The late winter sun bore down on this mountainous hamlet but Phumla Nyanda couldn't shake the chill in her bones, shivering as she watched Sarah Baartman's pine coffin lowered into a grave, 186 years after her death.
Nyanda pulled her sweater close to her body, crossed her arms and wept.
"I always think of her being so cold when she died, so far from home, so alone, in this cold, strange place," Nyanda said. "I always wonder what humiliation she must have been feeling when the Europeans would file by her in her cage and stare at her nakedness. Couldn't they see she was a woman and not some animal, not some rabid beast? She must have been so cold when she died."
They buried Saartjie Baartman, known as Sarah, today in a solemn ceremony on a small hill overlooking this Gamtoos River town, where she was born 213 years ago. She died in 1816, a pauper and a prostitute, a circus sideshow who was sold to a British Marine surgeon who saw in the protruding derriere that was characteristic of her Khoisan tribe some proof of whites' racial superiority. He took her to London and put her in a cage for all the world to see.
Things got worse. The surgeon sold her to an animal trainer, who took her to France. She was put on display in Paris, where gawkers sized up her nude form and named her the "Hottentot Venus."
Even in death, her humiliation did not end; a surgeon made a cast of her body, dissected her and stored her brain and genitals in bottles of formaldehyde. The painted plaster cast of Baartman's body was displayed in Paris' Musee de l'Homme until 1974.
The French government returned her remains in May, and hundreds of South Africans attended today's ceremony here in Hankey, about 470 miles east of Cape Town in South Africa's Eastern Cape region. The funeral coincided with Women's Day, a South African public holiday, and with its tribal rituals and soaring elegies, the interment was intended to redeem a daughter lost to a continent that grieves both for her suffering and its own.
"The story of Sarah Baartman is the story of the African people," President Thabo Mbeki said at the funeral. "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."
The funeral today paid tribute not only to Baartman but to the tribe to which she belonged, the Khoisan, indigenous hunters commonly known as Bushmen. The Dutch and British settlers who arrived in Africa more than 400 years ago typically regarded the Khoisan as savages, forcing them from their land and slaughtering them en masse.
Baartman's remains were clothed in traditional garb and purified with herbs that were set alight, in keeping with Khoisan custom. Two aloe wreaths adorned her coffin, and Mbeki announced that her gravesite would become a national landmark.
"I hear the cry of Sarah Baartman," said Willa Boezak, a South African poet who lobbied the French government for the release of Baartman's remains. "Her soul cries out with relief that at last the pain and humiliation are gone."
Eight years after South Africans of all races went to the polls for the first time and brought an end to brutal white-minority rule, Baartman's ordeal was regarded by many South Africans as a major piece of unfinished business. According to African traditions, her soul would remain trapped in her earthly remains until she was properly buried in the place of her birth.
Nyanda subscribed to that notion: "She is our mother, and as her children our work on this Earth can never be complete as long as her body was in Europe."
She wiped a last tear from her eye and nodded her head in approval at the lowering of Baartman's coffin into the earth.
"But now, finally, she is free."