Among the most persistent European myths about that homosexuality is "absent or incidental" in African societies. Since black Africans were felt to be the most primitive of people--the closest to nature--it followed that they must be the most heterosexual, their "sexual energies and outlets devoted exclusively to their 'natural' purpose: biological reproduction." That the field work of early anthropologists didn't always support this assumption merely led researchers to suppress their findings, or to fail to inquire too closely of subjects who were reluctant, in any case, to discuss their sexual lives with outsiders. [Researchers] argue convincingly that even native denials of homosexuality are often politically motivated (the sexual values of the West having permeated most of these cultures), and should be regarded as skeptically as the accounts of Western anthropologists, who in most cases have not seriously investigated same-sex patterns, "failing to report what they do observe, and discounting what they report." ... dating from the colonial period to the present and covering the major regions of black Africa, evidence of same-sex marriages, cross-dressing, role reversal, and premarital peer homosexuality challenges the myth and calls for further study. --taken from review of Will Roscoe and Stephen O. Murray's "Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies in African Homosexualities."


Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the Sudan

In Ethiopia Bieber (1909) “encountered Uranism” among the Semitic Harari people
and noted that “sodomy is not foreign to the Harari. Albeit not as commonly, it also
occurs among the Galla [Oromo] and Somal[i].” (nearby peoples speaking Cushitic
languages). He also noted mutual masturbation by both sexes and all ages for all three
peoples, and specified that among the Harari, Uranism was practiced as often between
men as between men and boys.

Among the Maale of southern Ethiopia, “a small minority [of men] crossed over to
feminine roles. Called ashtime, these (biological) males dressed like women, performed
female tasks, cared for their own houses, and apparently had sexual relations with men,”
according to Donald Donham (1990:92), who wrote, “In 1975 I was aware of only one
ashtime in Maaleland, although informants asserted that more had existed in the 19th
century. Indeed, part of the Maale kin’s traditional installation had consisted of a ritual
ordination of an ashtime.” Nonetheless, by 1975, the Maale considered ashtime
“abnormal.” The one whom Donham knew gave a clear statement of third gender
conception: “The Divinity created me wobo, crooked. If I had been a man, I could have
taken a wife and begotten children. If I had been a woman, I could have married and
borne children. But I am wobo; I can do neither.”

Donham suggested that there was a continuous gradation of maleness from the ritual
kings to subchiefs on down, rather than absolutely discrete gender categories. The ritual
king “was the male principle incarnate” (p. 112). No woman of childbearing age could
enter the king’s compound, so domestic labor generally done by women was done by
ashtime who traditionally were gathered and protected by the kings. Also, on the night
before any royal ritual the king could not have sexual relations with women, whereas,
“lying with an ashtime was not interdicted.” Thus, ashtime constituted “part of the
generativity of maleness in Maale” (p. 113).


West Africa

Fremont Besmer (1983) discussed in greater detail a possession “cult” among the
(generally Islamic and urban) Hausa that is strikingly similar to New World possession
cults among those of West Africa descent, and is ”generally regarded as the displaced
religious tradition of the pre-Islamic Hausa.”


As in Haitian voudou(n), the metaphor for those possessed by spirits is horses ridden” by the spirit. Homosexual transvestites in the Hausa bori cult are called ‘Yan Daudu, son of Daudu. Daudu is a praise name for any Galadima (a ranked title), but specifically refers to the bori spirit Dan Galadima (literally, son of Galadima; the Prince),who is] said to be ” a handsome
young man, popular with women, a spendthrift, and a gambler” (Besmer 1983:30n4).


Among the nearby Fanti (of Ghana) there are gender-crossing roles for men and for
women (Christensen 1954: 92-3, 143). Those with heavy souls (sunsum), whatever
their biological sex will desire women, while those with light souls will desire men, in
this worldview. David Greenberg (1988:87) reported interviewing Eva Meyerowitz
about her observations among Ashanti and other Akan peoples in what was the British
Gold Coast colonybetween the 1920s and 1940s:


"At that time men who dressed as women and engaged in homosexual relations with other men were not stigmatized, but accepted. There were good reasons for Akan men to become women, she commented -- the status of women among the matrilineal Akan was exceptionally high. The situation may have changed later, she thought, as a result of missionary activity."


In another West African culture, Senegal (then Saint Louis), Corre (1894:80n1)
encountered black men of feminine dress and demeanor, who, he was told, made their
living from prostitution. In Boké (Guinea), he saw a prince’s dancer miming his sexually
receptive role. Some decades later, Gorer (1962 [1935]: 36) reported that in Senegal, the
matrilineal Wolof "pathics are a common sight. They are called in Wolof men-women, gor-digen, and do their best to deserve the epithet by their mannerisms, their dress and their make-up; some even dress their hair like women. They do not suffer in any way socially, though the Mohammedans refuse them religious burial."


South Africa


The 1890s were a time of violent dislocation of black South Africans. One notable
group of rebels/bandits south of Johannesburg, called Umkhosi Wezintaba, the Regiment
of the Hills, by its Zulu refugee Inkoos Nkulu (King), ‘Nongoloza’ Mathebula, emulated
Shaka’s armies. The Zulu leader who took the name Jan Note and was called by whites
the “King of Nineveh,” ordered his (mostly non-Zulu) troops to abstain from all
physical contact with females: “Instead, the older men of marriageable status within the
regiment--the ikhela--were to take younger male initiates in the gang--the abafana--and
keep them as izinkotshane, ‘boy wives’” (van Onselen 1984:15). In 1900 Nongoloza
was captured, but his organization extended from townships to mining camps to
prisons, in all of which the sex ratio was very skewed and men’s concern was great
about veneral disease among such few women as there were. The homosexual relations
were not , however, a result of the prison environment. Nongoloza testified that the
practice [hlabonga] “has always existed. Even when we were free on the hills south of
Johannesburg some of us had women and others had young men for sexual purposes.”


Excerpts taken from:


Stephen O. Murray (2005) Homosexuality in "Traditional" Sub-Saharan Africa and Contemporary Africa.


Will Roscoe and Stephen O. Murray (1998) Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies in African Homosexualities.



You need to be a member of Blacksciencefictionsociety to add comments!

Join Blacksciencefictionsociety

Email me when people reply –