Sunday, 15 March 2009

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


Anonymous said...

I found your article by chance from a google search about homosexuality in Africa - I have to say I love it! Very interesting!! Going to read the other parts now :-)

Anengiyefa said...

Hi, I'm glad you like it..