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Precolonial Homosexuality


>>> Item number 731, dated 95/10/24 18:11:48 -- ALL

Date:         Tue, 24 Oct 1995 18:11:48 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      QUERY: precolonial homosexuality

Date sent:      Tue, 24 Oct 1995
From:           Barry C. Morton, Indiana University
                <bmorton@indiana.edu>

Can somebody out there please enlighten me about sources regarding male homosexuality in southern Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? I'm interested in information from any context, e.g. age regiments, armies, POW camps and other "total institutions", slave households, artwork, etc.

>>> Item number 740, dated 95/10/27 19:12:43 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 27 Oct 1995 19:12:43 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: precolonial homosexuality

From:           Valdemir D. Zamparoni
                <vzampa@cpd.ufmt.br>
Date sent:      Thu, 26 Oct 1995

Certamente voce conhece o trabalho do Henri JUNOD *A tribe life of South Africa* (em portugues: A vida de uma tribo na Africa do Sul) no qual dedica algumas paginas aa *inversao dos sexos - ncontchana* nos compounds da regiao mineira do Transvaal, nas ultimas decadas do sec. XIX.

>>> Item number 744, dated 95/10/27 19:40:52 -- ALL

Date:         Fri, 27 Oct 1995 19:40:52 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: precolonial homosexuality

Date sent:      Fri, 27 Oct 1995
From:           Bruce Moyer, Andrews University
                <bcmoyer@andrews.edu>

I do not have documentation, but while I lived and taught in southern Africa (Rhodesia, becoming Zimbabwe), and on subsequent visits, I have raised this topic with African friends, only to be told, emphatically, that homosexuality NEVER existed among the Bantu.

My suspicion is that it probably did, but was almost totally closeted. The *NYTimes* recently had an article on the gay/lesbian community in Zimbabwe. I can't remember the date, but it was within the last 4 months, I think.

>>> Item number 765, dated 95/10/31 22:53:45 -- ALL

Date:         Tue, 31 Oct 1995 22:53:45 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: precolonial homosexuality

Date sent:      Mon, 30 Oct 1995
From:           Samuel Kasule, University of Derby
                <S.Kasule@derby.ac.uk> (Dr.Samuel Kasule)

While I am not so well informed about Bantu groups in areas outside East Africa, my information on the Baganda (in Uganda) shows that homosexuality begun with the advent of Arab traders and the act was henceforth referred to as 'okulya ebisiyagi' (in Luganda). In fact, this was the catalyst for the initial massacre of the Uganda Martyrs.

>Date sent:      Fri, 27 Oct 1995
>From:           Bruce Moyer, Andrews University
>                <bcmoyer@andrews.edu>

>
>
>I do not have documentation, but while I lived and taught in >southern Africa (Rhodesia, becoming Zimbabwe), and on subsequent >visits, I have raised this topic with African friends, only to be >told, emphatically, that homosexuality NEVER existed among the Bantu. >
>My suspicion is that it probably did, but was almost totally >closeted. The *NYTimes* recently had an article on the gay/lesbian >community in Zimbabwe. I can't remember the date, but it was within >the last 4 months, I think.
>
>

>>> Item number 781, dated 95/11/01 23:04:15 -- ALL

Date:         Wed, 1 Nov 1995 23:04:15 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: precolonial homosexuality

Date sent:      Wed, 1 Nov. 1995
From:           A. Chande, Gettysburg College
                <achande@gettysburg.edu>

S. Kasule wrote:

"While I am not so well informed about Bantu groups in areas outside East Africa, my information on the Baganda (in Uganda) shows that homosexuality begun with the advent of Arab traders and the act was henceforth referred to as 'okulya ebisiyagi' (in Luganda)."

It is doubtful that homosexuality begins with the advent of any group. Bruce Moyer's explanation that homosexuality did exist in South Africa (and indeed in E. Africa), but was almost totally closeted is closer to the truth. For what it is worth, the prison system is one arena in which one often hears about homosexuality being practised in Africa.

>>> Item number 791, dated 95/11/07 20:58:12 -- ALL

Date:         Tue, 7 Nov 1995 20:58:12 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: precolonial homosexuality

From:           Lawrence Mbogoni, Luther College
                <mbogonil@martin.luther.edu>
Date sent:      Thu, 2 Nov 95

Those who may wish to believe that Africans must have been homosexuals just like "everybody else" I would like to give the benefit of doubt, maybe you are right.

But you seem to have missed Kasule's point. The Baganda referred to homosexuality as `okulya ebisiyagi'. If they had known about homosexuality before the arrival of the Arabs, why was there no Luganda concept for it?

