The idea that African homosexuality was a colonial import is a myth

via The idea that African homosexuality was a colonial import is a myth by Bernardine Evaristo 8 March 2014 

Africa has 54 countries and more than a billion people. One of the most ridiculous myths about it is that homosexuality did not exist in the continent until white men imported it. Robert Mugabe is one such propagator, calling homosexuality “un-African” and a “white disease”.

Throughout history people everywhere have explored and experimented with their sexuality. The desire to do so has never been confined to particular geographical locations. Its reach is universal. Yet today the myth of a pre-colonial sexual innocence, or more fittingly, ignorance, is used to endorse anti-gay legislation and stir up homophobia and persecution in Africa. In my father’s country, Nigeria, a new law passed in January carries a 14-year prison sentence for same-sex marriage and up to 10 years for membership or promotion of gay groups. In Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Act can impose life imprisonment. Latter-day evangelicals from the US are partly to blame for this continuing persecution, but so are Africa’s political leaders such as presidents Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who use rabble-rousing anti-gay rhetoric to increase their power base and popularity.

While much has been written about this dangerous turn of events, little has been written about its origins. Two trailblazing studies in the field –Boy Wives and Female Husbands edited by Stephen O Murray and Will Roscoe, and Heterosexual Africa? by Marc Epprecht – demolish the revisionist arguments about Africa’s sexual history. From the 16th century onwards, homosexuality has been recorded in Africa by European missionaries, adventurers and officials who used it to reinforce ideas of African societies in need of Christian cleansing.

The Portuguese were among the first Europeans to explore the continent. They noted the range of gender relations in African societies and referred to the “unnatural damnation” of male-to-male sex in Congo. Andrew Battell, an English traveller in the 1590s, wrote this of the Imbangala of Angola: “They are beastly in their living, for they have men in women’s apparel, whom they keep among their wives.”

Transvestism occurred in many different places, including Madagascar and Ethiopia. Among the Pangwe people of present-day Cameroon and Gabon, homosexual intercourse was practised between males of all ages. It was believed to be a way to transmit wealth. The Nzima of Ghana had a tradition of adult men marrying each other, usually with an age difference of about 10 years. Similar to the pederasty of ancient Greece, Sudan’s Zande tribe had a tradition of warriors marrying boys and paying a bride price, as they would for girl brides, to their parents. When the boy grew up, he too became a warrior and took a boy-wife.

In this same tribe lesbianism was practised in polygamous households. In the 18th century the Khoikhoi of South Africa used the word koetsire to describe men considered sexually receptive to other men, and soreguswas the word they used for a friendship which involved same-sex masturbation.

Homosexuality is also recorded among the Siwa of Egypt. It was considered a boy’s rite of passage in Benin, and woman-woman marriages involving a bride price existed in more than 30 African societies from Nigeria to Kenya to South Africa.

How far back can homosexuality be traced in Africa? You cannot argue with rock paintings. Thousands of years ago, the San people of Zimbabwe depicted anal sex between men. The truth is that, like everywhere else, African people have expressed a wide range of sexualities. Far from bringing homosexuality with them, Christian and Islamic forces fought to eradicate it. By challenging the continent’s indigenous social and religious systems, they helped demonise and persecute homosexuality in Africa, paving the way for the taboos that prevail today.

The main character in my latest novel, Mr Loverman, is a 74-year-old black gay man, Barrington Walker. Married with two daughters, he has been in the closet for 50 years. Soon after the book was published, a young gay man emailed me from Nigeria expressing his fear that his life would turn out like Barrington’s. I didn’t know what to suggest except that, if he wanted to live openly and legally as homosexual, he had to leave his homeland. What else could I say?

Millions of gay people living in Africa face a similar choice. If they stay, they can either repress their natural sexuality or risk losing their liberty and their lives. The legacy of colonialism is alive and well. As another character in Mr Loverman says: “It’s homophobia, not homosexuality, that was imported to Africa.”

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25 comments on “The idea that African homosexuality was a colonial import is a myth
  1. Tjingababili says:


  2. John Thomas says:

    In Shona culture it is very common to see men holding each others hands. This looks gay to many people who are not Shona. One can go on at some length with more of this stuff. The first independence president of Zimbabwe was a homosexual rapist and all the powers that be knew about it and protected him. The current president on occasion has a very mincing walk and hand gestures to go with.

    The truth is that some people are gay and the Shonas have their share.

  3. Gomogranny says:

    I have learned over the years that if you dig a little deeper into the mind of a homophobic person you find a bigot. Often that bigot happens to be of the ruling class, male and heterosexual. Interesting coincidences?

  4. holy moyo says:

    Homosexuals are a perversion of what man should be.Dregs and filth and scum.They deserve to be exterminated where ever they are found.
    They destroy society.They encourage depravity of all kinds.Selfish with no responsibility except to their dirty sodomy.
    Hearing of this filth makes me ill.

