Tuesday, 31 March 2009

On Madonna and Malawian Babies

I sometimes find myself in a place where there appears to be nothing in particular to blog about; although in reality there is a multitude of thoughts taking place in my head at the same time, none of which has been articulated to the point of lending itself to literation in a blog post. Its as if the mind is being pulled in different directions. But thankfully, this blog exists and it provides a means by which to vent some of the emotion, the frustration and more. I think I need to learn how to concentrate on individual thoughts more consciously and do less of the cerebral gymnastics to which I am so liable. I've been thinking about Madonna and her quest to adopt Malawian babies. Why Malawi in particular, one wonders. I can't make up my mind whether I support what she's doing, or whether removing children from their culture denies them the right to their true identity. I do not believe that a person's true identity can or should be divorced from his roots, his history, his culture.

I've been following this unfolding story with some interest and sometimes, even amusement. I'm surprised when some people argue fervently that this fabulously wealthy American mega-star stands to benefit in any personal sense from her adoption of a couple of poor African orphan children. The way I see it, what Madonna has to offer those very fortunate children, is a life and a future that is beyond the wildest imagination of any members of the children's extended family; those who it has been argued should be the ones to raise the children. That said, I still see some value in the argument that the children are better off remaining in the community into which they were born. Madonna in my view is wealthy enough to uplift entire communities in Malawi in a very real sense. In this way she will be able to attain her ostensible goal of bettering the lives of some who are less fortunate than she is, but also be able to affect the lives of a greater number of individuals.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Resolved to proceed

I have just been through a period of self-doubt. Its not that I have had any difficulty being who I am, because I am proud to be me. However, being African, as with most other Africans who are like me, living has meant being always in the shadows, being always careful not to offend the sensibilities of those around us. It has even meant denial and self-hate for many others, those who lack the courage and inner strength that is required to stand up and speak out. But it is this latter course that I have resolved to follow. I will speak up because I have a story to tell. I have something to say. And I will say it, on behalf of and for the benefit of every other African person who is like me, regardless of what the consequences are to me personally. And unlike several others who dare to express themselves publicly, I have chosen not to hide behind a mask of anonymity or behind a pseudonym. I am who I am, and I am what I am.

I've been away from this blog for a while. I have even attempted to delete the blog altogether. I must have panicked. A few friends have asked what happened to the blog, and I tried to explain that I felt I was getting carried away, throwing caution to the wind. But what was in fact going through my mind, was a process of self-appraisal. I am a sincere person and I am true to myself. It is for this reason that I will not deny my sexual orientation, or pretend that I am what I am not. What I have decided to do with this blog comes from somewhere deep inside me. It is the truth about who I am. And since I will remain true to myself and have no intention to deceive or mislead, I feel obliged to proceed with the blog in the same vein in which I started it.

It is my desire to express my thoughts as a modern day African man who is gay, but one who is also intelligent, educated, sophisticated and resourceful. This is especially pertinent since I am from a place where people like me are misunderstood and misjudged by those for whom sexual orientation is THE defining factor of a person's character. As I continue with this blog, I resolve to remain steadfast and to hold tight to my ideal of being honest and truthful about the things that matter to me, the things that affect me. And also, to shed some light on what life is like for me and for the many others in a similar position.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Saxophonist

He was tall and dark. And he was very handsome. And it was to him that my eyes were instantly drawn the minute the band started playing that sultry night all those years ago at the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti's night club, known as the Shrine in Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria. The attraction was magnetic. I'm not sure that I remember which of his songs Fela sang that night, or how lasciviously Fela's female dancers gyrated their nearly naked bodies, or how amazingly the musicians played Fela's mind-blowing music. It was him, just him for that night.

The Shrine would on a normal night have a crowd of revellers something approximating 500, all of whom were dancing, singing, drinking and smoking, cigarettes and weed. This place was a haven for smokers of marijuana, which was illegal outside the walls of the club, but perfectly permissible inside. Indeed if you didn't indulge, you were considered freakish. The crowd typically would consist of a large contingent of university students, (I was one at the time), several European embassy types who were exploiting the opportunity to see Fela in his full glory, for a pittance, as compared to what they would have had to pay to see him perform in Bonn or Amsterdam; it was also an opportunity for them to let their hair down and smoke a few joints openly, without fear or shame. Then there would be members of the general public, the atmosphere buzzing with an electric anticipation until Fela started his performance. Then everyone would be drawn in by Fela's magic and the wild party would begin.

This was my first time at the Shrine, but I liked the atmosphere. The energy, the excitement of everyone around me was contagious and I got caught up in it. And so the band started playing and the crowd went wild, but through all of this my eyes fell upon this magnificent specimen of the African male, in the far left corner at the back of the stage. I don't recall how it was that I was able to make my way from the back of the crowd where I had been standing when the music began, to a position beside the left side of the stage, close to where this man was playing his saxophone so beautifully. I guess I just needed to be closer to this man, even if only to take a better look. From the moment I saw him I had not moved my eyes from him even for one second. It was as if a spell had been cast upon me and I was in a trance. I did not realise that he too had picked me out from the hundreds of people in the crowd. But just then, our eyes met while he was still on stage. And I knew. I just knew.

