Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bisexual Africa

http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/africa_pre.html

Stephen O. Murray , at glbtq.com, has written about sex in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Murray explains that Africa is, like the rest of the World, bisexual.

Murray points out that most of what we know about traditional African societies was written in the last decade of the nineteenth century or later.

There are reports of homosexuality across every region of the continent.

The colonial era reports are reviewed in Murray and Roscoe's 'Boy-Wives and Female Husbands'.

A few examples:

In the central African Zande culture, before European conquest, it was regarded "as very sensible for a man to sleep with boys when women are not available or are taboo."

English anthropologist E. E. Evans-Pritchard was told that some Azande men had sex with boys "just because they like them."

The adult males paid the families of boy wives, just as they paid for female brides. The two slept together at night, "the husband satisfying his desires between the boy's thighs. When the boy grew up he joined the company and took a boy-wife in his turn. It was the duty of the husband to give his boy-wife a spear and a shield when he became a warrior. He then took a new boy-wife."

One commander, Ganga, told Evans-Pritchard that there were some men who, although they had female wives, still married boys. "When a war broke out, they took their boys with them...
If another man had relations with his boy, the husband could sue the interloper in court for adultery."

The South African Thonga provide another particularly well-documented instance of a boy-wife role.

A number of southern and western African societies also had female husbands, though whether these husbands had sexual relations with their wives is unclear in what has been written.

Gender-crossing homosexuality has been discussed as common in the (Nigerian) Hausa bori cult (and in Afro-Brazilian offshoots of west African spirit-possession religion).

Among the Maale of southern Ethiopia, some males crossed over to feminine roles. Called ashtime, these (biological) males dressed as women, performed female tasks, cared for their own houses, and apparently had sexual relations with men, according to Donald Donham.

One gave Donham a clear statement of the "third gender" conception: "The Divinity created me wobo, crooked. If I had been a man, I could have taken a wife and begotten children. If I had been a woman, I could have married and borne children. But I am wobo; I can do neither."

Among Swahili-speakers on the Kenya coast, particularly in the port of Mombasa, mashoga are transgendered prostitutes who have all the liberties of men and are also welcome in many contexts in which men are prohibited.

The paid partner usually takes the receptive role during intercourse, but it is likely that his inferiority derives from the fact that he is paid to provide what is asked for, rather than from his undertaking a particular sexual role. The one who pays is called the basha (derived from "pasha," a high-ranking official and the local term for the king in packs of playing cards).

Among the Fon, the predominant people in Dahomey (now Benin), Melville Herskovits in the 1930s reported that, after the age at which boys and girls may play together, "the sex drive finds satisfaction in close friendship between boys in the same group . . . . A boy may take the other 'as a woman,' this being called gaglgo, homosexuality. Sometimes an affair of this sort persists during the entire life of the pair".

Most of the reports of homosexual relations not involving differences in age or gender status involved young, unmarried men's sexual relationships with each other.

Kurt Falk wrote about an especially intimate bond of association, soregus, among the southeastern African Naman that included sex both between men and between women (with mutual masturbation the most common form of sex, but also males taking turns at anal penetrations and females using dildoes on each other).

An "exceptionally reliable" Nykakyusa (a people living around what is now the Tanzania/Zimbabwe border) reported to Monica Wilson in the early 1930s that male friends, who live in villages of age-mates when not out herding cattle, generally sleep together.

The Nykakyusa accepted that male friends who danced together would have sexual relations.

"Even if people see them in flagrante delicto, they say it is adolescence (lukulilo), all children are like that: they say that sleeping together and dancing is also adolescence," according to Wilson's elder. He reported that interfemoral intercourse is "what boys mostly do" and also reported anal and oral sex, ("some, during intercourse, work[ing] in the mouth of their friend, and hav[ing] an orgasm").

An Ovimbundu (in Angola) informant, told an ethnographer, "There are men who want men, and women who want women. . . . A woman has been known to make an artificial penis for use with another woman."

Among the Tswana (in addition to homosexuality among the men laboring in the mines), it was reported that back home "lesbian practices are apparently fairly common among the older girls and young women, without being regarded in any way reprehensible." Use of artificial penises was also reported among the Ila and Naman tribes of South Africa.

There are reports of age-differentiated roles in Lesotho. Relationships are initiated voluntarily by one girl who takes a liking to another and simply asks her to be her mummy or her baby, depending on their relative age, according to Judith Gay.

"The most frequently given reason for initiating a particular relationship was that one girl felt attracted to the other by her looks, her clothes, or her actions. . . . Sexual intimacy is an important part of these relationships." Over time, a Sotho may undertake both roles (with different partners) or play the same role with different partners.

Murray concludes:

With reports from hundreds of sub-Saharan African locales of male-male sexual relations and from about fifty of female-female sexual relations, it is clear that same-sex sexual relations existed in traditional African societies, though varying in forms and in the degree of public acceptance.

Much of this same-sex activity was situational or premarital, though there were long-term relationships, too.

The special Christian opposition toward homosexuality was carried to Africa by Europeans and stimulated denials that "the sin not named among Christians" existed among "unspoiled" Africans.


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