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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
'Hottentot Venus' laid to rest
The coffin is carried to the grave
The grave is to be a national monument
The remains of an indigenous South African, who was paraded around Europe in the early 19th century, have been laid to rest as part of the country's Women's Day celebrations.

The burial ceremony for Sarah (Saartje) Baartman - who was dubbed the "Hottentot Venus" in Europe - took place in a remote valley in the eastern Cape where she was born more than two centuries ago.

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

Thabo Mbeki

Her remains were brought back to South Africa from France where they had been on display at the Museum of Mankind.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has declared her grave a national monument and said a second monument will be erected in her honour in Cape Town.

A celebration of diverse South African cultures began the burial ceremony.

Sideshow attraction

Sarah Baartman - a Khoisan, or indigenous woman - was taken from her homeland in 1810 after a ship's doctor told her that she could earn a fortune by allowing foreigners to look at her body.

Instead, she became a freak-show attraction investigated by supposed scientists and put under the voyeuristic eye of the general public.

She was forced to show off her large buttocks and her outsized genitalia at circus sideshows, museums, bars and universities. She died in 1816 aged 26, a penniless prostitute.

Cast of Sarah (Saartje) Baartman
Sarah Baartman has become an icon for South African women
Friday's ceremony formed the centre-piece of Women's Day.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead, in Johannesburg, says Sarah has become an icon for South African women who continue to suffer abuse and exploitation in a country with one of the highest number of rapes in the world.

That was the theme touched upon by President Mbeki when he addressed the ceremony.

"The story of Sarah Baartman is the story of the African people," he said.

"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."

He added: "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.

"Today we celebrate our national Women's Day to ensure that we move with greater speed towards the accomplishment of the goal of the creation of a non-sexist society."

Graveside ceremony
Sarah Baartman was given a traditional funeral
Mr Mbeki said scientists of the day had used Sarah to promote grotesque racial stereotypes.

He quoted Baron Georges Couvier, who dissected Sarah's body after her death, as saying: "Her moves had something that reminded one of the monkey and her external genitalia recalled those of the orang-utan."

The burial ceremony began with the burning of a traditional Khoisan herb "boegoe" to purify her spirit.

A women's choir then sang "You are returning to your fatherland under African skies".

Her coffin was lowered into the ground near the place where she was born.

Khoisan tribal chiefs broke a bow and arrows and scattered them into the grave in a traditional ceremony honouring their ancestors.

It was a final resting place after two centuries, giving her dignity in death that was missing from her short life.

Khoisan chief Joseph Little told dignitaries around the grave: "We are closing a chapter in history. I feel her dignity has been restored."

The BBC's Alastair Leithead
"She is finally being buried in dignity"
See also:

29 Apr 02 | Europe
18 Mar 02 | Africa
06 Oct 00 | Africa
26 Feb 02 | Country profiles
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