Read the articles on Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, and Caster Semenya. Watch the Life and Times of Sarah Baartman documentary. Write a reflection of 1000-1200 words on the similarities and/or differences in the manner in which Sarah Baartman, Michelle Obama, Caster Semenya, and Serena Williams have been described/talked about in public space. Please note that you are required to have at least two sources with APA citation style given in-text (within your discussion), plus full citations at the bottom of your posted discussion. You are free to cite any other sources, including the sources assigned for this assignment readings. You will lose points if you do not follow the APA citation style.
How could the same person play so many different parts? She was like at beast drawn, measured, and chalked, then preciously preserved in a French museum.
Even if death, she was given no rest. Now she’s in Paris at the Musee de l’Homme, in case Number 33 they keep her skeleton. Why is she considered a symbol? Her name is Sarah Baartman and this is her story.
[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]
Sarah Baartman was born in South Africa in this vast tranquil landscape that is the Eastern Cape. She belonged to the Khoikhoi, a nomadic people who had roamed freely across this land for centuries. From north to south, east to west, they wandered in search of greener grazing pastures for their livestock. They lived in caves on which they recorded their lives and history.
But in 1790, the tranquility of this place had long since been shattered by the brutal arrival of the Europeans. And at the time of Sarah’s birth, her people, the Khoikhoi were engage in the guerrilla war against the encroaching Dutch. This meant that the men lived in mountains, ever watchful of the feared commando raids.
This also meant that only the women, children, and the old were left in the villages to fend for themselves. Sarah was born and grew up in a war zone.
We know of the near extermination of the San, or Bushmen, by commandos from Cape Town, because, as they said, the Bushmen were stealing our cattle. And so thousands and thousands of San, or Bushmen were shot over weekend commandos, like people going hunting.
There was the feeling that you could do with what you liked with these people, because they weren’t quite human. They were subhuman. They were near human, but they weren’t us.
This is an actual witnesses account of a [INAUDIBLE] commando raid on a Khoikhoi village.
“They surrounded the place during the night, spotting the Bushmen’s fires. At day break the firing commenced and lasted until the sun was a little way up. The commando posse loaded and fired, and reloaded many times before they had finished.
A great many people, women and children, were fired upon that day. The men were absent. Only a few little children escaped, and they were distributed among the people of the commando. The women threw up their arms for mercy, but no mercy was shown. Great sins was perpetrated that day.”
This is probably how the young Sarah came to Cape Town.
She would have been [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] contracted out to a farmer somewhere in the vicinity of Cape Town. Or she would have worked for the Cape [INAUDIBLE] at various public works, building roads, building buildings, doing the [? coal, ?] washing, that type of thing. So that is well how she could have ended up on Cezar’s farm.
This clumsy, amateur sketch is all that remains of the house where Sarah worked as a servant until 1810. The farm belonged to Peter Cezar, a Dutch farmer. In the spring off the same year, Peter Cezar received two visitors, his brother Hendrik accompanied by a British surgeon named Alexander Dunlop.
The two men knew too well that for the past two centuries Europeans has been fascinated by the Khoikhoi, especially the women. This would explain their immediate interest in the 20-year-old Sarah. .
The Khoikhoi, or Hottentot peoples of Southern Africa were particularly interesting to Europeans, because they had an almost morbid fascination in the genital and special features of the Khoikhoi people, especially the females. And there had long been rumors in Europe that there was some very special, and interesting, and unusual features about Khoikhoi ladies’ genital anatomy.
And although it is, today, repugnant to us to think about such masses. These early naturalists wanted to find out for themselves, were they, as rumor had held? Where they something very different and very special?
Behind it there was a mindset. And the mindset was, are these people really human? There was even a feeling that they didn’t belong to our human species, which all the rest of the world belonged to, but they were something apart.
Hendrik Cezar and Alexander Dunlop both knew that if they could convince Sarah Baartman to accompany them to Europe, they would make a fortune.
