequences. They produced a document that had allegedly been signed by Sarah, and her own testimony which claimed that she was not being mistreated. Her ‘contract’ was, however, amended and she became entitled to ‘better conditions’, greater profit share and warm clothes.

After four years in London, in September 1814, she was transported from England to France and sold to a man named Reaux who showcased animals. He showcased her around Paris and cashed out from the public’s fascination with Sarahs body. He began exhibiting her in a cage alongside a baby rhinoceros. He would order her to sit or stand in a similar way that circus animals are ordered.

At times Sarah was displayed almost completely naked, wearing little more than a tan loincloth, and she was only allowed that due to her insistence that she cover what was culturally sacred.

Here, in Paris, she was nicknamed “Hottentot Venus”.

Her popularity in Paris attracted the attention of George Cuvier, a naturalist. He asked Reaux if he would allow Sara to be studied as a science specimen to which Reaux agreed. From March 1815 Sara was studied by French anatomists, zoologists and physiologists. George concluded that she was a link between animals and humans.

Sara Baartman died in 1816 at the age of 26. It is unknown whether she died from alcoholism, smallpox or pneumonia. George obtained her remains from local police and dissected her body. He made a plaster cast of her body, pickled her brain and genitals and placed them into jars which were placed on display at the Musée de l'Homme (Museum of Man) until 1974.

President Nelson Mandela requested that the French government return the remains of Sara Baartman so that she could be laid to rest. It took eight years for the French to draft a carefully worded bill that would not allow other countries to claim treasures taken by the French. Finally on March 6, 2002, Sarah Baartman was brought back home to South Africa where she was buried.

So where do you think they came up with this goofy shit at?…..



Kandice Hill2 Comments