Today’s post is quite an interesting one. It brought upon due to the recent anti-homosexual debate going on in neighbouring Uganda. Well not exactly because I really couldn’t care what laws they enact across the border but the enraging debate online did reach my attention due to Joliea who I follow on twitter.
Now what some, well actually most, people are saying online is that homosexuality is a completely un-African concept being imported from abroad to corrupt our “traditional” African values. However on one particular comment caught my attention in all the clutter of hate and intolerance on a pro-homosexuality article on a Ugandan blog. It went somehow like this, from memory: It shocks me how intolerant Ugandan’s are of people of different diverse backgrounds. This argument that homosexuality is a foreign import trying to corrupt our African’s values is an extremely ludicrous and unfound accusation. It shows just how brainwashed we African’s really are. That some are calling homosexuality a form of neocolonialism is stupid. Africa has always had homosexuals in it history. The fact is that this homophobia is actually part of our neocolonialism that stems from the imported religions that the colonisers brought with them. Of course it was more eloquently put than this (it caught my attention after all) but I hope you get the gist of what was being said.
So that particularly comment got me thinking, could that be true? Could homosexuality have existed before colonialism? Simply forgotten, and later condemned, because of colonialism? After all the writer seemed extremely knowledgeable and intelligent. So first I took to twitter and asked, quite incredulously I might add, if it could be really true that we had homosexuals in Africa before colonialism. Joliea replied that we did and I asked for examples she said the Kikuyu and the Baganda.
I won’t lie. I was amused at first and wanted to make a big joke about it on FB but thought better of it because it might be taken for tribalism. So I let it go and pushed it to the back of my head. But when I met my mum I asked her if she knew of homosexuality in the Kikuyu and she said,” Yeah, but its not what you think. Barren women could marry a wife so she could have kids that would grow up as hers”
After this I couldn’t really ignore it anymore so I did some research and googled. There was a lot of stuff but nothing very particular and until I stumbled upon a blog post by the Candid Tinman here that linked to this document by Stephen O. Murray called Homosexuality in “Traditional” Sub-Saharan Africa and Contemporary South Africa. In which he looked for any mentions of homosexuality and hermaphrodites in pre-colonial Africa. You can download and read the whole thing here but for this post I’ll concentrate on Kenya.
Kenya is mentioned about four times in the document and here they are:
1. Cross-gender homosexuality not tied to possession cults has been reported in a
number of East African societies. Needham (1973:109-27) described a religious leadership role called mugawe among the Meru of Kenya which includes wearing women’s clothes and hairstyle. Mugawe are frequently homosexual, and sometimes are married to a man. Bryk (1939:151, 1964:228) reported active (i.e., insertive) Kikuyu pederasts called onek. and also mentioned “homoerotic bachelors” among the pastoralist Nandi(Bryk (1933:152) also mentions a Nandi boy whose affair with a white farmer continued even after the Nandi married, so that he “shared his bed between wife and master.”) and Maragoli (Wanga)
2.Among Swahili-speakers on the Kenya coast, Shepherd (1978a: 133) reported, “In Mombasa, both male and female homosexuality is relatively common among Muslims; involving perhaps one in twenty-five adults.” Shepherd (1987: 240) with no data nor discussion of the basis for either the earlier estimate or its revision, raised the estimated rate to one in ten. In the first report emphasized, male homosexuality was confined to prostitution: Mombasa’s mashoga are passive male homosexuals offering their persons for money. They advertise themselves in bright tight male attire in public places, usually, but may, when mingling with women at weddings, don women’s leso cloths, make-up and jasmine posies. Mashoga have all the liberties of men and are also welcome in many20 contexts otherwise exclusive to women. (Shepherd 1978a: 133; emphasis added). Shepherd (1978b: 644) asserted that “though there are long-lasting relationships between homosexuals in Mombasa, most homosexual acts are fleeting, paid for in cash.” In a more recent analysis, Shepherd (1987:250) explained The Swahili [word] for a male homosexual is shoga, a word also used between women to mean ‘friend’. Homosexual relations in Mombasa are almost without exception between a younger, poorer partner and an older, richer one, whether their connection is for a brief act of prostitution or a more lengthy relationship. In the former case, there are fixed rates of payment, and in the latter, presents and perhaps full financial support for a while. But financial considerations are always involved and it is generally only the person who is paid who is called shoga. The older partner may have been a shoga himself in his youth, but is very likely to be successfully married to a woman as well as maintaining an interest in boys. Only if he is not married and has an apparently exclusive interest in homosexual contacts will he perhaps still be referred to as a shoga. The paid partner usually takes the passive role during intercourse, but I think it is true to say that his inferiority derives from the fact that he is paid to provide what is asked for, rather than for the [sexual] role he adopts…. The paying partner is usually known as the basha — the Pasha, the local term for the king in packs of playing cards.
3.Godfrey Wilson (1957:1) earlier reported that in Lamu, a Swahili town north of Mombasa, boys dressed as women, performed a striptease and then paired off with older men from the audience
4.Laurance (1957: 107) asserted that among the Iteso, people of hermaphroditic instincts are very numerous…. The men are imporent and have the insticts of women and become women to all intents and purposes; their voices are feminine and their manner of walking and of speech is feminine. They shave their heads like a woman and wear women’s ornaments and clothing. They do women’s work and take women’s names,” adding that “I myself know of no cases in which they live with men as a ‘wife,’” but noting that in Serere prison one was kept with the women because “the male prisoners would assault him were he imporisoned in the men’s cell.”
5.In arguing against a third sex or gender conception in Oman or Mombasa, Shepherd (1978a: 133) wrote, “Lesbians [in Mombasa] are known as wasaga (grinders)…. The dominant partner… is not seen as a man.” She had earlier claimed, on the basis of an unmentioned sample of wasagas (Shepherd 1978a:134), that “there is almost always a dominant and subordinate economic relationship between them.” Shepherd (1987:254) elaborated, The word in Swahili glossed as ‘lesbian’ is msagaji (plural wasagaji) – ‘a grinder.’ The verb kusaga (to grind) is commonly used for the grinding of grain between two millstones. . . The upper and lower millstones are known as mwana and mama respectively: child and mother.
So from all this you can tell that right here in Kenya has always existed. It was accepted, at times looked at as stupid, pointless(because there could be no children) and it was even laughed at but rarely was it frowned upon and it was certainly not prosecuted.
I’m not an activist. I was just curious, did some research and came up with this. I like to believe that I’m an open person and this find has definitely opened my mind further. I personally have never had a problem with homosexuals however, I can’t stomach man on man action so kindly don’t do that in front of me. It gives me migraines. I hope this will serve as something that opens peoples minds and make they more accepting of homosexuality because I have a feeling its here to stay. Remember what makes life so much fun is our diversity. Food for thought before I leave; a recent study suggests some people are born homosexual. As always peace!