If she was a slave in Cape Town she had very little choice about her life. Once she was a slave she had very little choice about where to live, how to live, what to do. It is quite perfectly possible that, if it true as Hendrik Cezar says, that he came across her on the farm of his brother, that his brother simply gave him to her, as one person would give a slave to another and say, take her. You find her bum interesting, take her and do with her as you will.
On the 20th of March, 1810, Sarah Baartman, Hendrik Cezar, and Alexander Dunlop boarded a ship bound for England. The journey lasted three months. What went on in that young woman’s head as the ship set sail, we will never know. What is certain is that she would never again see her motherland.
Sarah Baartman arrived in London in June, 1810. England had abolished the slave trade just four years earlier. As a young, black women, what were her prospects?
When Saartjie turned up in this country, their black population was still mostly living in London and the seaports in various states. On one hand, you can say that the majority of the black people here were of the status which is known as slave/servants, that midpoint of servitude. And that’s just a fact.
On the other hand, you can look at the writings of a noted socialite, like Mrs. Hester Piozzi, who noted, eight years before Saartjie turned up in London, that there were black lady in all their finery, in the pit at the opera, attending the opera house. At the same time, she also noted black children playing in the square with their nurses.
So although there was a concessionary number of black people who managed to move through society with relative ease, the majority of the community were in some sort of servitude, or some sort of beggary.
Uppermost in Hendrik Cezar and Alexander Dunlop’s mind’s was to profit from there rare specimen. They approached to William Bullock, the keeper of the Art and Natural History Museum. They offered to sell Sarah Baartman and a giraffe skin.
Bullock bought the giraffe skin but refused to buy Sarah. Apparently, Dunlop panicked and asked Cezar to buy him out of their deal. Cezar, believing he was on to a huge money spinner, began to put his plan into action.
They thought she was a freak, because she was different from English woman, or Scottish woman, women in the British Isles whom they knew well. She was different because she had a larger buttocks than one would find in most British women. And for this they considered her to be freakish.
If you were looking at her in Khoikhoi society, in the Cape, you would have said, oh, there’s nothing special about her. She is the member of her population. No different, and not freakish at all.
Saartjie Baartman’s appearance in London was the first physical confirmation of this semi-mythical phenomena which had been in the minds of English travelers, and French travelers even more so, for nearly 200 years. They knew this was odd, but this was the first exhibit. And it was a time, as I say, when we were looking for whatever was new.
Piccadilly was even then a popular entertainment area in the big metropolis. Of all the various thrills on offer, freak shows where the biggest attraction.
Freak shows really started in royal courts. Anything that was different in any nation was taken to the king. We’ve got them recorded in France in the 1400s, Queen Henrietta Maria, in this country, had a dwarf who was 18 inches high as her jester.
And if you look at Velazquez paintings, the Imperial Court of Spain and Portugal kept dwarfs who used to play with the royal children. But they were also royal jesters. Now inevitably, such people sought income outside the court. They often weren’t paid inside the court. And what they did was simply to take to fairs and circuses.
We exhibited sapient pigs, sapient horses, flees that could fight, women who were bears, bears who were women, pigs dressed up as women. Anything went. You could not imagine anything in your mind that was not horrific enough, or outlandish enough, to be exhibited in return for money.
On the 20th of September 1810, Hendrik Cezar published an advertisement in the Morning Post.
“Just arrived from the banks of the River Gaintoos, on the borders of Kaffraria in the interior of South Africa, a most correct and perfect specimen of that race of people. From this extraordinary phenomenon of nature, the people will have an opportunity of judging how far she exceeds any description given by historians of that tribe of human species. She has been brought to this country at a considerable expense by Hendrik Cezar.”
Sarah Baartman’s show at two shillings per head was an immediate success. Every day from 1:00 PM until 5:00 PM large crowds would gather at 225 Piccadilly Street.
The extraordinary thing about her exhibition is that somebody drew a cartoon of it. It’s in the style of Rollins, and it made even have been a sketch by him. There stands this young Khoikhoi woman on a plinth.
