Is homosexuality practiced in Africa?

In spite of current foreign influences, Africa remains a continent tied to tradition, and by this I mean things handed down to them from the days of their forefathers, so they tend to frown at things that conflict with their culture.

Traditionally, certain practices are considered taboo in most of Africa and homosexuality is one of them. Little wonder then, an earlier Chairman of the Anglican Provinces of Africa, Peter Akinola, described homosexuality as "an abomination which contradicted the Bible and African values" ("Obasanjo Backs Bishops"). The point therefore, is that even if some people had such instincts, they are bound to go unnoticed or unrealized, as those concerned would not be audacious enough to emerge with such practices in the open. Doing this would stigmatize the family of the "culprit," which would be tragic, since Africa is a continent of families not individuals, hence the communal life-style of the people. Accordingly, a person's behavior brings a lot to bear on his or her family at the very least. If homosexuals exist in Africa, then they have to belong to a very secret cult as such a practice is anathema to the traditional mindset of the people. This position notwithstanding, Murray and Roscoe point out in their book—Boy-Wives and Female Husbands—that Evans-Pritchard, while "describing traditional Zande culture as remembered by his informants," wrote that "Homosexuality is indigenous. Zande do not regard it as at all improper, indeed as very sensible for a man to sleep with boys when women are not available or are taboo. In the past this was a regular practice at court" (26).

Do you have same-sex marriages in Africa?

Same sex marriage is a controversial topic in many societies around the world because of the disagreement it is stirring, and Africa is no different. Most African nations speak against same sex marriages vehemently. This main trend notwithstanding, same sex marriages have been reported in parts of Africa. According to Joseph M. Carrier and Stephen O. Murray,

Woman-woman marriage—in which one woman pays a brideprice to acquire a husband's rights to another woman— has been documented in more than thirty African populations (O'Brien 1977: 109), including at least nine Bantu-speaking groups in present-day southern Africa and Botswana—Sotho, Koni, Tawana, Hurutshe, Pedi, Venda, Lovedu, Phalaborwa, Narene, and Zulu. In these groups, female political leaders are also common. These women chiefs rarely have male husbands (whether or not they have wives). Indeed, among the Lovedu, the queen was prohibited from having a male husband and was required instead to have a wife (Krige 1974)....

In East Africa, female husbands have been mentioned among the Kuria, Iregi, Kenye, Suba, Simbiti, Ngoreme, Gussim Kipsigis, Nandi, Kikuyu, and Luo. In Sudan, they occurred among the Nuer, Dinka, and Shilluk; in West Africa (particularly Nigeria) they existed among the Dahomean Fon, as well as the Yoruba, Ibo, Ekiti, Bunu, Akoko,Yagba, Nupe, Ijaw (O'Brien 1977: 110; Seligman and Seligman 1932: 164165), the Nzema (Grottanelli 1988: 210) and the Ganagana/ Dibo (Meek 1925, 1: 204-10). (255)

These reports notwithstanding, it is interesting that after a closer look, it becomes apparent that these marriages were not enacted for the purpose of sexual gratification as such; they were mere roles assumed by some women because of their status in society—female leaders for example. Evans-Pritchard describes among the Nuer, for example, how in spite of the fact that the female-husband married her bride just like a man would do, she got another male, usually a male relative or friend or neighbor, to beget children by her wife and to help with chores designated as masculine by society (Carrier and Murray 256). Max Gluckman goes on to acknowledge the existence of similar practices amongst the Zulu, but the female-husband usually gets but a male relation to get children for her (emphasis mine). Accordingly, Gluckman points out that these practices are weighty customs enforced by ancestral wrath and arise not from the need for sexual gratification, but from the importance of continuing the agnatic line, an important facet of most patriarchal cultures of Africa (Carrier and Murray 256). Carrier and Murray seem to emphasize this non-sexual dimension of woman-woman marriage when they also point out that in South Africa Venda women who had male husbands could also acquire their own wives by paying bride price in cattle just as the men did, but it is Hugh Stay who clearly puts the practice in perspective when he writes:

Women in a position of authority, such as petty chiefs or witchdoctors, who have been able to accumulate the necessary wealth, often obtain wives in this way, even though they may be themselves married in the ordinary way.. These women are really in positions of servants and are obliged to do all the menial work; they may be given to different men for the purpose of obtaining children, but these men, not having paid the lobola for them, have no legal rights over them or their children. (qtd. in Carrier and Murray 257).

On the other hand, the case of boy-wives seemed to have been practiced in different areas and reports indicate the practice of some form of sexual relationship. Among the Zande located in southwestern Sudan, northeastern Congo, and the Central African Republic, Evans-Pritchard, according to Stephen O. Murray, reports of homosexuality being indigenous and, in fact, not frowned at by society (Murray 26); a rather interesting observation. With the Zande, therefore, a male warrior could marry a teenage boy, but unlike the woman-woman marriage, the man-boy marriage comes to an end when the boy becomes an adult. The boy can then go out and get his wife, whereas the former husband goes on to marry another boy-wife. The boy-wife served his warrior-husband in many different ways, such as fetching water for him, collecting wood and kindling his fire, and carrying his shield for him when they travelled.

These exceptions notwithstanding, the African sense of marriage is largely that of a man to one or more wives; anything else is considered deviant and frowned upon terribly. However, with Westerners involved in these practices exiting the closets and talking about their rights in public, it is not surprising that Africa will follow suit, if these practices are ongoing on the continent, just as in many other areas where Western influence has been noticed. There are echoes in South Africa, already, of a lesbian couple struggling with the courts to legalize their union; a trend which, if it should succeed, will make South Africa the first African nation to legalize same sex marriages.

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