'Hottentot Venus' laid to rest
Posted: Friday, August 9, 2002
BBC - The remains of an indigenous South African, who was paraded around Europe in the early 19th century, have been laid to rest as part of the country's Women's Day celebrations. The burial ceremony for Sarah (Saartje) Baartman - who was dubbed the "Hottentot Venus" in Europe - took place in a remote valley in the eastern Cape where she was born more than two centuries ago.
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Her remains were brought back to South Africa from France where they had been on display at the Museum of Mankind.
A celebration of diverse South African cultures began the burial ceremony.
Sarah Baartman - a Khoisan, or indigenous woman - was taken from her homeland in 1810 and paraded around Europe as an oddity.
She became a sideshow attraction investigated by supposed scientists and put under the voyeuristic eye of the general public. She died in 1816 aged 26, a pauper.
Today's ceremony formed the centre-piece of Women's Day.
Sarah has become an icon for South African women who continue to suffer abuse and exploitation in a country with one of the highest number of rapes in the world.
That was the theme touched upon by President Thabo Mbeki when he addressed the ceremony.
"Sarah Baartman should never have been transported to Europe," he said.
"Sarah Baartman should never have been stripped of her native, her Khoisan, her African identity and paraded in Europe as a savage monstrosity.
"Today we celebrate our national Women's Day to ensure that we move with greater speed towards the accomplishment of the goal of the creation of a non-sexist society."
The burial ceremony began with the burning of a traditional Khoisan herb to purify her spirit.
Her coffin was lowered into the ground near the place where she was born.
Khoisan tribal chiefs broke a bow and arrows and scattered them into the grave in a traditional ceremony honouring their ancestors.
It was a final resting place after two centuries, giving her dignity in death that was missing from her short life.
Khoisan chief Joseph Little told dignitaries around the grave: "We are closing a chapter in history. I feel her dignity has been restored."
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