Happy Pride Month!

Members of LGBTQI Community in Ghana

Members of the LGBTQI Community in Ghana

It is June again and that means here in Hong Kong it is Pride month. Whenever this month rolls around we brace ourselves for the conversations that are going to be had within our communities, and in specific the African community. The argument that often heard when on this topic is that pride/ queerness/ homosexuality/ etc is ‘not African’.

We would like to think of this within a specific African context, that of Zimbabwe. Records of court cases pertaining to homosexual acts in Zimbabwe suggest a high level of tolerance towards homosexual acts as long as these acts were carried out in private. This deviates from the idea of openly expressing homosexuality as is advocated for by many of the LGBTQI communities today. Hence, though same sex sexual relations have always existed in Zimbabwean communities, the concept of an openly queer identity has not necessarily had the same prevalence (Epprecht, 2005). For the Shona and the Ndebele ethnic groups, who make up the majority of the Zimbabwean population marriage was traditionally used as a form of social stability (Chemhuru, 2012). The producing of children was valued as a form of wealth and to extend the lineage. In line with this, many examples of homosexuality in pre-colonial and colonial Zimbabwe involved subjects who still adhered to traditional notions of marriage despite them practicing homosexual sex (Epprecht, 1998).

This month we would like to think of queerness in the African community without demonizing it. We recognize that the majority of homophobic notions that are present in many African communities stem from the intolerance and rigidity that came through Christianity, Islam and colonization. We think it is important to have these discussions with that in mind, without imposing western notions of queerness on African communities. The above example was one of a society that did not openly celebrate queerness. Below we will give examples of embracing queerness in pre-colonial African societies:

Iteso same sex marriage

The Iteso people, a nilotic group found in eastern Uganda and western Kenya, embraced a form of same sex marriage amongst men. In this case marriages would be between a two men, one of which felt and acted like a woman, in terms of speech, dress and mannerisms. (Msibi, 2011)

Queerness in Language

Many African languages have always had non-derogatory terms for different forms of queerness. In some cases the meaning of these words have changed but their mere existence show that queerness has always been a part of African cultures.

  • Amongst the Shangaan of South Africa there is a word for the ‘Male-wife’

  • Amongst the Basotho erotic same sex relations were referred to as Motsolle which means special friend

  • In Senegal the term Gordigen was used to refer to homosexual men

Image by Denisse Ariana Perez
Source @mathew.blaise

Image by Denisse Ariana Perez
More Information of Mathew Blaise a Queer African Activist

More than anything, we hope that this pride month we are open to talking about other forms of being and ways of expressing sexuality. Moreover, it is time for us to realize that denying the existence of queerness in our communities has had fatal consequences for many of our siblings.

Reading Corner

For those of you who are interested, here is a book that you can read: She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak.
Other authors such as Akwaeke Emezi, Chinelo Okparanta, Tendai Huchu, to name a few, also tell stories of queerness on the African continent.

Learn More

Creatives Corner

The Hong Kong based South African artist, RVZR’s work is currently on display at the Aftermath Bar. The exhibition titled ‘Inner Workings’ will be up for the rest of the month. If you have the time and the capacity be sure to check it out!

Learn more

We have many exciting events coming up at the Africa Center and we would love to see you there.

Upcoming Events

Chemhuru, Munamato. 2012. “Rethinking The Legality Of Homosexuality In Zimbabwe: A Philosophical Perspective”.
International Journal Of Politics And Good Governance 3 (3): 0976-1195.
Epprecht, Marc. 2005. “Black Skin, ‘Cowboy’ Masculinity: A Genealogy Of Homophobia In The African Nationalist Movement In Zimbabwe To 1983”.
Culture, Health & Sexuality, 1369-1058. http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tchs20
Epprecht, Marc. 1998. “The ‘Unsaying’ Of Indigenous Homosexualities In Zimbabwe: Mapping A Blindspot In An African Masculinity”.
Journal Of Southern African Studies 24 (4): 631-651. doi:10.1080/03057079808708594.
Msibi, Thabo. 2011. “The Lies We Have Been Told: On (Homo) Sexuality In Africa”.
Afríca Today 58 (1): 55-77.

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