Ota Benga was a Congolese Pygmy brought to the United
States by a missionary named Samuel Phillips Verner to be put on display
like a carnival oddity at the 1904 St. Louis
World's Fair. In 1906 Ota was placed on display with an orangutan in a
primate house cage at the Bronx Zoo. He was
housed and displayed along with other native indigenous "specimens" of the
world, including the Apache prisoner of war Geronimo.
The remains of an
indigenous South African, who was paraded around Europe in the early 19th
century, have been laid to rest. 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
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.
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.
Sarah Baartman has become an icon for South African women.
President Mbeki addressed
the ceremony he said: "The story of Sarah Baartman is the story of the
"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." Mr Mbeki said
scientists of the day had used Sarah to promote grotesque racial
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."