An indigenous Mexican woman put on display in Victorian-era Europe because of a rare genetic condition that covered her face in thick hair was buried in her home state on Tuesday in a ceremony that ends one of the best-known episodes from an era when human bodies were treated as collectible specimens.
With her hairy face and body, jutting jaw and other deformities, Julia Pastrana 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, Norway. After government and private requests to return her body, the university shipped her remains to the state of Sinaloa, where they were laid to rest.
"Julia Pastrana has come home," said Saul Rubio Ayala, mayor of her hometown of Sinaloa de Leyva. "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.
"The story is so important," said visual artist Laura Anderson Barbata, who campaigned for Pastrana's return to Sinaloa. "Bringing her back here is a way of recovering it."
Pastrana's repatriation is part of a broader movement among museums and academic institutions to send human remains gathered during the European colonization of Latin America, Africa and Asia back to their countries and tribal lands.