No, Homosexuality Isn't Some Western Invention

Traditional relationships give the lie to calling same-sex coupling a Western idea.

BY Charles J. Upchurch

May 16 2014 4:00 AM ET

The claim by some African leaders that homosexuality is a Western export — used most recently by Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni to defend his country’s brutish legislation — doesn’t even pass the laugh test. But to get beyond guffaws, it helps to read Boy-Wives and Female Husbands, by Will Roscoe and Stephen O. Murray, published in 1998. The book, which draws in part on older ethnographic studies, catalogues so many varieties of indigenous African homosexuality that it makes the range of Western sexual identities seem positively narrow. The myriad examples of Boy-Wives and Female Husbands suggest that, of the competing forces of homosexuality and homophobia, only the latter could plausibly be an import.
 
» The Fante people of Ghana believed that people born with heavy souls — of either sex — would desire women, while those with light souls would desire men.
 
» In Akan society, lesbian affairs were “virtually universal”; some women purchased extra-large beds to accommodate multiple partners.
 
» Among the Zande of southwestern Sudan, a warrior who chose to marry a boy paid spears to the boy’s parents, addressing them as gbiore (father-in-law) and negbiore (mother-in-law).
 
» The Ovigangella people of Angola used the term kuzunda to describe a type of mutual masturbation in which the glans are rubbed against each other. “Solitary masturbation is so unfamiliar... that not a single word exists for it.”
 
» In Ashanti society, older boys penetrated younger boys or engaged in reciprocal anal intercourse (known as jigle keton).
 
» The Lovedu people of Lesotho were ruled by queens who were required to take wives and even assembled female harems.
 
» In South Africa, migrant workers often took male partners, who became known as “mine wives.”

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