    • Gomogranny says:

      My point is hereby backed up….Holy moyo and Kennedy…. MALE, BIGOT and heterosexual….the egocentric ruler in their families too I wager! And you are quite right Kennedy the pre colonial and the colonials contained a very large number of the same……that is bigoted, male heterosexuals. You should wear a T shirt that says….PROUDLY BIGOTED,HETEROSEXUAL, MALE. That way intelligent people who understand that diversity is strength can avoid the hell out of you.

  5. Kennedy Nkomo ka nyongolo says:

    Even the precolonial Europeans described homosexuality as ” unnatural”. It is unnatural, it is alien to the human race. Whether a shona or a white man is homosexual, it will never make it right. Homos you are unwelcome. Someone appears to be clever writing lies about precolonial homosexuality – If it was so why is it not prominent as compared to other practises like lobola and traditional wedding ceremonies? Even in terms of hygiene- surely how can that happen it boggles the mind.

  6. Nyoni says:

    Next they will be blaming Aids on Africa.

    • Tom says:

      Current best hypothesis is that Aids originated in West-central Africa, when an African either chopped up a monkey to eat and perhaps acquired the disease through a cut on his hand, or, he had sex with it.

      All these statements of denial over this article are fascinating.

  7. Tendai says:

    Homosexual existed in Zimbabwe a long time ago before the arrival of the Europeans. My Grand father used to tell me that homosexual was most done or practiced by the chiefs as a sign of power. he went on to say that if a man misbehaved in society the chief would punish the offender by way of having anal sex with the offender. It was a way to show the offender that he was nothing but his subject and that he could do any thing to show that the chief was above everybody.

    So homosexuality existed before the Europeans came to Zimbabwe even in Africa in general.

    • emmanuel says:

      Where is your rural home where this grandfather came from? I personally have not come across this sodomy of subjects by chiefs.

  8. nyakureva says:

    where did the word ngochani come from? doesn’t sound like any corrupted “gay, homosexual, lesbian…” or any such. there are many examples of corrupted English and Afrikaans words in the shona language. that way one may say such words did not exist in our midst. how did we end up with ngochani??

  9. Fallenz says:

    I am not homophobic… a “phobia” indicates a fear of something. I am not in fear of homosexuality. Because it disgusts me does not mean I fear it… it disgusts me because it perverts God’s design. I fear no man or woman… but I am very fearful of God Almighty.

    For those who desire to practice such a Satan-inspired perversion, do so at your own peril… but, never expect it to be accepted by God-fearing people as anything “normal”, because there is nothing natural about such as homosexuality and beastuality… they are the same, they are wickedness because God pronounced it to be so.

    • Gomogranny says:

      Fallenz you are in for a mighty shock when you learn that God made Gay people (perhaps to test you a little)….and you are disgusted by his design. HE SAID THOUGH SHALL NOT JUDGE…..That means you Fallenz!

      • Fallenz says:

        I am not judging… that is God’s place… I merely follow His word, and He has condemned both homosexuality and beastuality… they are the same… they are wicked in His eyes, and yes, He will place judgment upon those who practice those things, and on those who condone those perversations. He is the Holy One.

        • Peter tosh says:

          I’m with you fallen, true thing.

        • Gomogranny says:

          If I am not mistaken this is the same book that condemns certain races to be “hewers of wood”. The book used by certain Christians to hold an entire race of people as slaves less than 50 years ago. Or did he not write that part….just the part that suits your agenda Fallenz?
          For those of you with such strong instructions from God to spew forth your self righteous hatred of Gay people please take two minutes to read what changed my own mind about homosexuals.
          In 1983 my daughter was back packing around America. In San Francisco she was attacked by three men who tried to steal her back back in broad daylight. A passing car stopped and two men chased the attackers, catching one who had stabbed my child. My daughter made the mistake of trying to hold onto her backpack and in so doing was stabbed four times. These two men not only disarmed, made a citizen arrest, called the police but they accompanied the ambulance carrying my daughter to hospital. These two men paid her hospital fees and called me in Zimbabwe. They visited her every day until she flew back home. Since then they (and I) have remained close friends and have they visited Zimbabwe more than ten times. You may even have watched these two talented musicians yourself as they play at HIFA. These two men are GAY men. So I have actually met GAY people. These same so called “abominations” you talk of saved my child’s life. So I hope you excuse me if I treat your ignorance and vitriol for exactly that.

  10. Small axe says:

    The problem with Africa is that sometimes we get our priorities wrong. I don’t think on this subject I can judge and would like to keep my opinions to myself on the particular subject. The major problem facing Africa at the moment which politicians will not discuss is paedophilia. Because of the situation in Zimbabwe this is rife and because everybody concentrates on the Gay argument they forget about this scourge.

