Fanny-Ann Eddy (pictured above)was a Sierra Leonean lesbian & gay rights activist who was brutally raped & murdered after bigots bayed for her blood. Her story is similar to that of other African gay rights activists like Eric Lembembe (Cameroon) who was murdered after his feet were broken & his arms & feet burnt & David Kato (Uganda) who was bludgeoned to death with a hammer. Across the continent, LGBTs are being assaulted- a lesbian was raped to death with a toilet brush in South Africa & a group of gays & lesbians were assaulted by vigilante youth in Ghana. Meanwhile, countries like Ghana & several African countries continue to criminalize gay sex while others like Nigeria & Uganda are passing laws to impose draconian sentences on LGBTs. If the ‘anti-gay’ bills in Nigeria & Uganda become law, gays will not be able to access healthcare & family members will be obliged to ‘report’ their LGBT relatives. Yet, African politicians have not imposed draconian sentences on themselves for massive corruption & incompetence. African pastors condemn gays daily but never breathe a word about adultery, divorce & ‘fornication’ which their bible equally condemns. ‘Big men’ with scores of wives & mistresses sit in the front rows of these churches since the pastors turn a blind eye to polygamy (condemned by Jesus in the bible)- yet they persecute gays. It is my opinion that Africans are incited to commit these hate crimes by religious bigots & ignorant politicians who claim that homosexuality is ‘un-African’. In this concluding part of the blog post, I set out to debunk the argument that homosexuality is ‘un-African’.
I believe that our African ancestors had a superior understanding of fluidity of gender & sexuality. There were some customs that, though not specifically homosexual in nature , were so fashioned that homosexuals could use them to obtain emotional or even sexual satisfaction. Take the practice of ‘woman-marriage’ prevalent in some West African cultures & some ethnic groups of Sudan. This culture involved a special type of marriage where women could marry other women.
Scholars like Ife Amadiume have argued that there is nothing homosexual about these customs & they were only done solely to allow women bear children. However, other scholars have argued that this is a limited view because firstly, although there was a type of woman-marriage in which an infertile woman could marry another woman whose children would become hers; there was also another type of marriage where a wealthy women & women of significant social standing could take wives. Was the latter type of marriage also solely for children? & if our ancestors entered into heterosexual marriages for several reasons including childbearing, security & to satisfy their emotional & sexual desires; why assume that women in such societies (including the queer ones) didn’t enter into women marriages for diverse reasons including sexual & emotional fulfilment? How would one know what happened behind closed doors when the couple in a woman-marriage retired to bed?
Coming home to Ghana, there’s the tradition among the Fantes where women can be kings & they take stool wives. Eg: the king of my dad’s hometown is a woman & she has stool wives. I’m not indicating that ALL female kings have sex with their stool wives but this is what I’m suggesting: in the long history of the Fantes, is it so preposterous to think that some of these female kings could have been lesbians & they could have found emotional satisfaction from their stool wives?
There are African gods who could be considered as inter-sex (both male & female). There are African gods who are male but dress as women & require their worshippers (male) to also dress as such. There are female African gods who have wives. All these things, in my opinion point to a group of people who accepted different forms of sexual orientation & didn’t stigmatize sexual minorities.
Because of the heterosexist bias of African researchers, I’ve not come across lots of serious studies by Africans on the issue of African sexuality & homosexuality (save for writings of a few bold researchers like Sylvia Tamale) so there’s so much to learn & so much information on this subject that we have not tapped due to our bigotry!
In saying these things, I am mindful of the fact that Africa isn’t monolithic & so I accept that it’s entirely possible that some African cultures embraced gays while others persecuted them. However, even if some African cultures persecuted gays, culture is never a good reason to discriminate against any group of people. We all know that in some of our African cultures, murdering twins & albinos, torturing widows, FGM & trokosi/ slavery were all permitted. However, today, we Africans have decided to discard such traditions since they are discriminatory. Why then do we still continue to abuse our LGBT brothers & sisters under the guise of ‘culture’?
The funniest thing though is that the people who protest loudest that homosexuality is ‘un-African’ are people like Rev. Prof. Martey who have benefited financially from a religion introduced into Ghana by Europeans who carted slaves away on a ship named “The Good Ship Jesus”. People like David Bahati of Uganda have the temerity to persecute LGBTs in the name of “culture’ while they sidestep African culture to wear European clothing (suits), eat rice imported from overseas & speak ‘the Queen’s English’.The hypocrisy is galling. Sorry bigots of Africa! Homosexuality is 100% African but your homophobia sure doesn’t seem African to me!
Marc Epprecht, Hungochani: The History of the Dissident Sexuality in Southern Africa, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Canada, 2004
Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe (Ed), Boy Wives and Female Husbands, Palgrave, New York, 1998
Ifi Amadiume, Male Daughters and Female Husbands, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 1987
E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Sexual Inversion among the Azande, American Anthropologist New Series, Vol. 72, No. 6, Dec. 1970, page 1429
William Eskridge, A History of Same Sex Marriage, 79 Va. L. Rev. 1419, 1993, page 1435
Melville J. Herskovits, A Note on ‘Woman Marriage’ in Dahomey, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 10, No. 3, July 1937