The Death of Booty

The Death of Booty will be a collection of works from various everyday girls and women that characterizes as well as chronicle the sexual exploitation, dehumanization and degradation of women, particularly black women, in American mass media.

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Members: 14
Latest Activity: Sep 11, 2011

We dedicate this initiative to: Sara Baartman

Sara's Story a symbol of subjugation and humiliation, her homecoming will be a spiritual thing.

Sara is the short-name used these days for Saartjie Baartman, a Khoisan slave woman who at the tender age of 20 was taken from Cape Town to London and then on to Paris to be displayed naked in their streets and at their circuses like an animal her European audiences viewed her to be. Her story is a tearful and moving one. It is at once the story of an everyday woman, a human being, one of us, treated in the most grotesque ways, used as "scientific proof" of "European white superiority."

But it is also a story about the more widespread "social, political, scientific and philosophical assumptions which transformed one young African woman into a representation of savage sexuality and racial inferiority." Finally, her story is one that provokes us to look in some detail at the power of imagery to form opinions, and the way such power has been employed to depict people of color, especially women of color.

Since this story was published in February 2002, Sara's remains have been returned to South Africa. Saartjie Baartman's skeleton and bottled organs -- long stored at a French natural history museum -- were turned over to South African officials on April 29 at a ceremony in Paris, the culmination of years of requests by countrymen who wanted to bring her home [February 27, 2002 Editor's Note].

The Miami Herald on February 24 carried a story about a South African woman named Saartjie Baartman that attracted our attention, and, we have learned, has had the attention of many for some period of time.

Before getting into the story, we’d like to highlight what we think is the key issue here, the image of the black person, in this case a woman, in Western art. This is tied into the more macro issue of the way blacks have been portrayed as racially inferior and more specifically, the way black female sexuality has been portrayed as inferior. Those times are changing, but Saartjie's story is worth knowing about, because her story says a great deal about history, recent history at that.

Who is Saartjie Baartman?

She was born on the Gamtoos River in the Eastern Cape in 1789 of a Khoisan family in what is now South Africa. The Khoisans are among southern Africa’s oldest known inhabitants, people who made a major role in shaping South Africa’s past and present. But back in those days, bands of Dutch raiding parties went on horseback to the eastern and northern Cape frontiers to hunt down and exterminate these "bushmen" groups who were considered cattle thieves and a threat to settler society.

Canadian socio-linguist Nigel Crawhall, speaking of the Khoisan people, says this:

"These people moved across this land before any other human being. It was they who named the plants and the trees and the features of this land. . . . There [has been an] explosion of identity . . . [among] people who had spent their whole lives having to hide who they were. These people had been destroyed and now suddenly there [is] light and air."

There was never any light and air for Saartjie. In her late teens, she migrated to Cape Flats near Cape Town where she became a farmer’s slave and lived in a small shack until 1810. That year, she was sold in Cape Town in 1810 at the age of 20 to a British ship’s doctor, William Dunlop, who persuaded her that she could make a great deal of money by displaying her body to Europeans. Dunlop put her on a boat and she ended up in London.

There she was put on display in a building in Picadilly and paraded around naked in circuses, museums, bars and universities. She was most often obliged to walk, stand or sit as her keeper ordered, and told to show off her protruding posterior, an anatomical feature of her semi-nomadic people, and her large genitals, which varied in their appearance from those of Europeans.

Khoisan people anatomically have honey-colored skin and stock their body fats in the buttocks rather than in the thighs and belly. These are natural things for them, but Europeans found them to provide an excuse for stereotyping African blacks in grotesque ways. For example, the British described her genitals as like an apron, "skin that hangs from a turkey’s throat."

Contemporary descriptions of her shows at 225 Piccadilly, Bartholomew Fair and Haymarket in London say Baartman was made to parade naked along a "stage two feet high, along which she was led by her keeper and exhibited like a wild beast, being obliged to walk, stand or sit as he ordered".

There were protests in London for the way Baartman was being treated. The exhibitions took place at a time when the anti- slavery debate was raging in England and Baartman's plight attracted the attention of a young Jamaican, Robert Wedderburn, shown in this portrait, who founded the African Association to campaign against racism in England, and wrote of the horrors of slavery.

Wedderburn is himself an interesting black British radical. He was arrested twice in the early 1800s, once for Sedition for defending a slaves rights to rise up and kill his master, and then a second time for sending among the first revolutionary papers from England to the west Indies. For that, was found guilty of "Blasphemous libel" and served two years in Carlisle jail. He subsequently was released wrote and released his autobiography entitled, The Horrors of Slavery.

Under pressure from his group, the attorney general asked the government to put an end to the circus, saying Baartman was not a free participant.