    Definition..Paedophile or paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children, generally age 11 years or younger; as a medical diagnosis, specific criteria for the disorder extends the cut-off point for prepubescence to age 13. A person who is diagnosed with paedophilia must be at least 16 years of age, but adolescents who are 16 years of age or older must be at least five years older than the prepubescent child before the attraction can be diagnosed as paedophilia.

    Africa will as usual sweep this under the carpet. There are more Paedophiles in Africa and Asia because these continents are in denial. We know of bigwigs in Harare driving around raping street kids.

    Weather we think gays are right or wrong is not the issue. They are consenting adults. The bigger problem is the adults having sex with little kids that is more serious. Like Fallenze I will not judge.

  11. jay c says:

    Homosexuality is unnatural because The Almighty created man for procreation, and homosexuality is a travesty of Elohim’s design for the human race. It is wrong to suggest that God created homosexuals, if He did He would not have called homosexuality an abomination. Remember He, Elohim burnt them in Sodom and Gomorrah and sent them all to hell. Not one of them was left alive in those sinful cities and the same will happen to homosexuals at the very end of time. Hell fire. Elohim will not be mocked and Africans are better off without this evil and dirty practice.

    • Fallenz says:

      Yes sir..! And to say “God made them that way” is also to absolve murderers and rapists and adulterers and liars and drunkards and everything He finds abominable. “He just made them that way.” Uh huh… I want to see that scripture.

      To promote someone to heaven or condemn them to hell is not given to any man (thank goodness). Judgment is not mine, for I will be judged, but for me to point out sin is required of me.

    • Gomogranny says:

      JC – the Natural and Unnatural argument is outmoded and only displays your complete ignorance of nature itself. If I am correct your argument holds that natural=good and unnatural=bad?

      So: fire=natural=good? (till your house burns down)
      water= natural=good (till your child drowns)
      Tsunami= natural=good?

      Wheelchair= unnatural= bad?
      Homosexuals=unnatural= bad?

      Do you get it Jc?

      If you want to stick to your nature based theory then you better study it….get to know the humble snail which is both male and female, the African Jacana where the female is the larger and never sits on eggs (the male assumes ALL CHILD REARING DUTIES) and the HYENA…where the female is larger, more dominant and has a false penis, the Seahorse where the male grows the offspring in his belly (a male being pregnant! I hear your scream “HOW UNNATURAL!!) I could go on and on about the diversity found in nature…..but that is enough for you to take in right now.

      See, Nature is neither good nor bad….it just is nature. And all humans are part of nature (Even if God tells us we are a little bit special) And beware of using the argument because there is a growing line of thought that in fact Nature is reacting to the threat of human overpopulation by speeding up the production of (often very talented, creative and brave) humans who are less driven by the need to procreate….and those societies who embrace those “non breeders” will advance. Because right now the greatest threat to this natural earth is too many humans. But Jc, Fallenz and Peter tosh I would wager that you might just have missed that last FACT.

  12. Small axe says:

    My friend you can say what you want this has been with us for a long time.President Banana(Mugabe’s closest confidant at the time) was a case study.Kelvin Ncube was a case study. Delma Lupepe.. Africa..more so Zimbabwe is in denial. When I say Africa I mean you and me. We are a Christian country. There are Muslims and Hindus that are born and bred Zimbabweans. Are you saying God will not be mocked and Africans are better off without them? All I am saying is that as Christians we are supposed to try to preach the Christian gospel to these people, and respect their veiws. You still have not answered my query on what Africa (one of the havens for Paedophiles is doing about the problem.@jay c are you saying this is normal?

    • Fallenz says:

      How do you take Jay c’s comment any attempt to say pedophilla is normal..?

      As for teaching the good news, folks either accept the news with gladness and change their ways, or they reject it and continue their chosen path. Then, for better or worse, their fate is in God’s hands for their decision.

      Obviously, those who rule Zim have chosen their own path.

      • Small axe says:

        I think what I have trying to say is that these situations have been with us for a long time. All I am saying is that Zimbabwe is dogged with problems of our own makings. This one is not. But Zanu pf will use it to say they are right. I don’t think I wanted to get involved in this debate but I SUPPORT THE ARTICLE. THIS HAS ALWAYS BEEN AROUND AND NOT ALL GAY PEOPLE ARE GANGSTERS.. it is what we have been told by the gayest of them all Robert Mugabe who shared a cell with Cannon Banana.

  13. andi evans says:

    All you Gay haters I hope that you do not have a son or daughter that is gay or lesbian shame on you with your hatred and show me in scripture where JESUS talked about homosexuals the way you have discribed has been written Jesus taught us how to LOVE not hate

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