Saartjie (pronounced Sahr ‘kie) Baartman (1790?-1815) was an African slave taken from the Cape colony to London in 1810 under false pretenses. Her steatopygia (enlarged buttocks), small facial features and elongated labia were intriguing to westerners not familiar with her type of body. When we trace her journey from the time she arrives in London to her death we see an indirect and later direct engagement with feminism as it developed over time. Indeed, her life and after death exemplifies the journey that African feminism has traveled in seeking to define itself independently from but complimentary to  Northern feminism. To Saartjie:

If I could I would speak of her womanhood

I would speak of the courage to stare ridicule and sanction and still sanction within herself an

Unction to function, to go on even in the strangeness of the goings on

On the stages of London she stood seemingly alone

No woman heading her plight, they were after all in their own fight

A fight for a ballot box and could not see the woman living in a box.

First box

in london

Intombi yasemzansi (woman of the south) taken out of context

set center stage and only a man could see the pain on her face

In France; she becomes a tragedy

A parody mortified in the Musee de l’Homme for all to see

The nakedness of her inner most being

Enter the second box

Filled with the ballot the Liberals and  Radicals speak up for her for the first time

They speak of rights, of plights, of fights

A language foreign to her inanimate body parts

Eye sore – half-naked African, on display feeding the fetishism of the western man’s need for more!

The box does not come off but she’s sent to the basement like a naughty child

A child – needing to be spoken for, oh by the way she is dead

In time they hide her indiscretion in a jar in a basement


Enter the third box

home coming

From Musee de l’Homme play the ho drum, here she comes the African woman is home

A contextual home-coming not only of the body but of intombi yasemzansi (woman of the south)

Out of the box and in her native she houses the battered and is a source of uttered poetry

Laid to rest she leaves the race to a new breed who carve a new way

The ingenious plead that we the African women ‘build on the indigenous’

But the ‘indigenous is no longer traditional’, So we look forward

Some call it Nego-feminism [close to negro isn’t]

In it, the African woman is captured in her own language

‘A woman beautiful in the tribe’ of her ancestors

She is re-engages with her former transgressors

This time not in cage or a stage but on the very page they touted the ‘Hottentot’

What will become of this adage we will only know with age…no time

If I could I would speak

Of a life stolen, a life broken, buried and desecrated

A life that is being resurrected and cast once again into lands once strange