Typically, Fela's performance at the Shrine would last for several hours and it was normal that halfway through the night there would be a break, as this was a live performance. At break time, the musicians would mingle with members of the crowd, and this was the chance that we had to make first contact. I'm usually a bit shy and reserved, but on occasion I can surprise even myself by how bold I can be. Not that I needed to be too bold this time, because he too seemed keen to meet me. His gaze never left me after the music stopped, as I stood rooted to the spot, being unsure what to do next. To my great surprise and pleasure, this man put away his saxophone, came off the stage and walked towards me, staring at me. And without flinching I moved towards him too. In no time, we were standing very close to each other, facing each other our chests almost touching, seemingly relying on the pretext that the crowd surrounding us provided us little room to manoeuvre our bodies. He towered above me and I felt his warm breath on my face as he looked down into my eyes. He too must have seen in my eyes how totally mesmerised I was, because without saying a word, he put is arm around my shoulders and with his eyes signalled that we should proceed outside. I was completely overpowered by the raw masculinity and strength of this man and I melted against his body as he shepherded me to the exit and then outside to the street, where several others had made their way, presumably for some respite from all that smoke inside the club.

After the introductions, we were both pretty sure we were unto something. He couldn't keep his hands off my body and we stared and smiled into each other's eyes as we exchanged stories, still standing very close to each other out there in the open. It is not unusual in most of Africa for male friends to hold hands or embrace in public. I told him I loved the way he had played with the band, although this was not entirely true since I had been focused on him personally rather than on the music. As a member of Fela's band, he had been privileged to travel all over the world with Fela and I had just recently returned from a holiday in Brazil, something which I'd had to scrimp and save for, for years. Anyway, it gave us something to talk about since he too had once been to Brazil with Fela and we found quite a lot to talk about in those few minutes that we were together. Our first meeting lasted for less than half an hour, because he had to go back inside to join the band. But for the rest of that night I was on a high. I returned to my position close to the stage and danced and sang to Fela's music, knowing that this wonderful man was watching me and enjoying it too. I was dancing for him, perhaps a bit provocatively when I think about it now, but as far as I was concerned, he was blowing his saxophone just for me. He was watching me dance and I loved the fact that he was taking it all in.

When the show ended, I could see that he was unable to separate himself from his duties with the band. So I left, knowing that I would be back on Friday.

The Truth About Homosexuality in Africa (part 5)

Let us attempt to answer some of the commoner excuses for African homosexuality that are found in the literature.

First, for the claim that Africans learned homosexuality from the Arabs or that Africa has been contaminated by Islam, the answer is: so what? Europeans often look for some kind of pure, timeless African culture. They suppose Africa was changeless and isolated until it was discovered by Europeans. But it was Europe that was changeless and isolated in the Middle Ages. Africa was always engaged in commerce and the dissemination of ideas with the rest of the world. Europe was the backwater and Africa was the cosmopolitan, sophisticated continent. Africans certainly could have invented homosexuality, and probably did so many times over. Or like any cosmopolitan people, Africans may have known a good idea when they saw it and adopted it as their own. Sure, Islam is foreign to Africa, but no more so than Christianity is foreign to Rome.

In any event, as Kinsey wrote: "The homosexual has been a significant part of human sexual activity ever since the dawn of history, primarily because it is an expression of capacities that are basic in the human animal." The suggestion that homosexuality was foreign to Africans almost always contains the hidden implication that Africans are not fully human.

A number of examples have been given of homosexuality in cultures that did not approve of it because these examples are often overlooked. Nonetheless, by far, most African societies, like most societies throughout the world, were neutral or approving of homosexuality at least for some people at some times. The compulsory heterosexuality that holds sway in Africa today goes hand-in-hand with colonialism.

Second, the suggestion that Africans learned homosexuality from Europeans is absurd for the reasons just given. Some of the Oyinbos/Wazungu did keep houseboys, but so did many rich and important Africans, and many who were not so rich and important. The rise of the modern gay cultures in African cities is sometimes blamed on Europeans or Americans. The same thing has happened in Japan where many Japanese now believe that "gaibar" is a native Japanese word. The indications, however, are that gay culture is what it is because that is how homosexuality manifests itself in any industrialised, urban area. Certainly some details of fashion are heavily influenced by Americans and Europeans, but international styles of art and music just as clearly have African roots. Whatever the merits of the arguments about cultural imperialism, gay life is but a small part of the issue. I am not disposed to view the rise of an international gay culture as a bad thing. If Kampala street hustlers pay particular attention to European and American customers, so do all African entrepreneurs, whatever they want to sell. Somehow the writers who are most shocked and distressed by finding African hustlers are the same writers who find nothing very disturbing about female prostitution.

