Essay: What Are The Attitudes Of West Africans Towards Homosexual Activity?

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  • Published on: 10th June 2012
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What Are The Attitudes Of West Africans Towards Homosexual Activity?

African leaders have stated that the majority of African history remains shrouded, under-researched, in the shadows or honestly ignored. Without the knowledge of pre-colonial African history, along with the reality that there is even less research on African sexuality in history, they ask how can someone know for sure that 'homosexuality' was not practiced before the Europeans and/or Arabs introduced it or that it wasn't an identity? There is no way pre-colonial Africa, or in fact pre-colonial Asia, the Americas, Australia, can be discussed while belittling the role of colonialism. One cannot ignore that colonialism drastically changed mindsets, as people adopted Victorian mindsets and mannerisms escaping the 'barbaric' ways of their ancestors.
Recently in the news, there has been much said about African attitudes toward homosexuality. Political leaders are signing legislation to make homosexual activities illegal. Africans are saying that prior to colonialism they never had legislation regarding homosexual activity in Africa because there was a lack of Africans practicing homosexual activities. Africans feel that 'Homosexuality as it exists nowadays is unknown to traditional African societies. There was no man-to man sex. In, contrast, traditional chiefs of priests in the process of their enthronization were known to have lived in isolation and therefore participated in 'recurrent' masturbation to satisfy their sexual desires. This is what was perceived as homosexuality.' (Capo-Chichi 2007). This has been, even with a multitude of publications arguing the opposite, a generally accepted thought. The standard explanation offered by African leaders is that homosexuality is alien to their culture and it was introduced to Africa by the European colonialists.

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The belief that homosexuality Western innovation forced upon colonial Africa by white men is a belief with real social consequences. These beliefs are not based on serious inquiry, historical or otherwise. In this paper I intend to answer the questions: Is homosexuality akin to Africa and did homosexuality exist in Africa before western influence? What are the attitudes of most Africans toward homosexuality? Does religion determine the attitudes? Truth is discovered through research. It can be found through observation as well as written knowledge. Sometimes, evidence we thought of as truth is only a myth. There are no analyses of the social structures of African societies written by indigenous people prior to alien contact. What we know of African cultures was written by first travelers, missionaries, colonial officials, and anthropologists. European observance is the only source of data on homosexuality in Africa until the most recent few decades. Everything that has been learned about traditional African societies was inscribed in the last decade of the nineteenth century or later (after colonization of the continent).
Ancient Culture Homosexual Tendencies

