A voice from the past
Sarah Bartman was born in
1789 into the Griqua tribe of the Eastern Cape, a subgroup of the
Khoisan people who are now thought to be the first inhabitants of the
tip of Southern African . Her family moved to a shack near Cape Town
and, while working as a 20-year-old servant to a local farmer, she
attracted the attention of a visiting English ship's surgeon, William
She agreed to go with Dunlop
to England where, he promised her, she would become rich and famous as a
subject of medical and anthropological research. She was 21 when she
left Cape Town for London.
Slavery had been abolished
in England a few years before Sarah arrived, as a result Dunlop was
accused of abusing Sarah's rights. This didn't stop Dunlop from
exhibiting her for a fee . Also there were numerous examinations
undertaken under the pretense of "medical research". Eventually public
pressure forced Dunlop to take Sarah to France where she was sold to a
carnival man. Sarah was then subjected to even greater indignities by so
called doctors and the wealthy. It was in Paris that she tradgically
died .Even after death the abuse continued, her body was dissected and
5 years ago her remains were
brought home to South Africa from France at a ceremony attended by the
prime minister , dignitaries, and local Khoisan. The ceremony was
broadcast live to all South Africans. She was buried on a small hill
overlooking the town of Hankey in the Eastern Cape .
There is a story related in
the film 'The life and Times of Sarah Bartman', where a portayal of
Sarah talks to a Paris journalist in 1814 about her capture.
Sarah relates about her childhood and in
particular the eve of her betrothal in the Houteniqua mountains which
was brutally interrupted by white slave raiders , who were attracted by
the smoking fires of the pre-nuptial feast. The slavers abducted Sarah
Whether this story is true
or not, what is certain is that Sarah was taken away from her family .
She was taken to Europe to be abused and exploited. She died in France 5
years later, very much alone.
The memory of Sarah Bartman
has become a contemporary voice for the Khoisan peoples today, who have,
until recently, been the forgotten peoples in Southern Africa
This contemporary dedication
is a compilation of three images of Sarah which were drawn in London
and Paris. Sarah like many Khoisan peoples before and after , have had
their spirit, aspirations, and innocence taken away from them. It could
be said that in many ways very little has changed spiritually, and
materialistically for the vast majority of the Khoi and the San peoples
in the 20th century. Let us hope the new millenium brings the
recognition the Khoisan deserve, and that their spirit, aspirations and
innocence will be protected for all time.
A series of three sculptural
masks of Sarah Bartman depicting Sarah as a young woman as she might
have looked had she not been so cruelly taken away from her community.
The first one depicts her inner spirit. The second her beautiful
innocence. The third her dreams and aspirations.
Two out of the three
sculptures was made from clay dug from Hankey