Traditional marriage has nothing to do with romantic love. If a homosexual man does not love his wife romantically, the same may be said for many of his heterosexual neighbours. Romance is reserved for the bush. In traditional society, people do not have a free choice of marriage partner. The homestead is not just a residence, but is also the principal place of business. It is the office, bank, old people's home, place of worship, warehouse, theatre, bar, and school. In short, traditional marriages are business partnerships in which the whole community has a stake. The whole community participates in making the match. Several societies of Africa provided a system of sexual privilege which ensured that women would produce children even if their husbands were impotent or sterile or simply not interested. Marriage between two females was widespread; those unions produced children to no one's amazement. In traditional society the contradiction between being a male homosexual and being a husband and father is very slight.

Fourth, the excuse that the polygamists had monopolised all the women has no basis. Some marriages by polygamists are to old and feeble women, sort of a social welfare system to extend to them the husband's protection. While there were some large harems, only a small percentage of men had more than one wife. In sum, the young man's potential mate usually was not in another man's harem, but was in her mother's hut because the young man was not sufficiently well-established to marry.While the availability of women certainly influences the sexual behavior of some men, men in prison, for example, it has not been shown to affect the number of preferentially homosexual men in the population. But even if polygamy were the cause of African homosexuality, so what? Polygamy, even independent of the influence of Islam, is clearly an indigenous African institution and any homosexuality that arose from it would clearly be indigenous.

Fifth, when the anthropologist writes: "X says there is no homosexuality," that only tells us what X knows. We must then ask whether X would know if there were homosexuality. Kenyatta assures us that there is no homosexuality among the Gikuyu people of Kenya; that is, no homosexuality among his people. But if you read his book it becomes apparent that anti colonial hero Kenyatta may be, he certainly was a sexist individual. Many anthropologists rely on exactly one primary informant. Many of the African cultures listed as "no homosexuality" were reported by only one writer. In cultures with well-known traditions of homosexuality, it is usually possible to find at least one writer who denies it. This would pose a problem even if we could assume that investigators have always been entirely frank. But in fact, the record is full of deliberate cover-ups and admitted suppression.

Meanwhile, there is ample evidence to show, just as any fair observer might predict, that homosexuality is indigenous to Africa, just as it is indigenous to every other place that human society has been found. African homosexual people have not succumbed to the "white man's way," but express an entirely human and natural variation of human sexuality. Indeed, it is the black homophobe who has absorbed a false and hurtful European ideology.

Some African Societies with Traditions of Homosexuality:
NE Namibia
Dannert; Irle p. 58
S Angola
Mott (1984), pp. 15, 19
W C Angola
Hambly, p. 181; Westermarkin Cory pp. 104-105 (Odongo=Mbundusubgroup); Mott (1984).
SE Angola
N Namibia
N Angola
Mott (1984)
C Zaire
Hulstaert pp. 73, 87, 88.
Tessmann p. 105.
S Cameroon,N Gabon
Tessmann pp. 23, 131-135.
Westermark in Cory
Westermark in Cory
Rachewiltz p. 283.
Abraham p. 624.
Upper Volta river, Ghana and Burkina Faso
Christensen p. 143.
W Lake Malawi
Johnston p. 409, see alsop. 404 of 1st edition.
W Senegal
Gamble pp. 55, 80.
W Lake Malawi

The entire series from Part 1 to Part 5 has been adapted from the work of Lars Eighner to be found here

Author's NoteThe Truth About Homosexuality in Africa is in five parts on this blog. Use the Search function or navigate by other means to access all five. Thanks

The Truth About Homosexuality in Africa (part 4)

If you think The African Queen was just a movie with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, you don't know the half of it. The very first human beings on earth that we know of were African, but that is nothing. Somewhere, in the dawn of time, before taffeta, before chiffon, before Clairol and Revlon, the first drag queen put two brass rings on each of her fingers, made herself a miniskirt out of tree bark, swished down the main path of the village, and she didn't care what people thought, because she knew who she was. I think it is very likely that the first drag queen in the world was African. Drag has been noted in the following African societies: Gisu, Teso, Karamojang, Mbundu, Mossi, Nupe, Lango, Nyakyusa, Ovimbundu, Zulu, Ronga, Ila, Hausa, Otoro, Korongo, Mesakin, and Tanala, Bara, Sacalavas, and Tsecats of Madagascar. This list is by no means exhaustive.

But several things have to be said. First, anthropologists usually notice drag. A drag queen is relatively easy to spot, while respectable gentleman homosexuals are easily overlooked. In fact, many anthropologists don't seem to know what a homosexual is, unless it is done up in drag. They may say there is one homosexual in the village. Now I ask you, how homosexual can you be if there is only one of you? The anthropologists meant the drag queen. They do not count the queen's gentlemen callers as homosexual. Or, if the queen is married to a man, the queen is the homosexual, but her husband is straight. Yeah right!

Second, some religious rites can only be performed by women. A straight man might get up in drag for religious reasons. It is a really good excuse, anyway. Third, it is said that some impotent or cowardly straight men become drag queens. They understand what we have always known: it is better to be a first-rate drag queen than to be a second-rate man. For many reasons, reports of drag may be out of proportion with reports of homosexuality in general. In any event, ancestral Africans appear never to have found drag as threatening as modern day Africans do today.

