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The Myth of African Homosexuality

The Myth of African Homosexuality

Recently, anti-gay bills have passed through the governments in Nigeria and Uganda, sparking debate across the continent. While African LGBT groups have held safety meetings, President Jammeh of Gambia referred to homosexuals in his country as ‘mosquitoes’ and ‘vermin.’ And in Nigeria men merely suspected of being homosexual were marched through the streets of Abuja naked and beaten with wires, metal rods and clubs. Though many deplored the direct violence in Abuja, a majority of opinions applaud the incarceration of homosexuals.

Popular logic here often decries homosexuality as a ‘western concept’ and  just another import from colonial days. Pressure from the West to give LGBT citizens equal rights is often seen as further coercion from former colonialists, trying once again to control the African agenda. Recently, Uganda’s President Museveni sharply rebuffed Obama for his comment that Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill could “complicate” relations, asking for him to respect the differences in African culture. This delighted numerous Ugandans, who saw their president as standing up for the sovereign rights of an African state. Yet the history of homosexuality in Africa is far more nuanced than the current debate lets on,with numerous studies showing homosexuality is, in fact, as African as the soil itself.

In the Buganda Kingdom of Uganda, Mwanga II, the Kabaka (king) of the region was openly gay. Mwanga actually battled the attitudes of early missionaries towards homosexuality, sometimes even killing Christians who dared question his sexuality. And although Ugandan children are rarely taught this when they learn the history of Buganda, it has been an open secret for years. In Northern Uganda, Nilotico Lango tribes allowed men to shift their gender status, rendering them free to marry other men.

In South Africa, the Lobedu Kingdom had the Rain Queen Modjadji who took up to 15 young wives as she saw fit. Prominent families would send their daughters to her to increase tribal loyalties and ensure wealth through rainfall. She enjoyed such prominence that during a meeting with Mandela, he was only allowed to speak to her when spoken to. In fact, many healers throughout broader Southern Africa were thought to have been comprised of homosexual or asexual women. Part of this reasoning involved the healer being closer to women and therefore, closer to nature’s fundamental source of sustenance.

In the book “Heterosexual Africa?” By Marc Epprecht, he takes on the assumption that same-sex relations were nonexistant in Africa prior to western influence. Epprecht cites evidence to suggest that sexuality, in terms of how we think about it today as being an identity, did not exist in pre-colonial classifications. Homosexuality didn’t function as the antithesis to heterosexuality, rather sexuality was part of an innate spectrum. Because of this, soldiers bedding and even living with male companions were simply considered part of a natural sexual occurrence in certain areas, notably in Southern Africa.

In the book “Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands” edited by Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe, a study of the Bafia people in Cameroon, notes homosexuality being quite normal when women had reached puberty. Out of fear of impregnating girls before full maturity could take place, boys often took up boyfriends, and it was suspected the women did likewise. Those that never married and stayed within their own sex were simply termed as those ‘without children.’

In Lesotho, lesbian behavior was well known, yet existed without the social construction of what ‘lesbian’ means. Because traditionally, the African family always needed to produce offspring, lesbian relationships rarely formed with the intention of a permanent pairing. Rather, affections or sexuality existed side by side with the concept of marriage to a man. This is later echoed in the Hausa tribes of West Africa, where, “There was not a necessary connection between marriage and heterosexual desire.”

It is worth noting that the African continent is incredibly large and diverse, with thousands of languages and cultures. So when we discuss homosexuality in pre-colonial Africa, we must take into consideration oral histories and cultural concepts, which shift over time. Yet there is a very clear divide between pre-colonial attitudes on sexuality and post-colonial law.

Current popular opinion may prefer the erasure of Africa’s homosexual past, deeming it a sin, an abnormality, or simply unAfrican. But the reality is Africa has always had a gay community, and regardless of current discriminatory measures, it always will.

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5:28AM PDT on Jun 12, 2015

Hi, nice article, but one phrase made me cringe.
The Hausa people are a “people”, not a “tribe”. They actually are at the origin of an important urban civilization.
People in Africa don't live in “tribes”.

5:41AM PDT on Sep 21, 2014

Thank you

2:13AM PDT on May 20, 2014

You may be interested in visiting the following link : --- it is a transcript of some pages (more coming) of the Diaries of the White Fathers at Mutesa's Court. So many references to homosexuality (How Mutesa used to have sex with his male pages - how the catechists and early baptised would dayly sodomise the young slaves redeemed and educated by the Fathers- how someone would indicate that Male sex was said then to be introduced by Arab traders, but also was widespread in the whole country, villages ibncluded, etc.... Genuine documents. Please have a look and tell me your reactions - and spread the link, in the present context of "Gayness is a Western recent import".

11:58AM PST on Mar 2, 2014


8:44AM PST on Mar 2, 2014

When an Illusionist is doing an illusion.

One of their methods is the art of misdirection.

That's what this issue reminds me of.

Something to give the masses someone, or some group to hate.

So that it's not turned toward the political leaders, with their failed, & corrupt policies.

12:16PM PST on Mar 1, 2014

I am so happy that you guys love one another. I accept you for who you are.

6:01AM PST on Mar 1, 2014

Thank you.

6:00AM PST on Mar 1, 2014

Thanks for sharing.. although I do not agree with homosexuality.. these people need to be loved and respected as people not hated...

4:24PM PST on Feb 28, 2014

At the end of the day none of us ca help who we love. I have no qualms about welcoming anyone into my circle and I am saddened that such misguided theories are still being used today about the LGBT community. As I always say, ya gotta love love and ya gotta hate hate, tho my mother always said that 'hate' was a bad word. Maybe one day some parts of the world will wake up and accept that love, no matter with whom you share it, is better than the hatred & vilification that sadly, still lives in the hearts & minds of many people. Love & Peace always.

9:16AM PST on Feb 28, 2014

Part of the spread of hate in Africa has been a systematic restructuring of history. In order to make homosexuality even more unpalatable the prevailing African propaganda is that homosexuality is somehow a colonial import, that it would not occur in Africans if it were not for Westerners contaminating them. They almost view homosexuality as a sexually transmitted disease. There are wild rumors of gangs of homosexuals busting into schools, grabbing up young boys, kidnapping them, raping them, and after they are sure the homosexuality “took” releasing them to go infect more. Where would they get such a blatantly stupid idea? From American evangelical missionaries like Scott Lively, Don Schmierer and Caleb Lee Brundidge, who told a conference in Kampala, Uganda that that was a very common problem in America.

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