She looks noble. She looks elegant. She is topless, but she’s got the traditional [? hosier ?] type apron in front of her. She is looking straight forward. At her foot kneels a woman, peering under her apron, trying to see the pudenda. In front of her are Scottish soldiers.
Why did the artist choose Scottish soldiers? Because they wear kilts– short kilts in this cartoon– and they have long sporrans over their pudenda at the front. But a dog is at the back, sniffing eagerly up this skirt, or the kilt of the Scottish soldier, as he tries to do the same thing to, what the men of time probably thought was a noble savage. It’s a good lesson. And the sympathies of the cartoonist are entirely with the person being exhibited, and not with the gawping crowd.
Oh, have you been in London Town, it’s rare it is to see there amongst the ladies of renown, the most renowned is she. In Piccadilly Street so fair, a mansion she has got on golden letters written there, The Venus Hottentot.
But you may ask me, and well I wean, for why she tarries there? And what in her is to be seen than other folks more rare? A rump she has, though strange it be, large as a cauldron pot. And that is why men go to see the lovely Hottentot.
Now this was shown for many a day, and indeed for many a night, till sober folks began to say that all could not be right. Some said this was with her goodwill. And some said it was not, and asked why they did use so ill the lady Hottentot.
From the depictions of cartoonists and songwriters of the day, one would imagine that Sarah’s show was one of the most comical and hilarious of London’s many attractions. This was not the case. After witnessing the exhibition, a journalist for the Times Newspaper reported–
“The exhibition took place on a stage raised about three feet from the floor, with a cage, or enclosed place, at the end of it. The Hottentot was produced like a wild beast, and ordered to move backwards and forwards, and come out and go into her cage, more like a bear on a chain than a human being.
When she refused for a moment to come out of her cage, the keeper let down the curtain, went behind, and was seen to hold up his hand to her in a menacing posture. She then came forward at his call and was perfectly obedient.”
It’s interesting to note that the Anti-Slavery League and the African Institute in London at that time, which was very strongly abolitionist, in favor of abolition of slavery, took up her case. And there was a major press controversy about the degradation which was being made on this poor lady, who had been brought from South Africa, and was now being demonstrated.
“She was extremely ill, and the man insisted on her dancing. The poor creature pointed to her throat and to her knees, as if she felt pain in both, pleading in tears that he should not force her compliance. He declared that she was sulky, produced a long piece of bamboo and shook at her. She saw and knew it’s power.”
Between the 10th and the 29th of October, 1810, the Examaniner, The Morning Chronicle, and The Morning Post, published a series of letters expressing shock at Sarah Baartman’s exhibition.
“I allude to that wretched object advertised and publicly shown for money, the Hottentot Venus. I think, sir, that the air of the British Constitution is too pure to permit slavery in the very heart of the metropolis. Your obedient servant, an Englishman.”
“I am, sir, yours, Humanitas.”
“I am, sir, yours, a White Man.”
Hendrik Cezar’s response followed shortly afterward in The Morning Chronicle. He claimed that the Hottentot Venus was a willing participant in the show, that she was getting fair share of the profits, and that anyone who could understand her language, would hear from herself that she is treated with the utmost humanity, kindness, and tenderness.
The Abolitionist Movement had gained a major victory in 1806 with the banning of the slave trade. At the time, slavery was still legal throughout the British Empire, except on the grounds of Britain, itself.
So to have found a slave on British ground, who had come on, presumably, a British ship from a British colony, would have been to undercut the victory in so many different ways.
They fought hard to abolish the slave trade. And I suppose it would have felt to them like a slap in the face. So, I think this, to me, was the motivation behind the court case.
The African Institution was an Abolitionist Movement whose main concern was protecting the rights of freed slaves. On Saturday, November 24, 1810, Zachary Macaulay, Thomas Gisborne Babington, and Peter Von Wagemnge, three of its leading members, brought Sarah’s case before the Court of the King’s Bench.