The Lango were a people of Uganda. Among the Lango, the penalty for homosexuality was death. But there was a footnote. Here it is: "An exception is made in the case of a small class of men known as Jo Apele, referred to also as Jo Aboich, or the impotents. These men, being impotent from birth, are considered as the afflicted of god (jok obalog, god ruins them). They acknowledge a mortal father, but believe a divine agency operated at their fertilization (jok manywala, it was god who begat me). Being impotent, they have all the instincts and nature of women, and as such are recognised by men and women alike. They accordingly become women (dano mulokere, mudoko dako, a man who has become a woman). They wear the characteristic facial and bodily ornaments of a woman, the chip, the del, the lau; they wear their hair long, dressing it in ringlets like women's hair, and take women's names; they do all the women's work, observe women's clan taboos, and like women are debarred form owning property or from following men's pursuits such as hunting; they even simulate menstruation and wear the leaves prescribed for women in their courses. They appear in all respects to be mentally sound and are most industrious. Being women, therefore, in all except the physical characteristics, they are treated as such, and live with a man as his wife without offending against Lango law. Sometimes, but rarely, property passes on the 'marriage,' and their co-wives welcome him as a woman. The total number of such persons does not amount to fifty, but among the Iteso and certain Karamojan tribes, such people of hermaphroditic instincts are very numerous."

Now, who were these girls? There were no more than 50 in a population of 17,000. That's far too few, going by modern estimates of the occurrence of homosexuality, even if we count their husbands, which of course the colonial administrator who wrote the report did not. And the number seems far too high to represent the occurrence of transsexualism as we know it. What can we make of "impotent form birth"? Do you suppose the Lango went around checking out infant erections? Did you notice the gay consciousness? The other Lango call them the ones god ruined. But she calls herself jok manywala, god begat me.

Similar types of reports are found for many people of Africa, but especially for peoples of the Upper Nile from the Nuba mountains to Lake Victoria and of Madagascar. (To be continued)

Author's NoteThe Truth About Homosexuality in Africa is in five parts on this blog. Use the Search function or navigate by other means to access all five. Thanks

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 

Part 5

Saturday, 14 March 2009

The Truth about Homosexuality in Africa (part 3)

WaTutsi is probably one of the first African tribal names that many non-Africans ever knew. Traditional Ruanda was located in the area of modern Rwanda, Burundi, and parts of Uganda. The society was one, but it was composed of three ethnic groups in three castes. The short BaTwa lived in the forest and made pots, and for present purposes that is about all I have to say about the BaTwa, except that Twa is a name that is applied to short forest-dwelling people in various parts of Africa and does not always apply to precisely the same group. The WaTutsi were warriors and overlords; they were a small minority but they ruled the state and they owned everything of value, which is to say they owned all the cattle. The BaHutu were farmers and raised the cattle. The BaHutu had limited rights in the cattle they raised, but these rights were ultimately derived from a Tutsi patron. The relationship between the WaTutsi and the BaHutu was a Ruandan feudal relationship similar to that between the nobility and peasantry of medieval England. A Hutu man was easy prey and destined to be poor his whole life unless he had a Tutsi patron or sponsor. A Hutu man might work all of his life to increase cattle herds and end up with nothing to show for it. And on top of that, the BaHutu were regarded and came to regard themselves as ugly. The WaTutsi, it must be admitted, are among the most beautiful people on earth, so beautiful that some Europeans wasted considerable effort attempting to prove that WaTutsi were some kind of dark-skinned Caucasians. The oppression of the BaHutu included not only economic oppression but the oppressive cultural judgment that they were ugly while the WaTutsi were beautiful. It was the tyranny of beauty. The pogrom that was the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s was an attempt by the Hutus to settle accounts.

In any event, homosexuality among the young Tutsi and Hutu men was described as being very general and widespread. Anthropologists have tried to excuse this by citing a lack of heterosexual opportunity, but it is hard to think of young men anywhere who had quite as much heterosexual opportunity. Both Hutu and Tutsi youth had the right to have sex with their own married cross-cousins, their brother's wives, and parallel cousin's wives. In addition, a Tutsi youth was often given a concubine, the wife or daughter of one of his father's Hutu clients. Moreover, the double standard existed in Ruanda and the male partner would not be blamed for his heterosexual affairs. Plainly, when Ruandan men had homosexual relations it was because that was what they wanted to do. Two kinds of very close and secret relationships could be contracted between men. A Tutsi man and a Hutu man might have a patron-client relationship, which like feudal relationships elsewhere was not entirely one-sided. There was also a blood-brother relationship that could be contracted between any two men, regardless of their ethnicity. Partners in these relationships could not reveal anything that passed between the partners so it is impossible to say whether these relationships often had a sexual aspect, yet they were mechanisms that were available to men who might want to put their homosexual connections in a more enduring relationship.

