Recently, singer and rapper Dice Ailes made headlines for using an artwork for his latest single ‘Ginika’, which is a celebration of the African woman’s backside. Dice Ailes’ use of this artwork sturred criticism from social media users owning to the fact that is not just any artwork but that of Sarah Baartman.
Unknown to the rapper, Sarah Baartman was a 18th century woman who was used as a spectacle for European patrons. She was overly sexualised and considered a freak of nature by onlookers who paid to see her.
Let’s dig into some little-known facts about this woman who is one of the most celebrated women in south Africa and what she experienced during her lifetime.
1. She was Fluent in 4 Languages
Although many people assume that Sarah Baartman was only fluent in her native dialect and Dutch, she actually fluent in two other languages; French and English. This was due to the exposure she got by travelling to various parts of the world.
2. She Was Displayed In Over 200 London Exhibitions
London was Sarah’s first destination after she left South Africa with her boss. At first, she willingly left her country but her expectations were cut short when she arrived London. She was shocked to discover that she was going to sexually objectified in lifelong exhibitions. According to statistics, she was displayed at least over two hundred times in different exhibitions across London.
3. She Was Musically Inclined
The French naturalist Georges Cuvier notes that Sarah Baartman was highly skilled in the ways of her traditions, danced exceptionally, and had a lively personality. She was also highly skillful at playing the Jew’s Harp.
4. She Fought Against Exposing Her Elongated Labial Lips
To European patrons, one of Sarah’s most striking features were her elongated labial lips which hung about 4 inches down. She always refused to expose this part of her body even when scientists and curious citizens offered money to her. She always insisted on wearing an apron around her waist to cover her genitals.
5. She Refused A Rescue Attempt
After the Slave Trade Act 1807 was passed, the African Association launched a campaign to set Sarah Baartman free. The matter was tabled in court but Baartman stated that she was not under any form of restraint, had not faced any sexual abuse and came to London willingly. She also stated that she was aware that she received only half of the profits from her displays and she did not wish to return home. However, her statements were contradictory to reports of eye witnesses.
6. Civilians Didn’t Mind Paying Extra Cash To Touch Her
Some Europeans considered Sarah Baartman a freak of a nature. For an extra penny, exhibition members were allowed to touch her with sticks and at times with their fingers. The treatment Baartman received is likened to that of a caged animal. It is alleged that she was made to wear a collar at times.
7. Her Birth Name Was Not Sarah
She was born Ssehura but later received the name Saartjie, which is a Dutch diminutive equivalent of Sarah.