Anthropologists have played a central role in documenting the diversity of human sexuality as it is understood and expressed in different cultures around the world. At times, anthropologists have 'conscripted' select evidence and even fabricated 'facts' about people they have studied in order to advance ideals and preferences around sexuality in their own societies. This has resulted in a body of purportedly empirical or scientific data that in respect is deeply flawed, morally normative, and sometimes actually complicit in the construction and maintenance of racist colonialist structures (Epprecht). The ethnography of African cultures generated by Europeans and American scholars from the 1920s to the 1950s was so useless in empirical terms that it is only useful today to the extent that it sheds light on how those colonial structures could function (Owuusu 1978). There are many factors that contribute to Africa's
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argument of no same- sex sexuality. Murray and Roscoe pointed to key discrepancies in the data recorded as far back as the 18th century. Epprecht writes that several problems exist both in studies about African sexualities and in the ways that Africa is represented or engaged in global sexuality studies.
What remains to be done is to show how and why the silences that helped to define heterosexual Africa was achieved and then changed over time. Those changes reveal insight into why Africans feel homosexuality is a western import. Attempts to counter the blind spot have tended to rely heavily on the exhumation of colonial ethnographies, forensic evidence, and missionary diatribes, with limited effectiveness (Epprecht). The evident fact that so many of the leading researchers in the field are non-African also introduces concern, most obviously about language, epistemology, and cultural insider secrets. In some cases, this has provoked sharply defensive reactions from African leaders and intellectuals.
Written material about sexuality in Africa south of the Sahara first appeared in the fourteenth century with the scandalized observations of Malian mores by the Muslim traveler Ibn Bstutta. Thereafter, a steadily growing number of non-Africans (including) slavers, explorers, missionaries, and colonial officials) provided written data concerning the indigenous people of Africa (Bleys 1995). Prior to the 1980's, historians of Africa rarely paid explicit attention to sexuality, a topic generally presumed to belong more appropriately to anthropology or psychology (Epprecht 2004). Same sex exceptions were noted as early as the 16th century. Sir Richard Burton notes a Portuguese document from 1558 that observed 'unnatural damnation' (a euphemism for male-male sex) to be esteemed among the Kongo (Burton 1885:246-247). Andrew Battell, who lived among the Imbangala in the 1590s, was similarly disapproving: 'They are beastly in their living, for they have men in women's apparel, which they keep among
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their wives' (Purchas 1905 vol.VL376). Jean Baptiste Labat, exploring the Angola region, also described a caste of cross-dressing male diviners whose leader was a 'shameless, impudent, lewd man'deceitful to the last, without honor. He dresses ordinarily as a woman and makes an honor of being called the Grandmother' (Labat 1998:163). According to Gunter Tessman (1998:156) adult Pangwe men in the German colony of Cameroon understood mutual acts of sodomy not as an act of pleasure but as 'wealth medicine'. The power of the medicine stemmed in part from the secrecy of the act. Tauxier (1912:569-570 described how beautiful young boys were groomed as pages for the Mossi chiefs and other court dignitaries. Dressed as girls, they played the role of passive sex objects on Fridays; elites were prohibited from touching female flesh. Martin (1913) and Seligman and Seligman (1932) also mentioned age-differentiated homosexual relations among warriors in the powerful military state of Azande.
During colonialism Africans moved around constantly. They moved with industrialization due to large-scale migrant labor among Africans (so called mine marriages or inkotshane in the case of southern Africa), military service (most notoriously in the 'Bat d' Af' of French North and West Africa), and prison or criminal gang homosexuality ( such as the so-called Ninevite system in the South African case). In the first, men took younger men or boys as servants and 'wives' for the duration of their employment contracts (Epprecht). As Moodie (1988) and Harris (1990) explain, these temporary male-male marriages often served (and in fact were often self-consciously intended by the men themselves) to strengthen traditional marriage with women back in the rural areas. Boy wives allowed the men to avoid costly and potentially unhealthy relationships with female prostitutes in town (although mine husbands sometimes still went for those as well). Homosexual gangs and prison relationships were also construed as short-term expediency.