African cultural themes have a way of turning up here and there, sometimes thousands of miles apart. The friendship pact is only one of those themes. The friendship pact in some places was well known to cover homosexual relationships. The Nama live in and around the Kalahari desert in Namibia and South Africa. They are one of the so-called Hottentot people. "Hottentot," (now regarded as offensive), is a European word coined to suggest the many popping sounds and clicks in the languages of these people. The special friendship pact of the Nama was called soregus and was contracted in a ritual involving the sharing of water, an act of special significance to a desert people. Soregus could be contracted by people of opposite sexes and even when contracted by people of the same sex, it did not always entail homosexual relations. But it often did join homosexual lovers. The most common form of homosexual activity was mutual masturbation, but anal sex was not unheard of.

A world away, in the West African forest, a system of best-friendships also covered adult homosexual relationships in Dahomey, in the area of modern Benin. Dahomeans, after allowing free sex play among the small children, imposed a system of sexual segregation on adolescents that virtually guaranteed homosexual relations would occur. But Dahomeans strongly disapprove of adult male homosexuality. Adults had to keep their homosexual relations secret. Dahomeans had a well-organised tradition of "best-friendships," and since the partners could not testify against each other, (and as it was well-known that best friendships were often based on youthful homosexual attachments), best friendships were the perfect vehicle for maintaining adult homosexual relationships. Some secondary sources say that mutual masturbation was the only acceptable form of homosexual relationships in Dahomey. This is a misreading of the original sources. Mutual masturbation was the only acceptable form of masturbation, solitary masturbation being regarded as a sign of idiocy. But it was only one of the acceptable forms of youthful homosexuality. Female homosexuality was known to the earliest European visitors to Dahomey, several of whom supposed the Dahomey women to be the mythical Amazons.

Mutual masturbation, however, is another theme of homosexuality. Colin Turnbull has written several popular books about Africa. Some mention homosexuality explicitly and others do not. Most of his books are best read between the lines. One of his books is about a people he called the Ik, who are better known as Teso, and the breakdown of their society in the face of famine. He records this scene: "On one occasion I saw two youths on a ridge high up on Kalimon masturbating each other. It showed some degree of conviviality but not much, for there was no affection in their mutuality; each was looking in a different direction, looking for food; they were not, so far as I knew, even friends, and were no more frequently seen with each other than with anyone else . . ." Apparently Turnbull has missed the point. He wishes to show how hungry the Ik are and that the quest for food has undermined every social value. He thinks the young men are looking around for food, even as they jerk each other off, because hunger has displaced whatever regard they might have had for each other and even whatever enjoyment they might have derived from what they were doing. In fact, what Turnbull saw was one of the traditional forms of African homosexuality. C.A. Tripp explains:
". . . In several African tribes, it is all right for two men to masturbate each other in broad daylight, even while not in particular secluded, provided they say not a word and are careful to avoid eye-to-eye contact during sex . . ."
(To be continued)

Author's NoteThe Truth About Homosexuality in Africa is in five parts on this blog. Use the Search function or navigate by other means to access all five. Thanks

Part 1
Part 2

Part 4 
Part 5

The Truth About Homosexuality in Africa (part 2)

A very exceptional case was provided by the Nkund¢, a Mongo people of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their tradition of homosexuality among men included the requirement that the younger men assume the top position. That tradition had died out by the time it was reported, but had been replaced by several others. One replacement was a game called yembankongo wherein younger boys pretend to be monkeys. Another replacement was the game of "playing parents," which is very commonly reported. Among the youngest children the game is merely imitative of adult sexual positions, but as the young people mature the game becomes perfectly conscious sex. And in the game not much attention is paid to whether the partners are of the same or opposite sexes. Among the older boys, when they lay together, one would say to the other, "This is what I do to your sister." The missionary who made this report then suggests that the boys are not really doing anything homosexual because they say that stuff about each other's sisters. Female homosexuality was well known and was called ya¡kya bons ngo which can be translated very roughly as "bumping pussies." The missionary writes, "Homosexuality has been known among the Nkund¢ since time immemorial, among men as well as women." But then he tries to explain it away, saying it is difficult for the young people to get married (Hulstaert). This kind of doublethink is found over and over in the literature whether the writers are missionaries, colonialists, historians, or anthropologists. A tradition is something that the average person in society knows about and reports. Since the average person in any society is non-gay, traditions of homosexuality are filtered through non-gay perceptions. Then when the traditions are reported, they are filtered again through the prejudices of the anthropologist or the colonial civil servant or whoever. Finally, before the report is printed, it is often edited or censored. Sometimes we end up with a few sentences in bad Latin, if we are lucky. Often we find only a reference to "unspeakable acts" or "reprehensible scenes." We have a good idea what is meant. But the details are lost. Then we may find a later report that is more candid. We just have to suppose that the later report explains what the "unspeakable acts" were.