The Attorney General sought only an opportunity to ascertain whether the woman was in a state of coercion. He stated–
“Before we can remove her from present situation, we must be satisfied that she is an object capable of making an election.”
These, then, were the issues to be resolved with Sarah Baartman, the Hottentot Venus. The court interview lasted three hours and Sarah Baartman was asked the questions in Dutch. The following is a transcript of the interview.
“She agreed to come to England for a period of six years, and was promised half of the money for exhibiting herself. Mr. Cezar promised to send her back home, after that period, at his own expense.
She is kindly treated, and has everything she wants. She is perfectly happy in her present situation. She has no desire to return back to her own country. She wishes to stay here, because she likes this country.
She has money given by her master, and on Sunday is allowed to ride about in a coach. No personal violence or threats have been used by any individuals against her. She even has two black boys to wait upon her.”
People have analyzed this court case as if Sarah Baartman was a free agent who felt that she was free. Who had an understanding of herself, and the situation, as if she had a choice.
And I tried to explain that, if she was a Khoikhoi who grew up in South Africa between 1790 and 1810, this would have been highly unlikely. The only way in which she could have seen herself as a free agent would have been if she was born in bred beyond the frontiers of colonial expansion.
I believe that Saartjie was pressurized by Hendrik Cezar, primed and cued to give these specific answers, such as, A, stating her happiness to be in Britain, and B, her contentment at being with Cezar.
It can be imagined that she was not educated enough to realize that she might have been able to fashion herself a life away from Cezar. Now we don’t really know what sort of influence that he, Cezar, exerted over Saartjie. But she did make these utterances, and the court stood by those decisions.
She didn’t want to go back to the slavery, which the governor had just unwittingly imposed upon her people. She certainly knew the story. Almost certainly must have know the story, it was common in London, that American slaves brought back here out of 1,100, 400 went back to Sierra Leone. And within a very short period, only 64 of them survived.
We didn’t know about resistance to disease and antibodies that you build up and lose through generations, there. She knew that if she went back, she was either a slave or dead, I believe. Of course she refused. She was a sensible woman.
People tend to think of her as this very, very responsible, mature person. No, she was a kid when she went into exile.
After the introduction of this new evidence, it was clear that the three members of African Institution had no case. Lord Ellenborough, the presiding magistrate summed up the case by saying–
“If any immodest or indecent exposure of this female stranger should take place, those who have the care of her must know that the law would direct its arm with uplifted resentment against the offending parties.”
He then declared the case closed.
A few days after the verdict, Sarah Baartman and Hendrik Cezar disappeared from London stages. They reappeared one you later, in Manchester. Fortunately for Sarah, this wasn’t another sordid exhibition. She was baptised on the 7th of December, 1811.
Did this young woman believe that by embracing Christianity she would gain her freedom? Or did Hendrik Cezar believe that baptising his Hottentot Venus would gain him respectability? We will never know. This Baptism Certificate is the last trace of Sarah Baartman’s stay in England.
It will be nearly three years later that Sarah and Hendrik Cezar reappear. In 1814, they left England for France. Why did Sarah accompany Cezar? Was she under the illusion that she was returning home?
Now, at 24 years old, Sarah must have believed that the worst was over. Little did she know that Parisian newspapers were already announcing her imminent arrival. Little did she know that the show was to go on. Little did she know that in 18 months she would be dead.
“There is no better place in the whole world. Palais Royal will fulfil your wildest fantasies. The latest fashions, art galleries, gambling houses, theaters, music, the best restaurants, brothels, Palais Royal has it all.”
This is how a French journalist described the only place to rival Piccadilly of London. We are at the beginning of September 1814. Hendrik Cezar brought Sarah through the majestic gardens of the Palais Royal, and there they entered a shop. He sold Sarah to an animal training named Roi, and disappeared from her life, forever.
Just across the gardens, Roi found the best place for his latest attraction. On the 18th of September, the Journal du Paris ran the following article.
“Just arrived from London is the Hottentot Venus. She is to be seen at Number 15 rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs from 11:00 AM till 9:00 PM. Admittance three francs.”
