ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home  ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more) 



The Khoi people of our country and the descendants of the Khoi

have every right solemnly to celebrate the return of one who was their daughter.


Photo right: A plaster cast of the corpse of Saartjie Baartman, the so-called Hottentot Venus, on display in the storage of the Museum of Mankind in Paris, January 31, 2002. On January 30, the French National Assembly approved a law permitting the repatriation of Baartman's remains.



South African President Mbeki

on Saartjie Baartman

Letter from the President


A student essay that appears on the Internet says: "Her story was forgotten for centuries, buried under mounds of dusty racist documents by the Afrikaner government of South Africa, sloshing in a jar of formaldehyde in a> museum in Paris. But slowly she has been rediscovered, by women in South Africa, in England, in the United States. "They have written plays and poems, made films and speeches telling her story in the hopes of reclaiming her torturous past. Her name was Saartje Bartmaan, or at least that's what her captors called her. She had swelling buttocks and a vagina whose inner lips extended maybe three, maybe four inches.

"In the early nineteenth century, when the study of Khoi women became fashionable in European society, she was convinced to leave her home to become a dancer, with a contract that she may or may not have seen. A man from England promised her that she could make money to bring home to her tribe. What followed was five years of exhibition in museums and at fashionable parties, her spectacular buttocks and breasts bare, French and British men and women clustering around her, mocking her at the same time that her body made them uncomfortable with their own desire. Her days were punctuated by rape and scientific examinations.

"She died, probably of syphilis, and her body was given to Georges Cuvier, a French scientist who made a plaster model of her brain and preserved her buttocks and vagina to be displayed at the Musee de l'Homme. They remained on display until ten years ago."

Another article says: "The effects of climate on the physiology of black women were used to support theories about the sexual promiscuity and fertility of black races, exemplified in the description by J. J Virey, of the 'degree of lascivity unknown in our climate' among black women 'for their sexual organs are much more developed than those of whites.'

"Similarly, David Spurr quotes Richard Burton who 'merely affirms the conventional wisdom of his age in claiming that in damp-hot climates ...the sexual requirements of the passive (female) exceed those of the active (male) sex; and the result is a dissolute social state, contrasting with mountain countries, dry-cold and damp-cold, where the conditions are equally balanced or reversed'."

Nancy Stepan explains the Victorian mindset that created the gory exhibits in this Paris museum, which included the remains of Saartjie Baartman: "Of all the boundaries between peoples, the sexual one was the most problematic to the Victorian mind. In the area of racial thought, there had been since the earliest of times a prurient interest in the strange sexual customs of alien peoples, especially the African.

Did African women, for instance, mate with the great apes who came out of Africa? Were the sexual organs of Africans larger than those of whites? Did a tropical climate encourage an unbridled sexuality that resulted in promiscuity? It was not surprising that anthropological accounts of strange peoples provided a surrogate pornography for Europeans."

This Letter and the preceding quotations are occasioned by the return of Saartjie Baartman from France to her homeland, South Africa.

The scientist who dismembered Saartjie's body when she died, Georges Cuvier, the founder of comparative anatomy, said when commenting on Africans: "These races with depressed and compressed skulls are condemned to a never-ending inferiority. (Saartjie's) moves had something reminding (one) of the monkey and her external genitalia reminded (one of) those of the orang-outang."

Saartjie Baartman, a daughter of the Khoi people, was born in the Eastern Cape in 1789. Later she served as a slave or servant in the employ of a white colonist. It was while she was thus employed, that a British Naval Surgeon, William Dunlop, had her transported by ship to London in 1810.

Dunlop, intent to use her to make money for himself, told her she could make a fortune by displaying her naked body to curious Europeans. She was paraded at circuses, museums, bars and universities. At times, she was displayed in a cage and forced to behave like "a wild beast". Especially on display were her prominent posterior and her genitals.

In 1814 and 1815, she was exhibited in Paris by one Henry Taylor and then by someone called Reaux. By the time she died on January 1, 1816, she was owned by an animal trainer. During this period, she was also forced into > prostitution and, in despair, resorted to heavy consumption of alcohol.

After her death, her body was handed to the scientist, Georges Cuvier. He cast her in plaster and then dissected her body, removing the brain, the vulva and the anus, which were placed in glass jars in a preserving fluid. He then removed all flesh from the skeleton. These remains were kept in the exhibition rooms of the French Museums, open for public viewing, until 1974and 1976.

When we gained our freedom in 1994, we requested the French government to assist in returning the remains of Saartjie Baartman to the land of her birth. Ultimately, this required that the French Parliament should pass special legislation authorising the release of these remains to our country.

The debate of this law in the French National Assembly took place under the theme "Repatriation of the Hottentot Venus". This is the circus name that Saartjie Baartman had been given by her European owners.