Here, however, is an example in which the earlier investigator gave the better account. The Fang live in the forest on the border between Gabon and Cameroon. The Fang were so called Bantus who replaced the original Pygmy inhabitants of this area three or four hundred years ago. One writer (Trezenem) reported: "Neither homosexuality or bestiality have ever been recorded, to our knowledge, among the Fang." That writer did his fieldwork around 1935. Writers who treat homosexuality and bestiality in the same sentence do not merit our trust. The Fang deserve a closer look. Sure enough, a writer who did his fieldwork around 1905 recorded traditions of homosexuality among the Fang. First Gunther Tessmann gives the usual reports of younger people playing parents. He reports a game played by older boys among the neighbouring Pangwe: one boy plays the wife of another and presents the play-husband with a mud pie. If the husband accepts, he pretends to eat the mud pie. They do not, however, pretend to have sex, but have sex in fact. Adult Fang excuse this sort of thing by saying the children do not know what they are doing and that children have no sense of shame. Adult Fang imply that such things never happen between adults. Tessmann then writes: We have spoken of homosexual relations among 'children.' In adults such conduct is regarded as something immoral and unnatural, simply as unheard of. In reality, however, it is frequently 'heard of' that young people carry on homosexual relations with each other and even of older people who take boys, who, as is well known, 'have neither understanding nor shame'. And they readily console them by saying: [we are playing a game]. The children are excused with the well-known assertion, which in its deeper sense can rarely be defended: [they don't know what they are doing]. Adults are excused with the corresponding assertions: [he has the heart of boys], which is, of course, by no means flattering to them.

Publicly, of course, homosexuals are treated with the greatest contempt, and they were therefore forced, as a matter of course, to cast about for a protective covering to shield themselves from the attacks of those who are different, just as a porcupine is protected by its covering of quills, a covering on which the attackers would cut their mouths and their caustic tongues. Such a covering was supplied by medicine, it was said that homosexuality is 'wealth medicine.'

Well, do you think that homosexuality among the Fang had completely disappeared by the Thirties, so that the writer who denied it was being completely honest? Or do you think it more likely that he was not sufficiently interested to ask the right questions of the right people. Certainly he made no great effort to survey the literature on the point. Clearly the Fang are as capable of being hypocritical as anyone. Perhaps by the Thirties they had learned to be more careful about what they said to Europeans. The Fang were not proud of their traditions of homosexuality. Adult male homosexuality was not generally accepted by the Fang. Fang homosexuals had to have a cover story. They told the other Fang: we are not really homosexual; we are just making money. Perhaps the Fang, as much as any of us, realised it was just an excuse, but at least it was an acceptable excuse. This is an example of a homosexual tradition and also an example of a tradition that not everyone in society thinks well of. According to Fang belief, the bottom man has the wealth medicine and the top man acquires it. Tessmann writes: "In actual fact it might turn out the effect of the medicine consists in the mutual support the 'friends' render each other, based chiefly on the consciousness of common guilt and the endeavour not to let this guilt be known." The wealth medicine is called bian nkuma which is generally used as an euphemism for anal sex between men. There is also a down side to this. Fang think homosexuality causes diseases such as leprosy and yaws.

The Fang are great story tellers and you are likely to find some of their stories in any anthology of African folktales. One of the stories involves four suitors who arrive at Bongo's house to court his beautiful daughter. The suitors were Schok I, Schok II, Schok III, and Schok IV. The daughter liked Schok IV. The mother liked Schok III. The brother liked Schok II. Bongo, the father, liked Schok I. Night fell and when they laid down, Schok IV laid with the daughter, Schok III laid with the mother, Schok II laid with the brother, and Schok I laid with Bongo. Schok IV tried to get romantic with the daughter, but since they were all in the same hut, the others made remarks to discourage him. Instead, he and the daughter planned to run away together, and the next day that is what they did. When it became apparent what had happened, Schok III flew into a rage, killed the mother, and fled. But Schok II decided to stay with the brother and be the brother's lover. Bongo wanted to make it up to Schok I, so he offered Schok I money and a wife. But Schok I refused, saying: "No, I don't want it. Rather, let it be that we shall always be together; when you urinate I shall urinate; when you defecate, I shall defecate; when you sleep, I shall also sleep with you in the same bed." Those Fang! Such romantics! Anyway, that is the Fang pledge of eternal love. So Schok I stayed with Bongo and was his lover. They became quite rich. But this is, after all, a Fang story, and the Fang do not approve of homosexuality, so eventually one of the lovers died of leprosy and the other died of yaws, while the Schok who had murdered the mother got away scot-free. In stories, disease awaits all those whom the Fang consider to be sexual deviants, such as anyone who has sex in the daytime. (To be continued)

Author's Note: The Truth About Homosexuality in Africa is in five parts on this blog. Use the Search function or navigate by other means to access all five. Thanks

