Remains of Abused South African Woman Given Final Resting Place
New York Times, August 9th, 2002
ANKEY, South Africa, Aug 9 (Reuters) - The remains of a South African woman who was paraded naked in Europe as a freak were laid to rest in a colourful ceremony on Friday, nearly 200 years after she left the African continent.
South African authorities chose the national Women's Day holiday to bury Sarah "Saartjie" Baartman on the banks of the Gamtoos River in the impoverished Eastern Cape province where she grew up.
About 10,000 people attended a ceremony broadcast live by the national SABC television company, many wearing the Khoi traditional dress of Baartman's people.
Women wearing animal skin capes, seed ankle-rattles and grass bracelets and headbands burned local fynbos herbs known as Khoigoed in a tribute to their ancestors and to cleanse the air before the burial on a steep, rocky hill.
Baartman's remains were returned to South Africa earlier this year from France, where they had been displayed in museums for more than a century - often under an "African Venus" label.
Poets, preachers and dignitaries including South African President Thabo Mbeki spoke at the ceremony, kicked off by dancers pounding the red earth to the beat of traditional drums.
Under a warm winter sun, Mbeki told those gathered that Baartman's history echoed that of South Africa itself.
"The story of Sarah Baartman is the story of all the African people of our country...it is a story of our reduction to the status of objects that could be owned, used and disposed of by others," Mbeki said.
Baartman was taken to Britain in 1810, when she was about 21 years old. The young African was kept in a cage and dragged out to parade naked while paying customers ogled her body.
Briefly married to a West Indian man, she had two children, but was eventually sold to a French animal trainer who took her to Paris. She worked there as a prostitute until she died at 26.
Mbeki said Baartman's treatment illustrated how savage European behaviour was at the time towards Africans, most of whom they considered no better than beasts.
"It was not the abused human being who was monstrous, but those who abused her. It was not a lonely African woman in Europe, alienated from her identity and her motherland, who was a barbarian, but those who treated her with barbaric brutality."
Baartman's remains were handed over in April after lengthy negotiations.