In South Africa, as Magubane suggests, homosexuality is part of the history of migrant labor and all-men hostels. And by the way, precolonial African societies did not have prisons. The reason is to be found in the nature of their legal systems which mainly aimed at reconciliation. I am not aware of any society which used incarceration as a form of criminal punishment.

So if, according to Chande, homosexuality in some parts of Africa have been associated with prisons obviously part of the cause was European colonialism.

>>> Item number 793, dated 95/11/07 21:24:54 -- ALL

Date:         Tue, 7 Nov 1995 21:24:54 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: precolonial homosexuality

Date sent:      Fri, 3 Nov 1995
From:           Michael Tuck, Northwestern University
                <mwt048@nwu.edu>

I am very interested in the discussion about precolonial homosexuality in Uganda since I have been doing research on issues of sexuality in Ugandan history for a few years. It is true, as S. Kasule wrote, that the standard historical sources state that the 'Arabs' brought homosexuality ('sodomy' in the terms of the time) to Buganda in the mid to late 19th century.

However, we must question the sources and their biases. The reports we have are written either by Christian Baganda who were in conflict with Muslims, or by European missionaries who believed that sodomy was common among Arabs. It is true that we don't have any sources that tell of homosexual behavior before the arrival of muslim traders, but that doesn't tell us anything conclusive.

Sometimes one can get clues by looking at the terms people use to refer to things. Perhaps Kasule would tell us what the phrase 'okulya ebisiyagi' means in Luganda. 'Okulya' means to eat: is there some implied or explicit meaning in the phrase as a whole? Are there any other terms used for homosexuality?

>>> Item number 817, dated 95/11/13 16:31:31 -- ALL

Date:         Mon, 13 Nov 1995 16:31:31 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: precolonial homosexuality

Date sent:      Fri, 10 Nov 1995
From:           John Boldrick, Columbia University
                <jlb47@columbia.edu>

I don't know what the Luganda term "okulya ebisiyagi" means, and would appreciate a gloss. However, I can comment on the relationship of terminology to the presence of what we would today define as homosexual practice in a given culture.

We recognize the well-documented presence of homosexual sex in the ancient Greek and Roman cultures, and yet these cultures had no term that exactly matches our word "homosexuality." Without dredging up the semantic debate over whether this means that homosexuality "did not exist" in these cultures, it is worth pointing out that the distinction between those who had sex with one sex or gender as opposed to another did not appear to have had great importance to the people of the time, as compared to the social status and specific sexual roles of the partners. The boundaries of sexual cultural traditions may simply be drawn differently, and the concept of "homosexuality" may only later appear important enough to warrant a signifier.

Though the literal meaning of the above-quoted Luganda term may imply that homosexual practice was associated with outsiders, as I suspect it does given the context in this discussion, this does not necessarily mean that such practices were unknown before being imported by the foreigners. Practices with an ambiguous social status are often given "estranging" names, thus mapping them onto a safely "other" geography or ethnicity; witness the many sexual terms in English such as "Greek", "Turkish" and "French", or even the French and English habit of calling syphilis by each other's nationalities: "the French disease," "la maladie anglaise." Thus a kind of "internal foreignness" may precede the attribution to cultural outsiders.

It is also possible that the arrival of outsiders with different sexual traditions and rules may cause a crisis of sexual definitions, and the two processes that I describe above take place simultaneously as a marginal or unimportant sexual practice suddenly takes on new significance.

I don't rule out the possibility that homosexual practice did not exist in a given culture, though I admit that I am skeptical. Yet the absence of a clear term to describe it, or the presence of a term that attributes it to foreigners, does not prove this theory.

I apologize for not providing any examples, but I can't think of any that apply directly to Africa. I welcome any replies, to my address or to the group. Thank you.

>>> Item number 825, dated 95/11/16 19:18:48 -- ALL

Date:         Thu, 16 Nov 1995 19:18:48 GMT-5
Reply-To:     H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
Sender:       H-NET List for African History <H-AFRICA@MSU.EDU>
From:         H-AFRICA---Mel Page <AFRICA@ETSUARTS.EAST-TENN-ST.EDU>
Organization: East Tennessee State University
Subject:      REPLY: precolonial homosexuality

Date sent:      Mon, 13 Nov 95
From:           A. Chande, Gettysburg College
                <Abdin.N.Chande@cc.gettysburg.edu>

John Boldrick wrote:

"I don't know what the Luganda term "okulya ebisiyagi" means, and would appreciate a gloss. However, I can comment on the relationship of terminology to the presence of what we would today define as homosexual practice in a given culture."

For those who are interested to know the term "Okulya ebisiyagi" means to "eat (messy) butter."


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