Friday, 13 March 2009

Its Quits

We've called it quits. It was going to happen sooner or later. Last Wednesday I think it was, M's football team Chelsea, (by this I mean M is a fanatical supporter), played an evening UEFA game against Juventus. M was supposed to get in touch after the match. "It'll be really late", I was told. And so, trustingly I waited up, even though I had an early start the next day. But my wait was in vain. Early in the morning Thursday, my phone wakes me up. It's M apologising for last night, although the excuse proffered was worse than what one would call a cock and bull story. Not being in the mood to revert to the way things were before...I suspect that M is trying to force it down my throat that it had to be that way or nothing...I refuse to budge. I had ended the relationship previously, but M had come pleading. Now its back to where we were before, and I was having none of that. Then M asks me if we are going ahead or not, and I maintain that if the relationship is not making me happy, which it hasn't for a while now, and there appears to be no attempt to repair the damage, indeed things were actually getting worse, then perhaps its better if we stay as just friends. To which M shrugged and said what was offered to me was the best there was on offer, and I replied that maybe the best wasn't good enough. And so it ended in an un-acrimonious way as possible. There is a sense of loss, but not much. I reiterate what I said in my earlier post on this. I quite like the idea that I am free again and can do whatever I want, whenever I want. The most important person in my life for the time being is me, and I am relishing every moment.

The Truth About Homosexuality in Africa (part 1)

The common belief among Africans is that homosexuality is primarily a story of seduction by Europeans and/or Americans, in which the Africans acquiesced out of fear or from a desire for money. . . But we know that this is a lie, and this is an attempt to shed some light on our true history, that which our colonial masters had ensured was kept hidden from us. In the black/white relationships that did develop into homosexual unions, the white partner appears to have been the aggressor. No doubt the abuse of African people by European/American people has included sexual abuse. What is untrue, the lie, is that such abuse was the origin of African homosexuality.

There are two false assumptions in anthropology. The first false assumption is that savage or primitive people know nothing about homosexuality; the second false assumption is that Africans were savage or primitive. Where there was clear and indisputable evidence of African homosexuality, anthropologists had to invent excuses in order to save these false assumptions, and that is what they did.

The first excuse was that Africans learned homosexuality from the Arabs. Then the excuse was that Africans learned homosexuality by hustling Europeans. Anthropologists said homosexuality was only a corruption practiced by the overly rich chiefs. Then they said that poor people practiced homosexuality because the overly rich chiefs had monopolised all of the women in harems. They said it was only youthful high spirits: the African was not really homosexual; he was just real drunk last night. Every excuse you are likely to hear from a deep closet case was used by Euro-American academics in the attempt to explain away the facts. The facts were: homosexuality was found in almost every major African ethnic group that we know of, through all of the history we know of. Few of the societies of Africa could be called savage or primitive, but all over the world, those people who might fairly be called savage or primitive are perfectly familiar with homosexuality. Homosexuality is not the white man's way. It is the way of gay people of all colours and nations, of all places and times.

African Homosexuality

One common mistake made, is that of confusing the popularity of homosexual activity with what gay people are doing and how they are treated. In Azandeland, in modern day northern Congo and the Central African Republic, most men, or at least very many men, had homosexual affairs. However, most men were still expected to marry women, father children, and so forth. The Azande knew very well that some men preferred to have sex with other men. Although every man was expected to marry a women, Azande customs provided a man with an excuse to have sex with another man whenever he wanted, throughout life. Marriage between warriors and recruits was only a part of the Azande accommodation to male homosexuality. The Azande were not a liberal people. They were the rare example of a society that punished female homosexuality while imposing no penalty on males. Because it was thought fatal to any man who witnessed it, female homosexuality could, in theory, entail the death penalty. But in fact female homosexuality was common and the public knew about it. In an Azande folktale two women conspire to fool a husband in order to get together. The most common sexual activity between men was intercourse between the thighs. This sort of adaptation is common in cultures where homosexual affairs become fashionable among non-gay men. We do not know what the gay, or preferentially homosexual Azande did. We only know the Azande knew there were such men.

In societies where homosexuality becomes popular across the board, it is usual to find that older men choose unmarried young men and that the older men assume the role of top in these relationships. So it is perhaps instructive to look at two groups in Africa that went counter to that tendency. A good example of an African people with a tradition of male homosexuality between lovers of the same age was the Nyakyusa who lived north of Lake Malawi (aka Lake Nyasa). However important the family was in Africa, you cannot form strong states and vast empires such as Africa had, on the basis of family alone. Intermarriage helps some. But to build a strong state you must have forces that run across family lines, that hold the various families together, and that keep feuds and rivalries from tearing society apart. Various African societies have used various institutions to paste society together. There might be secret societies, like fraternities and sororities, especially in West Africa. There might be trade organisations or craft guilds. There may be dance associations or religious institutions. Very commonly, people are organised in age groups. The Nyakyusa of what is now southwestern Tanzania and northern Zambia carried organisation by age group to the extreme. They organised their villages by age group. One of the first things young Nyakyusa boys did, to show they were becoming responsible, was to herd cattle. Generally a boy and his best friend would herd their families' cattle together. Pasturing the cattle gave the boys plenty of time to play around. And, of course, what they did was to have sex. They danced together, engaged in mutual masturbation, anal sex, and intercourse between the thighs.