On the day the necessary legislation was adopted, on 21 February 2002, Research Minister Roger-Gerard Schwatzenberg, said: "Saartjie Baartman was firstly a victim of the exploitation suffered by South African ethnic groups during colonisation. Secondly, Saartjie Baartman was the victim of colonialism and sexism because her dignity as a woman and her rights were denied. Thirdly, she was also the victim of racism which was the characteristic of anthropology at the time, the latter being very much > turned to ethnocentrism.

"I see in this bill a double symbol. Firstly, it gives us the opportunity to turn the page of decades marked by colonialism, racism and sexism. It will mark the end of a painful period, when non European populations were not viewed as equal to the European ones. Secondly, it marks our will to acknowledge equality among people. This is an important moment of unity around an essential principle - the dignity of any human being, whatever his/her religion, origins and condition."

Saartjie Baartman was called Saartjie Baartman by those who colonised her, her people and her country. By depriving her of her Khoi name, they took away her identity. By turning her into a non-person, they defined her as sub-human. As such a subhuman, she became an object intended to be fully owned, used at will and freely disposed of by those who had robbed her of her identity. Her few years in Europe gave the fullest expression to this reality that she was nothing more than an object to satisfy the needs of those who were her owners.

The inhumane and barbaric fate she met exemplified the destiny of the colonised and oppressed in our country, including the Khoi and the San.

Denied their identity, defined as subhuman, dispossessed of their land, their country and their freedom, millions became chattels in the ownership of others who convinced themselves that they were true masters of all they surveyed.

Even scientific inquiry was perverted to serve the cause of racism and the domination of human beings by other human beings. Thus did Saartjie Baartman become a mere biological specimen to be dissected and dismembered to arrive at predetermined conclusions that justified her categorisation as a mere biological specimen.

And thus did entire peoples fall victim to racist beliefs, underpinned by false intellectual propositions and a corrupted theology, which justified the perpetration of crimes against humanity on the basis that these peoples, including our own, were proper objects of a civilising mission.

The struggle for the return of the remains of Saartjie Baartman to her motherland was a struggle to uproot the legacy of many centuries of unbridled humiliation. It was a struggle to restore to our people and the peoples of Africa their right to be human and to be treated by all as human beings. Her return stands out as a defining moment in the continuing process of our emancipation.

The Khoi people of our country and the descendants of the Khoi have every right solemnly to celebrate the return of one who was their daughter. They have every right to demand that this historic act of redress should be given its true meaning by the restoration to the Khoi and the San their place of pride as Africans equal to all other Africans.

Those who sought to dehumanise Saartjie Baartman also have the responsibility to join hands with the millions whose fate she exemplified, to help rebuild South Africa and Africa, in a common effort to give meaning to the vision that all of us, regardless of race or colour, were created in > the image of God.

As our ambassador to France, Thuthukile Skweyiya, together with Deputy Minister Bridgitte Mabandla and her delegation from South Africa, received the remains of Saartjie Baartman at our Embassy in Paris, she said: "Saartjie Baartman is beginning her final journey home, to a free, democratic, non-sexist and non-racist South Africa. She is a symbol of our national need to confront our past and restore dignity to all our people."

Speaking on behalf of the government and people of France, Minister Schwatzenberg said: "After suffering so much offence and humiliation, Saartjie Baartman will have her dignity restored. She will find justice and peace."

The remains of Saartjie Baartman returned home a few days after our Freedom Day, 192 years after she left her motherland. Welcome home, our Saartjie!

Thabo Mbeki, President, South Africa

*   *   *   *   *

They call me Hottentot Venus - Saartjie Baartman / What is "The Saartjie Project"?  / Who Is Sara Baartman?

*   *   *   *   *

 Behind the Scenes of The Saartjie Project’ (august 2008


Inside the Saartjie Project from safidi tyehimba on Vimeo.

*   *   *   *   *

Hottentot Venus: A Novel

By Barbara Chase-Riboud

Hottentot Venus is the story of Ssehura, a young Khoisan girl orphaned in 1700s South Africa. Ssehura is renamed Saartjie (which means “little Sarah” in Dutch) by a Dutch Afrikaner who becomes her master. As is Khoisan custom, Sarah is groomed to be more sexually desirable for marriage. Her buttocks are massaged with special ointments to make them swell and her genitalia are stretched to produce the legendary “Hottentot apron,” exaggerated folds of skin. Thus, Sarah is a physical curiosity and a sexual fetish to her white master. He is persuaded by an Englishman to send her to London where she becomes a sideshow sensation. The English gentry is fascinated by her exotic African ethnicity and sexually charged presence making her stuff of legend and myth. Sarah enters the world of circus freak shows and becomes a popular exhibit. .  The “Hottentot Venus,” as she has become known, is the rage of Europe. Yet, beyond the parade of curiosity seekers and perverts, the very real loneliness of this young woman comes through. CopperfieldReview

