'Ape woman' buried after 150 years- An indigenous Mexican woman once described as the "ugliest woman in the world" has been buried more than 150 years after her death and a tragic life spent exhibited as a freak of nature at circuses around the world.
Born in 1834, Julia Pastrana suffered from hypertrichosis and gingival hyperplasia, rare genetic disorders that gave her copious facial hair and a thick-set jaw. She became known as the "ape woman" after she left the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa in 1854, when she was 20, and was taken around the United States by showman Theodore Lent, according to a Norwegian commission that studied her case.
She sang and danced for paying audiences, becoming a sensation who also toured Europe and Russia. She and Lent married and had a son, but she developed a fever related to complications from childbirth, and died along with her baby in 1860 in Moscow. Her remains ended up at the University of Oslo in Norway.
"Imagine the aggression and cruelty of humankind she had to face, and how she overcame it. It's a very dignified story," said Mario Lopez, the governor of Sinaloa state who lobbied to have her remains repatriated to her home state for burial.
"When I heard about this Sinaloan woman, I said, there's no way she can be left locked away in a warehouse somewhere," he said.
Saul Rubio Ayala, mayor of her hometown of Sinaloa de Leyva, said: "Julia has been reborn among us. Let us never see another woman be turned into an object of commerce."
After a Roman Catholic mass in a local church, Pastrana's coffin was carried to the town cemetery and buried as a band played traditional music.
Pastrana's repatriation is part of a broader movement among museums and academic institutions to send human remains gathered during the European colonisation of Latin America, Africa and Asia back to their countries and tribal lands.
Hundreds of thousands of remains have left cultural institutions in the US, Europe and Australia since the repatriation movement began in the late 1980s, when a new generation of anthropologists, archeologists and curators began grappling with the colonial legacies of their disciplines, said Tiffany Jenkins, author of Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: the crisis of cultural authority.
"They've been symbolic, in a way, of making an apology," Jenkins said.
Institutions in Scandinavian countries have come to the movement somewhat later than their counterparts in other parts of Europe and in the US, where more than a half-million sets of remains and artefacts have been returned to native American tribes, she said.
"Norway has become in recent times more uncomfortable about their holding of human remains," she said.
Mexican ambassador Martha Bárcena Coqui, who is based in Copenhagen, Denmark, formally received Pastrana's coffin at a ceremony on 7 February at Oslo University Hospital before the coffin was flown to Mexico.
|People attend a Catholic mass for Julia Pastrana, whose remains were returned to Mexico from Norway.|
"You know I have mixed feelings," the ambassador said. "In one way, I think she had a very interesting life and maybe she enjoyed visiting and travelling and seeing all the places, but at the same time I think it must have been very sad to travel to these places not as a normal human being but as a matter of exhibition, as something weird to be talked about."
Jan G Bjaalie, head of the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences at the University of Oslo, said he was happy they had "finally been able to grant a worthy end to her life".
"Today, it's almost incomprehensible that a circus used corpses for entertainment purposes. Hers was used in a way we today would consider to be completely reprehensible," he said. "It's important that we now have a clear end to the way she was treated."
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