Many people have implied over the recent eras that homosexuality was brought about in Africa through colonisation and westernisation of media but it is clear that homosexuality is no more ‘‘alien” to Africa than it is to any other part of the world. It predates colonialism.
Homosexuality is intricately interwoven into many African traditions, and, therefore, cannot be labeled as un-African. The “homosexuality is un-African” mantra negates everything that is African history and tradition. It is believed that same sex relations were not frowned upon and people had the freedom to switch genders at will. History is replete with examples and these include:
- In the late 1640s, a Dutch military attaché documented Nzinga, a warrior woman in the Ndongo kingdom of the Mbundu, who ruled as ‘‘king” rather than ‘‘queen”, dressed as a man and surrounded herself with a harem of young men who dressed as women and who were her ‘‘wives”. Could that be a clear manifestation of early transgenderism and transvestitism in Africa?
- Archaeological findings in form of cave paintings of the San people near Guruve in Zimbabwe suggest that same sex sexual relations date back to the time of Bushmen as naked men having sexual relations was depicted.
- Among the early Zande warriors found in Congo and Sudan, homosexual relations was believed to be commonplace. The warriors were said to marry younger men who in turn performs the duties of a wife until he is trained to become a warrior. He too marries a younger man and the circle continues. This tradition was not left alone for the warriors; as the prince was also believed to have a page boy who satisfies his sexual desires. At the demise of the prince, the page boy is killed and buried with him.
- The rain queen Modjadji of Balobedu peoples found in southern Africa is believed to be homosexual in her relations as she has ‘many wives’. Often times, families and tribes give out their daughters to the rain queen to pledge their allegiance and pray for her benevolence. She is believed to have mystical powers which helps her control the sky and its elements. The only male sexual relations she is to have is with close relatives and it is for the sole purpose of procreation.
- Murray and Roscoe documented in their book, Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands that the Bafia people in Cameroon, saw homosexuality among young men as a normal resort to avoiding impregnating young girls during puberty. They found that boys had sex with boys as a precautionary measure for fear of impregnating girls before full maturity.
- In the Iteso communities, based in northwest Kenya and Uganda, same-sex relations existed amongst men who behaved as and were socially accepted as women. Same-sex practises were also recorded among the Banyoro and the Langi. In pre-colonial Benin, homosexuality was seen as a phase that boys passed through and grew out of.
- There were practises of female-female marriages amongst the Nandi and the Kisii of Kenya, as well as the Igbo of Nigeria, the Nuer of Sudan and the Kuria of Tanzania. Among Cape Bantu, lesbianism was ascribed to women who were in the process of becoming chief diviners, known as isanuses.
- The Bantu speaking farmers of Gabon and Cameroun were also not left out as man to man sexual relations was believed to transmit wealth between them. The Nupe’s from Nigeria were not left out as they believed homosexual relations led to rearmament.
- In Ancient Egypt there is the case of two high officials, Nyankh-Khnum and Khnum-hotep. Both men lived and served under pharaoh Niuserre during the 5th Dynasty (c. 2494–2345 BC). Nyankh-Khnum and Khnum-hotep each had families of their own with children and wives, but when they died their families apparently decided to bury them together in one and the same mastaba tomb. In this mastaba, several paintings depict both men embracing each other and touching their faces nose-on-nose. These depictions leave plenty of room for speculation, because in Ancient Egypt the nose-on-nose touching normally represented a kiss.
- In the former Kingdom of Dahomey, women could be soldiers and older women would sometimes marry younger women
- In the early 17th century in present-day Angola, Portuguese priests Gaspar Azevereduc and Antonius Sequerius encountered men who spoke, sat and dressed like women, and who entered into marriage with men. Such marriages were ‘‘honored and even prized”.
- Similarly in Uganda, amongst the Nilotico Lango, men who assumed ‘‘alternative gender status” were known as mukodo dako. They were treated as women and were permitted to marry other men.
- In Ethiopia Bieber (1909) encountered uranism among the Semitic Harari people and noted that “sodomy is not foreign to the Harari. Albeit not as commonly, it also occurs among the Galla [Oromo] and Somal[i].” He also noted mutual masturbation by both sexes and all ages for all three peoples, and specified that among the Harari.