*   *   *   *   *

African Queen: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus  

By Rachel Holmes

A celebrated "human curiosity," exhibited in 1810 in London and Paris for her larger-than-average posterior, the so-called Hottentot Venus, Saartjie Baartmen, is delivered once and for all by Holmes (Scanty Particulars) from the forces of sentimental primitivism, imperialism and scientific racism that so determined her life. Academics will recognize Holmes as one of their own (she is a former professor of English at the universities of London and Sussex); this book is liberally salted with the language of feminist, psychoanalytic and postcolonial theory (here is how Holmes explains Saartjie's susceptibility to exploitation at the hands of men: "[her] relationship with paternalistic figures was shadowed by her unresolved attachment to an idealized father, snatched from her at the point she most needed and respected him, and before she had cause to rebel against him"). But the book is propelled along by the inherent interest of Saartjie's story and Holmes's clear affection for her subject. Particularly close attention is given to Saartjie's declining years and her gruesome posthumous treatment at the hands of French scientist Cuvier, whose macabre fascination with Saartjie inspires some of the book's most engaging prose.— Publishers Weekly

Saartjie Baartman, a young South African woman, was brought to London in 1810 and displayed seminude as she danced suggestively to show off to best effect her ample bottom, earning her the name Hottentot Venus. Her public display and ultimate study by scientists long ago gained her iconic status as a symbol of European fascination with African sexuality. Holmes, author of Scanty Particulars (2003), explores the zeitgeist of Britain in the early 1800s, when Europeans were fascinated with the human behind and grappling with notions about race, sex, and colonialism. Holmes draws on press reports, ballads, and advertisements of the day that ridiculed Baartman as well as prominent politician Lord Grenville, who was similarly endowed. Baartman, abused by her manager and the public, attracted the attention of abolitionists, who saw in her a cause celebre to challenge provisions of the British constitution regarding slavery. Using fresh archival research, Holmes offers a definitive portrait of a woman whose remains--on museum display for generations--were only recently returned to South Africa for final burial. This is a probing look at historical racism and sexual exploitation presented through the life of an extraordinary woman.—Vanessa Bush, Booklist

*   *   *   *   *

The Haitian Revolution, 1791 to 1804: Or, Side Lights On the French Revolution

By Theophilus Gould Steward

This is a reproduction of a book published before 1923. This book may have occasional imperfections such as missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. that were either part of the original artifact, or were introduced by the scanning process. We believe this work is culturally important, and despite the imperfections, have elected to bring it back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide. We appreciate your understanding of the imperfections in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this valuable book.—

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

*   *   *   *   *

Invention of the White Race  Theodore Allen begins Volume 1 by reviewing the many histories of American racism written in the 20th century. Dividing the arguments into the psycho-cultural school and the socio-economic school of thought, he teases out the strengths and flaws of their scholarship. Allen then posits racial oppression as a deliberate ruling-class decision (constantly undergoing renewal) to prevent property-less European Americans from allying themselves with enslaved and free African Americans by offering the European Americans privileges based on white skin.

His solution is to study "racism" rather than "race" because studies of race always devolve onto discussions of the body--onto those who are perceived to possess race--and thus avoids the real issue. . . . It is a strong, well researched, tightly argued work. He proves that the "white race" can be "gotten on a technicality" because it was and is indeed an invented rather than a natural category. Amazon Reviewer  Virginia Expresses Profound Regret

*   *   *   *   *

The Invention of the White Race Vol. II

By Theodore W. Allen

In this second volume of his acclaimed study of the origins of racial oppression, Theodore Allen explores the ways in which African bond-laborers were turned into chattel slaves and were differentiated from their fellow proletarians of European origin. Rocked by the solidarity across racial lines exhibited by the rebellious labouring classes in the wake of the famous Bacon's Rebellion, the plantation Bourgeoisie sought a solution to its labor problems in the creation of a buffer social control stratum of poor whites, who enjoyed little enough privilege in colonial society beyond that of their skin color, which protected them from the enslavement visited upon Africans and African Americans. Such was, as Allen puts it, 'the invention of the white race,' that 'peculiar institution' which continues to haunt social relations in the US down to the present. Allen's two volumes are essential reading for students of US history and politics.

A monumental study of the birth of racism in the American South . . . a highly original and seminal work.—David Roediger

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)



update 2 March 2012




Home   The African World    Transitional Writings on Africa  Toussaint Table   Toussaint Chronology  

Related files: Thabo Mbeki on  Saartjie Baartman  Sara Story  Hottentot Venus  Exhibiting Others in West  Nobody ever chose to be a slave   African Diaspora in the 21st Century  Freedom Aint come Yet    

I Am an African  South Africa and Darfur -- Fact Sheet  South African Oppression and Poverty