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Religious Beliefs on Homosexuality in Africa
Tolerance of male homosexuality in Arab and other traditional Muslim societies may be explained by the existence of polygyny: the sexual availability of boys and effeminate men protects female virtue. Arab nomadic tribes had harems even before Muhammad appeared. Even some Muslim medieval writers argued for a similar point, arguing that male homosexual behavior is to be explained by the scarcity of women, or to avoid scandalous pregnancies. For example, the ninth-century savant Al-Jahiz claimed that homosexual behavior was unknown to Islam until, tragically, the Abbasid Abu Muslim refused to allow his army to have any contact with women; that isolation caused the fighting men to seek out boys, and once that practice was established, it became a cultural avocation (Trexler 1995: 52).
Homosexuality was an established custom, with boys readily available in the towns. Maxwell notes that Moroccan men 'considered sexual relationship with boys a normal and harmless convenience. Homosexuality between a man and a boy was never considered in any way abnormal or shameful in Morocco until the infiltration of European opinion with the French (Maxwell 1983: 286-287).
All early Christian writers were opposed to male prostitution and homosexuality. Clement of Alexandria denounced homosexuality as non-procreative and therefore unnatural (Boswell 1980: 355). In Christianity, the first regulation of sexuality in the form of church cannons appeared in A.D.309, in Spain (Greenberg 1988). The Council of Elvira Church was the first church to formulate rules for sexual regulation; the cannon dealing with homosexuality specifies that men who engage in sexual relations with boys should not be admitted to communion even at death (Greenberg 1988: 227). Official legislation was proclaimed in 342, when Constans and Constantius, sons of Constantine, promulgated a law which outlawed
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homosexual marriages and all homosexual acts (Boswell 1980: 123). The statute of emperors Theodosius, Valentian and Arcadius was incorporated into the Theodosian Code, issued in 390, containing general condemnation of passive male homosexuality and forbidding "forcing or selling males into prostitution". The Code was accepted in both the Eastern and the Western Roman Empire. This fourth-century legislation may have been the basis for the provision in Justinian's Code that homosexual's offenders are to be castrated. The code, issued in 529 and revised in 533, was followed by two imperial edicts, which reiterated the death penalty for repeat offenders (Geanakoplos 1979). In Justinian's legislation, homosexuality threatens not only the individual sinner, but the entire community: "because of such crimes, there are famines, earthquakes and pestilences." Geanakoplos argued: "Through his famous code, then, Justinian played an important part in determining the Byzantine attitude to homosexuality" (ibid: 366).
African views today on Homosexuality
Without a doubt, the issue of homosexuality has evoked deep and often extreme reactions in Africa. Many see homosexual activity as un-African and against African social and religious heritage. A homosexual lifestyle is perceived to be against nature. Traditionally, Africans place a high premium on procreation. Despite the adoption of liberal constitutions that provide for extensive bills of rights, there has been strong resistance among African countries to extend these rights to include homosexuals. To date, homosexuality remains out lawed in more than two-thirds of African countries. Dionne and Boniface did a study to examine the extent to which existing anti-homosexual legislation reflects the true opinion of ordinary Africans. The results indicate that Africans have negative attitudes toward homosexuality, with some variation by age, gender, religion, locality or education. Still, there is little support for homosexuality among educated, urban, and younger Africans, which stands in sharp contrast with the United States,
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where these three demographics have become increasingly tolerant of homosexuality over time. Today, much of the political push against homosexuals is funded by Christian churches in America. The New York Times published a series about how money from American missionaries is funding dangerous ideology that demonizes homosexuals.

Before colonialism, African societies practiced homosexual activities. They accepted this behavior and found nothing wrong. The Europeans colonized Africa and imposed they constitution across the continent. Europeans had strict laws against homosexual activities because of their religious affiliations. When Europe turned the colonies back to the Africans the newly independent governments decided to keep the colonial era constitutions for whatever reason. By this time, Africans were convinced that homosexuals should be punished. Not only have they chosen not to changed their constitution, they have adopted all the social norms of the Europeans.
Africa's political and religious leaders learned that they could win elections and favoritism through condemning homosexuality. This has allowed leaders to circumvent more pressing issues such as education and health. A study done by the University of Pennsylvania found that negative mentions of homosexuality spiked the African media during close elections. This habit has allowed leaders to create an atmosphere of homophobia. African leaders have used sexual orientation to become a cause for political persecution. Most leaders are arguing that homosexuality is a 'Western perversion' imposed on them by Europe or the early Arab traders. When Malawian President Bingu WA Mutharika began to lose foreign aid because of his government's authoritarianism, he blamed the loss of funding on homosexuality, arguing that Western countries were trying to impose pro-gay values on his country (Fisher). Even President
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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia which was never a colony, will not repeal her country's laws on homosexual activities. The most threatening influence of homophobia is the influx of evangelical and Pentecostal preachers from the United States. These churches send missionaries to fund local churches to share their ideas on Christianity. They have plenty of money to appear daily on television and radios. These evangelist preachers play up the supposed threat of homosexuality taking over the African culture and its children. This has played a large role in Uganda politics creating a law making homosexuality punishable by death.
To answer the question: What are the attitudes of West Africans toward homosexual activity, Africans do not support homosexuality. They feel it is wrong and they are convinced this was brought to them by European influence. Most Africans today are a product of the devastating effect of colonialism. Colonialism was culturally and socially oppressive for Africans; however, they preferred the European way of life and social norm to that of the ancient wisdom of their African ancestors. Africa today has reinvented herself as a heterosexual continent. They are trying to project that homosexual is an import that came to them unexpected. Even though their leaders have been unable to convince the world of this, they have done a good job of convincing their own people.

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