An indigenous woman exhibited in 19th-Century Europe as the "world's ugliest woman" has been buried in her native Mexico some 150 years after her death.
Julia Pastrana, who suffered from a genetic condition that covered her face in hair, performed in circuses as a freak of nature. After she died in 1860, her American husband toured with her embalmed body, which ended up in Norway.
Her remains were returned this week for a proper burial, after a long campaign. People flocked to the town of Sinaloa de Leyva on Tuesday where Julia Pastrana was laid to rest in a white coffin adorned with white roses.
"Imagine the aggression and cruelty of humankind she had to face, and how she overcame it. It's a very dignified story," said Sinaloa Governor Mario Lopez.
"A human being should not be the object of anyone," Father Jaime Reyes Retana told mourners.
Her own husband called her a “bear woman.” An 1854 advertisement in The New York Times said she was the “link between mankind and the ourang-outang.” She became known in the popular imagination during the mid-19th century as “the ugliest woman in the world.” After she died from complications of childbirth, her body and the body of her baby appeared for decades in “freak” exhibitions throughout Europe.
On Tuesday, more than a century and a half after her death, in 1860, the woman, Julia Pastrana, will finally be given a proper burial near her birthplace in Sinaloa, Mexico. Her return home from a locked storage room in an Oslo research institute would not have been possible without the nearly decade-long efforts of the New York-based visual artist Laura Anderson Barbata.--Posted by Jill Fallon at February 14, 2013 8:40 AM | Permalink
“By ending up as part of a collection in a basement, she lost any trace of dignity,” Ms. Barbata said. “My ultimate dream goal was that she should go back to Mexico and be buried.”
In 2005, during a residency in Oslo, Ms. Barbata began petitioning the university for Pastrana’s repatriation. “With the initial replies I was getting, I thought it was going to be very difficult,” she said.
But Ms. Barbata, who is 54, continued to apply pressure. In September 2005, she placed a death notice for Pastrana in an Oslo newspaper and had a Mass said for her there. (Pastrana was Roman Catholic.) In 2008 Ms. Barbata sent documents making her case for Pastrana’s release to Norway’s National Committee for the Evaluation of Research on Human Remains. Last June that panel offered its opinion that “it seems quite unlikely that Julia Pastrana would have wanted her body to remain a specimen in an anatomical collection.”
Last Thursday Ms. Barbata confirmed the identity of Pastrana’s body in Oslo before the coffin was sealed. Ms. Barbata and a University of Oxford forensic anthropologist, Nicholas Márquez-Grant, noticed that Pastrana’s feet still had bolts and metal rods that were used for exhibiting her body. The bolts were removed and placed at the foot of her coffin.
“Her hands were tiny and perfect,” Ms. Barbata said.
Pastrana will be buried on Tuesday in a cemetery in Sinaloa de Leyva, a town near her birthplace. She has become a minor celebrity in the Mexican press. Maria Luisa Miranda Monrreal, the director of the Sinaloa Cultural Institute, held a news conference last week and said the burial marked an end to a cycle “of exploitation.”
Governor Valdez, who has criticized the press for scaring away tourists by focusing on the drug violence in Sinaloa, will attend the service. His letter last year to Norway’s human-remains ethics board appealed for Pastrana’s return out of a “respect for human dignity and a high sense of justice.”