Oral sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual, was not very popular in traditional African societies. Most of them thought it was very bad. Oral sex or rape were considered serious crimes which might entail a cattle fine. All of the other things the boys did might get them a tongue lashing or a minor whipping if they were caught by the adults. But everyone knew what was going on and no serious attempt was made to stop the boys. At a fairly young age Nyakyusa boys had to move out of their fathers' homes. At first they were likely to sleep with other boys in abandoned huts or other bachelors' quarters in their fathers' villages. Boys slept together, and naturally had sex with each other at night. So long as force was not used, no crime was reckoned to have occurred when the boys had sex. For the boys, homosexuality was considered a perfectly normal, if not completely desirable, sexual outlet that required no explanation, supernatural or otherwise.
Eventually boys of the same age, perhaps from several parent villages, got together and began to form a village of their own. At first this was a boys' village. The girls remained in the parent villages until the boys reached a marriageable age. In a sense, Nyakyusa villages have a life cycle from boyhood through manhood to old age. A village is child to some other villages, parent to some villages, and brother to yet others.

Now, what do I mean by boys? In Africa you are a child until you become a boy. You remain a boy until you of an age to have a house, a female wife, and children of your own. Nyakyusa began having homosexual relations at 10 to 14 years of age. They seldom married before they were 25. So for ten to fifteen years of the most sexually active part of life, Nyakyusa men practiced homosexuality. Once they got married to women, and virtually all of them did, Nyakyusa men were supposed to stop having homosexual relations. Nonetheless, a few cases of relations between men and boys came to light. This was punishable by a cattle fine. It is said, however, that the men were not afraid of the fine, but of the shame of being caught in activity associated with witchcraft. In any event, Nyakyusa men did not believe it sacrificed their masculinity to perform anal sex in either position. They did not believe they were castrated in the middle of their burning skulls just because they had sex with their friends. Certainly the Nyakyusa public thought it peculiar if a man with a wife at home preferred to have sex with a man or boy, but that only raised questions of witchcraft, not questions of manhood. (To be continued. References will be provided on completion).

Author's NoteThe Truth About Homosexuality in Africa is in five parts on this blog. Click on the links below to see all five. Thanks.

The Truth About Homosexuality in Africa (Part 2)
The Truth About Homosexuality in Africa (Part 3)
The Truth About Homosexuality in Africa (Part 4)
The Truth About Homosexuality in Africa (Part 5) 

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Public Hearing of Same Gender Bill Today

Nigerian gay rights activists have told the country's lawmakers that a new bill to outlaw same sex marriage would lead to widespread human rights abuses. The new law would mean prison sentences for gay people who live together, and anyone who "aids and abets" them. The plea by activists was made to a public committee of the National Assembly which is discussing the bill. It is already illegal to have gay sex in Nigeria but the new law would extend police powers to arrest suspects. "This bill is not necessary, we see no reason why people should be criminalised," Rashidi Williams, 23, of the Queer Alliance of Nigeria told the committee. "I did not choose to be gay. It is trial enough to live in this country, we should not create more laws to make us suffer," he said. (In the photo on the left is Rashid Williams, a gay rights activist addressing the National Assembly).

'Fabric of society'

Under the new law anyone who has "entered into a same gender marriage contract" would be liable to be jailed for three years. The bill defines a same sex marriage as gay people living together. Anyone who "witnesses, abets and aids the solemnization" of a same gender marriage would face five years in prison, or a fine. Activists say the law does not make sense because anyone who aids and abets people to live together would face a tougher sentence than the couple concerned. The law would make it easier for the police to arrest suspects, and criminalise anyone working in a human rights organisation that dealt with gay rights, they say.
Church groups spoke in favour of the bill, saying that gay marriage risked "tearing the fabric of society". "In the Bible it says homosexuals are criminals," Pius Akubo of the Daughters of Sarah church told lawmakers. Rev Patrick Alumake told the National Assembly the top leadership of the Catholic church in Nigeria supported the bill wholeheartedly. "There are wild, weird, ways of life that are affecting our own culture very negatively, we have people who either by way of the media or travelling around the world have allowed new ideas which are harmful to our nation and our belief," he said. The bill's sponsor, House of Representatives member Mayor Eze, said the bill was necessary to protect the family. "If you are not careful and allow the family institution to break down, and the consequences will be on all of us," he said.


Children wearing T-shirts that said "Same sex marriage is unnatural and unAfrican", and "same sex marriage is an abomination" stood in the aisles of the committee room. Ekaette Ettang, of the Daughters of Sarah church who provided the T-shirts, denied they were inciting hatred against homosexuals. "We don't hate gay people, but this is the public opinion and we have the right to speak," she said. Activists say gay people in Nigeria face violence from their families and neighbours every day. Two years ago, a woman went into hiding in the northern Kano State after reports that she had organised a wedding for four women - which she strongly denied. Also that year 18 men were arrested in the northern city of Bauchi and accused of participating in a "gay wedding". A Sharia court dismissed the charges and they were charged with the lesser offence of vagrancy.