At a typically chic Parisian dinner, where Sarah appeared as the special guest, a French journalist recorded the encounter.
“Someone announces that a marvel was to come. The doors open and you could see the Hottentot Venus appearing. At her sight, all our ladies huddle and hide behind a curtain. This poor Venus notices and grows sullen.
Her head leans on her chest, tears fall from her eyes. She wears skin colored tight clothes. Her face is flat and her nose is small, but she has huge hips. This is a Callipyge Venus. Her feet are small, her legs short, and her complexion is light green.
To summarize, this is not a very appealing Venus. Even more so after seeing the Medici Venus. She jumps, she sings, she plays Basque drums. Someone gives her sweets to encourage her to do this or that trick in her manner.
She is like any other woman, a little stubborn. Sometimes she sulks for nothing. She gets angry for nothing. Her mood changes, though, when you compliment her.
Around her neck she wears a tiny piece of turtle shell. She often holds it between the two hands, puts it to her lips, and looks up to the sky. I was moved. When the exhibition was over, I offered this stranger a ride home, so that she could recount her own story.”
“My name is Sarah. Very unhappy Sarah who did not deserve her fate. My father was the head of the hunters, and my mother was the one who organized our festivities. Everybody wanted to marry me. Soka was the one, among others, who touched my heart with his words. Our union was decided. The day was chosen. The tribe was gathered.
The fires were lit on the mountains. It was this fire that betrayed us. A terrible battle broke out. I was separated from my companions. Alas, I will not ever see again this sacred land. Poor Sarah, your husband, your father, your family, everyone is lost.”
“The carriage stops and we got off. I left the stranger, and I was deeply touched by her sorrows, but couldn’t find a remedy. Imagine, I said to myself, a young Frenchwoman who sees barbarians landing on the beaches. They abduct her to an African port.
There she falls into the hands of an Arab who displays her to savages as the Parisian Venus. She cries and she calls for her dear country, hopelessly. She must die far from the people who cherish her. This is the face of the Hottentot Venus.”
Her popularity in the French capital not only satisfied the curiosity of the public, others were prepared to pay a great deal of money for the opportunity to observe and an authentic Hottentot in a quiet space.
In the cold spring of 1815, Sarah Baartman was observed by Georges Cuvier, de Blainville and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire at the Jardin des Plantes. [INAUDIBLE] had requested that to Reaux make Sarah available for scientific examination at the Museum of Natural History. Four artists were commissioned to draw portraits of her.
These three scientists had long heard rumor of the Hottentot apron, dubbed so from the account of early explorers, describing the genitalia of Hottentot women. Cuvier seems to have been disappointed by this first observation.
“During this first inspection, we couldn’t observe the most remarkable particularity of her anatomy. She hid her apron carefully between her thighs. Her movements were brusk and capricious, like those of apes.
She had great pendular breasts, and the unsightly habit of making her lips protrude, like an orangutan. Her thigh bones were heavy and short, like an animal’s. Her upper thighs were spindly and delicate, like those of apes, dogs, and other carnivores.”
de Blainville’s account is different, however, and is unique in revealing something of what actually went on during those three days that spring. According to him, the three men had great difficulty in convincing Sarah to let herself be seen nude.
It was only with great sorrow that she let drop, for a moment, the handkerchief with which she had been covering had genitals. At one point he offered her money, knowing how much she liked it. Hoping in this way to render her more docile. But she refused to take it.
After the three days of observation at the Jardin des Plantes Saint-Hilaire, at the request of Reaux, wrote a certificate detailing his account of the observation. He wrote–
“This woman presents to singularly remarkable trait, the prodigious volume of her buttock. But we will not dwell on this feature, as it can be noticed through direct observation. We noticed that when female apes have disorders in their menstrual cycle, this disorder makes them develop buttocks proportional to the ones we notice on the Hottentot woman.”
