The Vile Treatment of Sara Bartman

Originally posted on September 23, 2014

Saartjie (Sara) Bartman was considered by whites “an exotic freak” because of her large buttocks. Bartman was born in South Africa. She belonged to the Khoikhoi tribe. In 1790, the peacefulness of the Khoikhoi had been disrupted by the brutal arrival of the European. Bartman grew up in a hostile environment.

The European viewed the Khoikhoi as subhuman. Therefore, they felt they could treat them any kind of way. Bartman, like many Khoisan people, had a large buttocks and thighs. She also had an enlarged labia.

For Harriet reports, the images of Saartjie resonated extensively over time and many Europeans’ ideals of black women’s anatomy was based on the experiences of Saartjie’s forced labor in these exhibitions. Saartjie was one of many other Khoisan women who were put on display to be ridiculed and judged solely based off their appearance. Her intelligence was also undermined by her voluptuous looks and a social anthropologist who met Saartjie, declared her a mixture between “the highest form of animal life and the lowest form of human life”. Saartjie stood her ground when it came to exposing her labia; she refused to spread her legs to satisfy the piqued interests of oppressors and maintained the anatomy of her buttocks as the only part of her body to be revealed. Saartjie’s anthropological phenomena wore thin with the public and eventually she resorted to a life of heavy drinking and prostitution to support herself. Baartman died December 29, 1815 of smallpox at age 26.

When Bartman died, they cut out her brain, vagina and skeleton and preserved them in jars and placed them on display along with her actual body (plaster) and displayed them in a museum for 160 years. In 1974, the display was removed. In 2002, her remains were returned to her homeland and given a proper burial.

Having a “big booty” is natural for most black women. In the recent five years, the big butt has become “mainstream”. This means white, hispanic and other non black women are getting surgical enhancements to achieve the look many black women have naturally. These women are often seen parading in music videos. The next time you see those over sexualized images, think of Sara Bartman. She was the original “booty model” who died feeling lonely and degraded.

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