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

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank You for this!