In the 18th century, they had, for the longest time been believed to be a different species. And very much the obsession, the white obsession with the genitalia and with the bodily function was, very much, an obsession of trying to decide, where does the line go? At what point does human stop and animal begin? And for some reason, this was a question that was very important to the 18th and 19th century Europe to answer.
There was a great sense of the need to classify everybody. Long before the South African Race Classification Act of the apartheid era, long before then, going back to 1735 in Sweden, when Linnaeus tried to classify everything in the whole world, stones, bones, animals, plants, people.
And so, the question was, in the minds of these European anthropologists and comparative anatomists, were the Khoisan people, were they part of the human family? Did they belong to our species?
Three months before her supposed contract with Hendrik Cezar was to have expired, Sarah Baartman died in the house of Reaux. She was 25 years old.
“Sarah Baartman has died, on the 1st of January, 1816. Her corpse has being given by Mr. Reaux to the Museum of Natural History, where her skeleton, and a plaster cast of her body will be preserved.”
Georges Cuvier made a plaster cast of her body. Her brain was removed and stored in a glass jar. Her genitals were cut out and also preserved. her skeleton stands, to this very day, in perfect condition at the Musee de l’Homme in Paris. After his dissection, Cuvier presented his findings to the Academy of Science.
“I have the honor of presenting to the Academy the genitals of this woman, prepared in such a way as to leave no doubt about the exact nature of the Hottentot apron.”
Scientific racism originated very much in the post Sarah Baartman period. Like I say, it was built on her body. These forms of conclusions, this type of theory was built upon the body of her. And the many women that followed her. I mean, there have been at least another five Hottentot Venuses in the 19th century.
Sarah Baartman’s skeleton and plaster cast were on public display at the Musee de l’Homme until 1974. Surprisingly though, her brain and genitals have disappeared. Is it possible that Sarah’s missing organs are here among these many anonymous bottles, still under the watchful eyes of Georges Cuvier?
Oh, she must be buried, of course. She must be buried. Khoikhoi religious belief would say that her soul cannot be at rest until her body is respected. To put her in a glass case, to chop her body up to pieces and put various parts of it in various glass cases, and let people come see it, there is just no way it can be respectful.
In Khoikhoi culture it is not respectful. And certainly, although her soul has left her body, in Khoikhoi religious beliefs, the body itself has to be the focus of certain religious observances. The very fact that these observances have not taken place for almost two centuries, it’s wrong. It is bad. It is bad for her spirit. And it is bad for the spirit of everyone that had a hand in it.
We are negotiating with the French museum and governmental authorities. And the negotiations, at this moment, are still ongoing. It is the hope of many of us that, because of the profound political, and symbolic, and historical significance which would follow the return of Saartjie Baartman’s remains, that they should be returned.
I have no doubt in my mind that this is the ideal thing to do. To bring them back to the land of her birth in dignity and respect for what was the remains of a person who had been treated with indignity and disrespect in her lifetime. And so, I feel very emphatically that those remains should come back to South Africa.
Now the question is, to whom should the remains be returned? And there is no doubt in my mind they should be returned to the South African government.
I’m not going to suggest that everybody who has ever been dug up should be put back into the ground. Science would come to a standstill if that were followed.
I believe that the government could erect a shrine for her, perhaps in Cape Town, from which she was recruited to Britain, at which Khoisan people, themselves, could be the curators and custodians of her remains, with panels reflecting this tragic history of Saartjie Baartman, the Hottentot Venus.
I’m going back to Africa. I’m going back. That’s where I belong. Beautiful faces, beautiful county, beautiful people, African music. I’m going back to Africa.
The differences between the South African government and the descendants of the Khoi people over who owns Sarah Baartman have been resolved. What has been agreed is that you must be returned to her motherland, where her story must be preserved for future generations. The question still remains, will she be returned?
I’m going back to Africa. I’m going back. That’s where I belong. Beautiful faces, beautiful country, beautiful people, African music. I’m going back to Africa. I’m going back to Africa. I’m going back to Africa. I’m going back to Africa. I’m going back to Africa.