Sarah Baartman’s story is not American megastar Beyoncé’s to tell, said a local chief of the Ghonaqua First Peoples.
“She lacks the basic human dignity to be worthy of writing Sarah’s story, let alone playing the part,” Chief Jean Burgess said in reaction to the news that US singer, songwriter and actress Beyoncé Knowles was working on a film to portray the life of the Khoikhoi woman Sarah Baartman, who was forced to perform in freak shows in London due to her large buttocks.
“Ignoring the fact that the Khoikhoi is alive and that Sarah’s story would have an impact on how we are portrayed, is a mistake of great magnitude,” Burgess said.
Burgess, of the First Indigenous Peoples of South Africa, maintained Knowles had no right to tell the story.
“Why Sarah Baartman? Why not a story about an Indigenous American woman? I can only see arrogance in her attempt to tell a story that is not hers to tell.” She said consultation, respect, and acknowledging the existence of the Peoples were fundamental to the story.
Gamtkwa Khoisan Council member Kobus Reichert said they did not have a problem with a movie or Knowles acting in it, as long as the community in the Eastern Cape, where Baartman was born, was not sidelined. It had to be done respectfully and with the right “cultural understanding”.
They only became aware of plans to make the movie on Monday when approached for comment.
Baartman was born around 1789 in the Gamtoos River Valley in the Eastern Cape, into the Gonaquasub clan, part of the Khoikhoi.
Her large buttocks and “unusual colouring” made her the object of fascination for colonial Europeans who presumed that they were racially superior, according to Sahistory.org.
“She was taken to London where she was displayed in a building in Piccadilly. Englishmen and women paid to see Sarah’s half naked body displayed in a cage that was about a metre and half high.”
In September 1814, she was sold to one Reaux, taken to France and exhibited in a cage alongside a baby rhinoceros. Baartman mostly wore nothing but a loincloth, and was dubbed the “Hottentot Venus”.
She was subjected to various scientific studies. She died in 1816. After her death, a plaster cast was made of her body. Her brain and genitals were placed in jars which were displayed at the Musée del’Homme (Museum of Man) in Paris until 1974, according to the site.
At the advent of democracy in South Africa, former president Nelson Mandela asked the French government to return Baartman’s remains so she could be laid to rest with dignity.
On March 6 2002, Baartman’s remains were brought back home to South Africa. She was buried in Hankey, in the valley of her birth, on August 9, 2002. -News24