Some 150 years after Julia Pastrana died shortly after childbirth, the Mexican woman who spent most of her life being put on display as a sideshow freak known as the “Ape Woman” was given a decent burial in her home state of Sinaloa.
Pastrana suffered from hypertrichosis, a genetic condition from birth which caused her face and body to have an abnormal amount of hair growth as well as other deformities giving her a resemblance to a female gorilla.
Despite a difficult life that caused her to be gawked at and examined as a specimen, Pastrana married the promoter who toured her around the world, but she and her infant child died in Russia in the mid 19th century.
According to Wikipedia, Her ears and nose were unusually large and her teeth were irregular. This latter condition was also caused by a rare disease undiagnosed in her lifetime, namely gingival hyperplasia, which thickened her lips and gums.
Charles Darwin described her as: “Julia Pastrana, a Spanish dancer, was a remarkably fine woman, but she had a thick masculine beard and a hairy forehead; she was photographed, and her stuffed skin was exhibited as a show; but what concerns us is, that she had in both the upper and lower jaw an irregular double set of teeth, one row being placed within the other, of which Dr. Purland took a cast. From the redundancy of the teeth her mouth projected, and her face had a gorilla-like appearance
“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.”
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.”
Artist Laura Barbata campaigned for a long time to have her body returned from the University of Oslo in Norway so that Pastrana could be appropriately laid to rest in a Mexican cemetery.