Introduction: Claiming Sarah Baartman, a Legacy to Grasp



On August 9, 2010, I found myself in Cape Town, South Africa, on National Women’s Day. It happened to be the eighth anniversary of Sarah Baartman’s burial in Hankey, in the Eastern Cape. A month later, I am sitting on the underground in London, when the Tube stops; the conductor is announcing signal problems. I look up, weary from jet lag and the red eye from New York. As if by divine providence the stop is Piccadilly, where Sarah was first exhibited when she arrived in London with Hendrick Cezar in 1810— No. 225 Piccadilly Circus, the space that Sarah had to face daily—on a stage—the eyes of all those who could pay the two shillings to see her body. As I sat in the Tube, all I could say was eish, Sarah, my sister. I think of Diana Ferrus’s now famous poem “I’ve Come to Take You Home” (1998), which set the wheels cranking in France (after eight long years) to have Sarah’s remains repatriated to South Africa. Countless people have been moved by her historical narrative(s), now mythical and iconic, from the cacophony of voices attempting to own a part of Sarah’s story. She has become the landscape upon which multiple narratives of exploitation and suffering within black womanhood have been enacted.


Black Woman Master Narrative Woman Writer South African Woman National Woman 
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  1. 3.
    Yvette Abrahams, “The Great Long National Insult: Science, Sexuality and the Khoisan in the 18th and 19th Century,” Agenda 32 (1997): 34–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Yvette Abrahams, “Colonialism, Dysfunction and Dysjuncture: Sarah Baartman’s Resistance (remix),” Agenda 58 (2000).Google Scholar

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© Natasha Gordon-Chipembere 2011

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