Many people regard LGBTQ+ people and practices as Un-African. But is that the case? I decided to find out.
A lot of our knowledge of pre-colonial Africa is limited – traditionally, African cultures would pass down history orally, through stories, songs, and word-of-mouth. When Europeans arrived in Africa, they were the first to keep written records of African cultures and practices – this, however, came with a cost. European ideals and culture were very different from that of Africa, and so when history was originally recorded, it was greatly biased against the ‘uncivilised’ Africans. Colonisation only caused further harm – Europeans took over African countries, often violently dominating African cultures. This led to the loss of many great parts of African history. One of these losses is African queerness, and that is what I want to explore today.
To the far left is a map that shows countries where throughout history, same-sex practices – whether that be sexual or romantic – and uncommon gender expressions – such as male-bodied people dressing and presenting as women, or vice versa – have existed in Africa, before and during the colonial era. The countries highlighted in green show where these practices have been recorded through writing in history. That is not to say that the white countries had no instances of queerness, but rather that there was no one there who recorded them.
Next to the map is a list of queer African words that were recorded in writing during colonial times.
The picture above shows a pride march in Uganda, a country infamous for being anti-LGBT. To the left, there is a second map that shows the current state of queerness in Africa, with a key explaining what each shade of purple represents.
I spoke to eight South Africans of different ages and backgrounds to find out what they know about queer African history. This is what they said.
The answers I got from my participants were certainly a mixed bag of knowledge about African queer history. However, the majority still answered that they were unaware of instances of homosexuality, uncommon gender expression, etc. in Africa pre-colonialism. I’ve brought up this topic to many others who didn’t participate in the interviews, and they also did not know anything about these topics.
So why isn’t this queer history common knowledge?
What can we do to make sure Africans are aware of their history?
It is evident that the queerness inherent to African culture has been lost by many – it is believed to be non-existent. But it has existed for 1000s of years – proof of this is a bushman painting in Zimbabwe depicting men having sex that is said to be about 2000 years old. So how do we reclaim this vital part of African history?
An obvious answer would be education – by educating the masses in schools, through media, the news, etc. If people were given the facts, surely the problem of this lost part of history would be amended?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. That is why I am calling to you, the reader. I challenge you to participate in some activism – make people aware of Africa’s history. When Africa is ignored in a conversation on queerness, bring it up. Do not let the people around you assume that it is Un-African to be queer. No matter what part of the world you are in, the only true way for the masses to be educated is through activism by people like you.
“21 Varieties Of Traditional African Homosexuality.” Erasing 76 Crimes. N. p., 2014. Web. 19 Mar. 2018.
“Africa Has Always Been More Queer Than Generally Acknowledged.” Africasacountry.com. N. p., 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2018.
“Boy-Wives And Female Husbands: Studies In African Homosexualities.” Archive.org. N. p., 2018. Web. 19 Mar. 2018.
Epprecht, Marc. Heterosexual Africa?. Ohio University Press, 2010. Accessed 10 Apr 2018
Epprecht, Marc. Hungochani. Mcgill-Queen’s University Press, 2014. Accessed 10 Apr 2018
“Expanded Criminalisation Of Homosexuality In Uganda: A Flawed Narrative”. 2014, pp. 3-33. Accessed 20 Mar 2018.
Han, Enze, and Joseph O’Mahoney. “British Colonialism And The Criminalization Of Homosexuality”. Cambridge Review Of International Affairs, vol 27, no. 2, 2014, pp. 268-288. Informa UK Limited. 19 Mar. 2018
Hayes, Jarrod. “Queer Roots In Africa”. 2018, pp. 1-32., Accessed 10 Apr 2018.
“Male Daughters, Female Husbands : Gender And Sex In An African Society.” Archive.org. N. p., 2018. Web. 19 Mar. 2018.
Scott, View. “Indigenous Language Complexities With LGBTI Terms – Queer Consciousness.” Queerconsciousness.com. N. p., 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2018.
“Sodomy Law.” En.wikipedia.org. N. p., 2018. Web. 10 Apr. 2018.
“Uganda Pride 2017 Cancelled After Police Raid Event Venues.” Hornet Stories. N. p., 2017. Web. 10 Apr. 2018.