Posted: June 15, 2014 3:16 PM PST
Written by Tiwanda Ne Ne Lovelace – Bio | Email | Website | Twitter | Facebook | Linkedin
LAS VEGAS, NV –
Who is Sara Baartman?
One day while at work, I received an email from one of the supervisors that was entitled, “Who is Sara Baartman?”
This email introduced me to an actual event in history that would have never been made available to me otherwise. This email was with regards to the calculated and inhumane treatment that was allowed to continue publicly against a woman of color many years ago.
This is a story that will never be taught in any public or private school because it would reveal a painful truth that most would like to pretend as if it has no relevance in today’s society.
Although there are different versions of events regarding Sara (Saartjie) Baartman…some say that there was a British ship’s doctor named William Dunlop who persuaded her to travel with him to England. Others say that when she was 21 years old, she was smuggled from Cape Town to London. Her employer, allegedly a free black man named Hendrik Cezar, was manservant to a British Army medical officer named Alexander Dunlop.
Dunlop allegedly persuaded Cezar that Saartjie had lucrative potential as entertainment and a scientific curiosity in England, which had a thriving stage trade in human and scientific curiosities. This type of entertainment could easily have been compared to freak shows; such as, the bearded lady, etc…where individuals were put on display, jeered at, mocked or mad fun of for entertainment purposes.
At twenty years of age, Baartman allegedly ‘signed’ a contract with an English ship surgeon named William Dunlop (who was also a friend of Cezar and his brother Hendrik.
This ‘contract’ was supposed to be an agreement for them to take her to England in order to work as a domestic servant and be exhibited for entertainment purposes. Like many others in that day, Baartman was unable to read and write.
What is definitely true is that Baartman had an unusually large buttocks and genitals but this was common among Khoisan women. This was around the time in history when some Europeans had set out to try to prove themselves superior and that among others especially blacks were inferior.
Whatever she was told, it was clear as to exactly what Dunlop intended, he displayed her as a freak of nature, a scientific curiosity, and in any way which would make the most money from these shows.
She was supposed to receive a ‘portion of earnings’ from the shows and then she was to be allowed to return to South Africa after five years.
She was then continuously poked, prodded and exhibited as a ‘freak’ across Britain.
While traveling with Dunlop and Cezar, Sara’s treatment was called into question by anti-slavery laws but they faced no real consequences. They produced a document that had allegedly been signed by Sara Baartman but the fact was that she (Baartman) was illiterate and was from a culture that did not write or keep records, I cannot imagine this contract to be credible.
Although abolitionist attempted to use the courts to free her, they failed. However, her contract was amended in the hopes of providing better conditions, greater profit share and warm clothes.
If he did pay her, it wasn’t sufficient to buy herself out of the life that she was living. She would not have been forced to turn to prostitution once discarded thousands of miles from her home; that is, if she was even compensated at all. They were definitely profiting or the show would not have lasted four years.
Once the courts were involved, they ruled that Dunlop and Cezar was supposed to provide ‘better conditions and more profits,’ but instead, suddenly Baartman was sold into worse conditions.
Baartman was then sold to a French animal trainer named, S Reaux and exhibited as an animal in cages to be poked and prodded.
People find it easy to say that they didn’t care but I believe that they cared way too much about making it a point to not recognize her humanity. Their intent was to ensure that they gave her next to nothing; that is, if they gave anything at all.
I’m pretty sure that just like today, contracts are intended to benefit big business and not the individual.
According to SouthAfrica.info, “she continued her on those degrading shows and exhibitions; that is, once the Parisians got tired of the Baartman show. She was forced into prostitution. She didn’t last the ravages of a foreign culture and climate, or the further abuse of her body. She died in 1815 at the age of 25 or 26.”
Even after all of above mentioned abuse, indignity followed her in death because within 48 hours, her body had been dissected, her bones boiled, and her brain and genitals bottled. This is a true story that is a part of history that still haunts us to this day.
[i]Cuvier, the so-called father of both comparative anatomy and paleontology, conducted the post-mortem examination. Plaster casts were taken of her body. Once the whole figure was integrated, “sculptors and artists finished the lines to the mold, polished the model surface with oil of turpentine, and then skin, vessels were painted on; the whole covered in a coat of clear varnish.”
In the name of Science, her (actual) sexual organs and brain were displayed in the Musee de l’Homme in Paris. After 160 years, her remains were removed from public view but not laid to rest.
In 1994, President Nelson Mandela requested that her remains be brought home but it took another eight years before her remains were returned.
Sara Baartman waited over a hundred and eighty years for her freedom. Her bones were not removed from display even after death until after 187 years. Her remains were buried on Women’s Day, 9 August 2002 in Eastern Cape, South Africa.
After reading about this event, don’t you find it rather strange that it took exactly 187 years?
I wonder what happened when she asked for help back then. If I recall correctly, the courts failed her too. After she served her usefulness to those inhumane, greedy and cruel business men, she was discarded. Her ordeal is so familiar because not much has truly changed in recognizing and correcting corruption in the courts and other civil right violations.
Although Sara Baartman story is almost two hundred years old, there are still those who do not recognize women as having any value; especially, African Americans. There are still those that will use the legal system in the service of their own needs to oppress.
The Sara Baartman’s of today are still put in positions to be killed, never compensated, put on display, lied on and manipulated against, left to die, to be raped and dehumanized.
I, too, signed a contract wherein I was promised compensation for lyrics and melodies. I signed a fifty percent co-publishing but I never received any monies for the numerous submittals which were over forty compilations of lyrics and melodies that miraculously found their way on the radio and up the charts. There were no management or producer contracts to justify refusing payments but this co-publishing contract was not honored but used to take and avoid paying royalties.
People should never be penalized for addressing instances of racism and ignoring racism or racial acts only implies that this type of behavior is acceptable. This is why some are unable to understand or accept their punishment for their acts because they feel that it is acceptable or the norm. They become shocked that it is not okay to chase down and shoot members of certain nationalities.
This is a sample of Chapter 2: Who is Sara Baartman?
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