A London court, however, found that Baartman had entered into a contract with Dunlop, although historian Percival Kirby, who has discovered records of the woman's life in exile, believes she never saw the document.

After four years in London, Sara was handed to a showman of wild animals in Paris, where she was displayed between 1814 and 1815 in a traveling circus, often handled by an animal trainer.

French Research Minister Roger-Gerard Schwartzenberg told the French Senate recently that she was also exhibited before "sages and painters," including George Cuvier, surgeon general to Napoleon Bonaparte, and seen by many as the founder of comparative anatomy in France.

Cuvier, shown here, described Baartman’s movements as having "something brusque and capricious about them that recalled those of monkeys." Cuvier used such descriptions to demonstrate the superiority of the European races. Several "scientific" papers were written about Baartman, using her as proof of the superiority of the white race.

Jeremy Nathan, a South African film producer who is making a feature film on the life of Baartman, says such women excited the attention of the Parisian intelligentsia at the time. Cuvier was at the center of an eminent school of social anthropologists who believed she was the missing link, the highest form of animal life and the lowest form of human life.

Her anatomy even inspired a comic opera in France. Called The Hottentot Venus or Hatred to French Women, the drama encapsulated the complex of racial prejudice and sexual fascination that occupied European perceptions of aboriginal people at the time

Sara Baartman died in Paris in 1816, an impoverished prostitute, a lonely woman, and an alcoholic. She had come to be known as the "Venus Hottentot," which was a derogatory term used to describe "bushmen" of southern Africa.

Instead of providing her a decent burial, Cuvier made a plaster cast of Baartman’s body, dissected her and conserved her organs, including her genitals and brain, in bottles of formaldehyde. Along with her skeleton, shown here, Sara Baartman’s brain and genitals were stored somewhere in a back room of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris Her remains including those in the jars were displayed there until 1976.

Saartjie Baartman has created controversy in South Africa as well. Willie Bester, a world known contemporary South African artist, made a metal sculpture of Saartjie Baartman.

Her anatomy even inspired a comic opera in France. Called The Hottentot Venus or Hatred to French Women, the drama encapsulated the complex of racial prejudice and sexual fascination that occupied European perceptions of aboriginal people at the time

Sara Baartman died in Paris in 1816, an impoverished prostitute, a lonely woman, and an alcoholic. She had come to be known as the "Venus Hottentot," which was a derogatory term used to describe "bushmen" of southern Africa.

On 9 August, 2002, (also known as Women's Day) Baartman was given a traditional funeral and buried in Hankey near the Gamtoos River where she was born. Women's day was aptly chosen by the Khoisan people as the women of South Africa see her as symbolic of the abuse and exploitation many of them have been through. The President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, has stated that her grave will become a national monument and another statue will be installed in Cape Town in her memory.

What People Have Said

Her moves had something that reminded one of the monkey and her external genitalia recalled those of the orangutan.
– Baron Georges Couvier

It was not the lonely African woman in Europe, alienated from her identity and her motherland who was the barbarian, but those who treated her with barbaric brutality
– President Thabo Mbeki

The story of Sarah Baartman is the story of the African people. It is the story of the loss of our ancient freedom... It is the story of our reduction to the state of objects who could be owned, used and discarded by others. Sarah Baartman should never have been transported to Europe. Sarah Baartman should never have been stripped of her native, her Khoisan, her African identity and paraded in Europe as a savage monstrosity.
– President Thabo Mbeki

The return of Saartje Baartman to South Africa is a victory for all South Africans and indigenous peoples of the world. It's an historic moment for everyone, especially for women in South Africa. She can be a unifying symbol for us.
– Matty Cairncross, a member of the Khoisan community

The return of her remains marks the end of almost 200 years of degradation, isolation and violation of the dignity of Saartje Baartman. It's good to see that the episode has finally been brought to an end in a dignified manner.
– Chief Joseph Little, Chairperson of the National Khoisan Council

After suffering so much offence and humiliation, Saartje Baartman will have her dignity restored — she will find justice and peace
– French Research Minister Roger-Gerard Schwartzenberg

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Comment Wall

Comment by sissy keith on May 29, 2010 at 7:00pm
heartbreaking but powerfull
Comment by Ruminatus San on October 25, 2010 at 5:03pm
I wonder have we come so far to think that they opinions of some
should matter. I appreciate a well endowded females just like a
female appreciates a well endowded male. There is a thing called
enuff is enuff and our value system is a litle scewed. I mean in
another culture bare women aren't percieved as they are in our
eurocentric society. Hsving said that Sara was exploited video
chicks are geting paid but our sensibilities judge them as freaks
perhaps I'm just a dirty old man but I enjoy seeing them shake
sometime. God Bless em!!


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