Saturday, 31 October 2009

Homosexuality (A brief cross-cultural survey) 3

Cultures with Males in non-masculine roles
Tanala and Bara, Madagascar, 1920s? (Linton. HRAF FY8 TANALA 1:LINTON 298, 299.)Men in feminised roles are known as sarombavy. They wear women's costumes and dress their hair as women do and practice women's occupations. They were not supposed to have supernatural powers nor to be especially adept as medicine men, but they might be medicine men if they wished. Among the Bara professional male dancers were often homosexual, but one could not be a dancer and a sarombavy simultaneously because dancers had to be in the male role. Among the Tanala sarombavy were said to exhibit female characteristics from birth, but among the Bara sometimes men, especial impotent men, might adopt the role later in life, and sarombavy also included true hermaphrodites.
Zuni, America, to present. (Parsons. Stevenson.)Native name for the feminised role is Lhamana which refers to the peacemaking Kachina spirit Ko`lhamana. In ritual dances Lhamana dance back and forth between men's and women's lines, symbolizing their intermediate role. Zuni joke that Lhamana have a special ability to attract young men. Men in the male role may marry Lhamanas.
Zapotec, Oaxaca Mexico, to present. (Chi¤as.)Berdache role, called ira'muxe, coexists with serial bisexuality. Berdache dress is more masculine than feminine in native costume, but berdaches may adopt feminine European dress. Berdaches do not have special religious roles and participate as men in religious rituals. Men in the male role may marry berdaches, but usually berdaches are not first wives. Berdaches are considered good step-mothers and may be married by widowers.
Hupa, N America, to present. (Williams, W. L. here and there.)A Hupa berdache recalls knowing he was different from an early age and it was known to his grandmother that he would "become a woman." The public thought his male partners were insertive in having sex with him, but this was not always the case. He considered his role on the reservation somewhat androgynous. When he left the reservation he passed for a woman in the dominant culture, but eventually was more comfortable identifying himself as a gay man.
Navajo, United StatesThe native name of the role is nadle, which means changing ones. The term is also applied to biological hermaphrodites.
Plateau Tonga, N Zimbabwe, circa 1900? (Smith and Dale, v. I, p. 373; v. II, p. 74.)The native name for the role is mwaami, which means a prophet. One case is cited of a man in female attire doing woman's work. Unstated whether the mwaami had sex with men, but strongly implied that he did not have sex with women. Pederasty said not to be rare, but abhorred for fear of male pregnancy.
Lango, Iteso, and Karamojan peoples of Uganda, circa 1915. (Driberg. pp. 209-210 and notes 1 & 2, pp. 209-210.)Called Jok manywala (god begat me) and other more or less complimentary terms, some men take the role of women in all regards, including in some cases simulating menstruation. Such men were said to number about 50 of a population of 17,000. Men in the male roles could take men in the female role as wives. Otherwise, sexual relationships between men in the male role were attributed to witchcraft and were punishable by death. Men "of hermaphroditic instinct" comparable to jok manywala were said to be very numerous among the neighboring Iteso and Karamojan.
Gisu aka (ba)Masaba, Uganda, W slope of Mt. Elgon, 1953-1955. (La Fontaine. pp. 34, 60-61.)BaYazi is the native term for men in the female role. Although ridiculed, such men were not regarded as revolting. BaYazi refuse to concede in any way that they are not women. At the time of the work BuYazi (the condition) was associated with homosexuality, but this was said not to have been the case in the past. Female roles might be adopted at any age, but usually before circumcision. Otherwise male homosexuality might be punished by beating the participants to death on the spot as it was taken as an indication of witchcraft.
Otoro, Nuba Mountains, Sudan (Nadel: 1953)Homosexual men were allowed to adopt the roles of women. This was not associated with their becoming miyang (medical experts).
Heiban (for comparison to the Gisu), Nuba Mountains, Sudan (Nadel: 1953)Homosexuals not afforded the opportunity to adopt female roles; regarded simply as abnormal. Homosexuality not associated with kumang (medical experts).
Pima, SW United States. (Hill.)The native name wi-kovat means like a girl. The occurrence of men in the female role is blamed on the witchcraft of the neighbouring Papapagos who have a berdache tradition.
Korong and Mesakin, Nuba Mountains, Sudan (Nadel: 1952)The word for male homosexual is identical to that for coward or weakling. In both groups male homosexuals are said invariably to become transvestites, but those regarded as cowards or weaklings are often also forced into to this role. A case of witchcraft by one such person is noted, but no special propensity for witchcraft is associated with the transvestite group.
KiMbundu, Angola. (Hambly. p. 81.)A case of a man who dresses as a woman and pounds corn with women. He was beaten by his relatives but did not reform. The medicine man sometimes dresses as a woman. Homosexuality is known to occur but is regarded as very bad.
Nyakyusa, SE Africa, 1934-1938. (Wilson. HRAF FN17 NGONDE 1:WILSON E-5 1951, 197.)An idiosyncratic report of a hermit in the hills who dressed as a woman but who was not known to have sex with persons of either sex. Nyakyusa traditions are of the serial bisexual type.
Omaha, C United States, to present. (de Tonti. Williams, W.L. here and there. Dorsey.)The berdache role is called mexoga (instructed by the moon). On his vision quest a young male is offered a man's weapons on the one hand and a woman's pack strap on the other hand by the sacred Moon Being. If the young male grasps the strap, perhaps inadvertently as the Moon Being switches hands quickly, the young male is certain to become a mexoga. A mexoga acts as a go-between for men and women, as for example in a marital dispute. The mexoga is considered neither a man nor a woman. But the mexoga can join a warrior society and thus participate in dances as a male. Mexoga dress is masculine with feminine ornaments, but would probably seem entirely masculine to an outside observer. Mexoga marry men in the male role. Modern Omaha recognise mexoga as the same as gay.

1 comment:

laBiscuitnapper said...

You know, I really appreciate these posts because it's nice to have so much information distilled in one clear table! I'm one of those horrible odinani reconstructionist types, so I'm always on the lookout for anthropological data about pre-colonial Igbo culture, especially as I'm currently writing a low fantasy novel set in a 'renaissance' age culture based on the Igbo. It'll probably not end up being mentioned much, but this sort of background detail is so important for world building etc, not least because I want to show a pre colonial culture that works as much because of certain aspects modern Africans might find [wrongly] abhorrent as it does in spite of them - as it is with so much about society and it's culture.

More importantly, though, this sort of information is vital to do away with those 'homosexuality==white man's corruption' myths that come up in conversations about homosexuality in Africa. It's just goes to show that gay culture in the 'third world' is and was just as complex and varied as gay culture in the western world.