The hottentote venus or the callipygian ordeal

Little Sawtche, aka « The hottentote venus », from the Khoïkhoï tribe, was born in 1789 in South Africa.

Slave to a Boer farmer, she has the misfortune of being endowed with an hypertrophy of the hips and buttocks, in short, a huge posterior, which will transform her into a freak show and make of her life a hell.

Venus hottentote

This mother of two children who had been promised fortune and freedom in Europe, will in turn be uprooted, treated as an animal (literally, since sold to an animal trainer), exhibited and abandoned.
Even as the act of abolition of the slave trade has been signed for several years (1807), she became an object of fascination for the public and scientists.

Venus hottentote


Humiliated (among other things, the public paid to touch her buttocks), then prostituted, she became a sexual object for French aristocrats in need of sick entertainment.

The film « Venus Noire » by Abdellatif Kechiche transcribes the sick mores of the time, and Sawtche' s ordeal.


Venus Noire


Became an alcoholic, she ended up alone and depressed, and died at the age of 27 as a result of an illness probably caught in the brothel where she was abandoned, after the public turns around London, Dutch and French (Victor Hugo will even refer to it in Les Misérables) was disinterested in this « circus monster » supposed to demonstrate the inferiority of the black race : a report compares his face to “an even greater start to snout than orangutan”, and the size of his buttocks with that of

Even death won't give her some rest, since, having become an object of fascination for scientists, it will be dissected by one of them, Georges Cuvier, as a subject of study aimed at establishing the racist prejudices of the time. In particular, he will declare “(…) I have never seen a human head more ape-like than his own”.

To put it in context, it's important to know that the Sans (or Khoikhoi), one of the original peoples of South Africa, was despised by the Europeans, who thought to support their racist theory thanks to their particular anatomy, women of this people often suffering from steatopygia, that is to say a great excess of fat in the buttocks.
The term Hottentot is pejorative in the European mouths of the time.



Described as “ the most miserable of the human race ” they were more considered like animals than human beings. Sawtche had no choice but to play this role, even though she played music and spoke three languages…

Femme Khoïkhoï

A Khoikhoi woman whose likeness to the cast of Sawch is striking.

Her fate made her a symbol of the deepest racism, colonialism, and barbarism.
In 1994, Nelson Mandela asked for the return of her remains, but France waited 2002 to agree to return the body and South Africa could return it to the dignity it had never been given. She now rests in her native village.

Venus hottentote
Venus hottentote


Georges Cuvier died of cholera in 1832 in Paris.

Georges Cuvier


He is buried in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise.

Tombe George Cuvier