Saartjie Baartman (1789 – December 29, 1815) was the most famous of at least two Khoikhoi women who were exhibited as sideshow attractions in 19th century Europe under the name Hottentot Venus -- "Hottentot" as the then-current name for the Khoi people; and "Venus" in reference to the many works of art depicting the female form.
Saartjie Baartman was born to a Khoisan family in the vicinity of the Gamtoos River in what is now the Eastern Cape of South Africa. She was orphaned in a commando raid. Saartje, pronounced "Sahr-cheh", is the Afrikaans form of her name; it translates to English as "Little Sarah", where the use of the diminutive form commonly indicates familiarity or endearment rather than a literally diminutive stature. Her original name is unknown.
Baartman was a servant of Dutch farmers near Cape Town when Hendrick Cezar, the brother of her employer, suggested that she travel to England for exhibition, promising her that she would become wealthy. Lord Caledon, governor of the Cape, gave permission for the trip, but later regretted it after he gained a complete understanding of its purpose. She left for London in 1810.
She travelled around England showing what Europeans considered her unusual bodily features, thought to be typical of her people. She had large buttocks, a condition known as steatopygia, and visitors were permitted to touch them for extra payment. In addition, she had a sinus pudoris, otherwise known as the tablier, "curtain of shame", or "apron", all names for the elongated labia of some Khoisan women. Although "sinus pudoris" refers only to the labia of Khoisan woman. Saartjie never allowed this latter trait to be exhibited while she was alive. (Strother 1999).
Her exhibition in London, scant years after the passing of the Slave Trade Act 1807, created a scandal and an abolitionist benevolent society (equivalent to a charity or pressure group) called the African Association petitioned for her release. Baartman was questioned in Dutch, in which she was fluent, before a court, and stated that she was not under restraint and understood perfectly that she was guaranteed half of the profits. The conditions under which she made these statements are suspect, because it directly contradicts accounts of her exhibits made by Zachary Macaulay of the African Institution and other eyewitnesses (Strother 1999).
Baartman later traveled to Napoleonic Paris where an animal trainer exhibited her under more pressured conditions for fifteen months. French anatomist Georges Cuvier and French naturalists visited her and she was the subject of several scientific paintings at the Jardin du Roy.
She died December 29, 1815 of an inflammatory ailment, possibly smallpox. An autopsy was conducted and the findings published by French anatomist Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville in 1816 and by Cuvier in the Memoires du Museum d'Histoire Naturelle in 1817. Cuvier notes in his monograph that Baartman was an intelligent woman who had an excellent memory and spoke Dutch fluently. Her skeleton, preserved genitals and brain were placed on display in Paris's Musée de l'Homme until 1974, when they were removed from public view and stored out of sight.
Burial: Guzang Palance Cemetery Cape Town City of Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality Western Cape, South Africa Plot: On a hill overlooking the town of Hankey in the Gamtoos River Valley
Created by: Newton Wallace Record added: Jul 20, 2007
Find A Grave Memorial# 20540269