African cultures

Gender expression and sexual identity in African cultures existed outside of the binary until imperialism

Before Western colonization and forced influence, there were African LGBTQ cultures across the continent that accepted different gender expressions and sexualities.

In fact, the earliest recorded gay couple in history dates back to ancient Egypt. King Mwanga II of Buganda (now Uganda) was most likely queer. (It’s him in the photo above.) The traditional Igbo culture and language had a flexible gender system, destroyed by the arrival of British colonizers in the 1800s.

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While there is no such thing as a homogeneous African entity, and sexuality and gender of course differ in the rich and diverse cultures of Africa, the impact of colonization on these ancient African LGBTQ cultures is evident.

Today, same-sex relationships are only legal in 22 African countries; and in some, these relationships are punished with death. It is interesting to note that “there is a direct correlation between the countries which belong to the Commonwealth, and which were therefore previously under British rule, and the countries which still have homophobic, biphobic and / or transphobic legislation in their constitutions” , explains an academic. We can trace this passage from openness, acceptance and even tradition (Egyptian deities presented as androgynous, the Dagaaba people of present-day Ghana ascribed a non-energy-based gender) to the concept of socially homophobia. built and western. Before imperialism, anti-LGBTQ laws simply did not exist in African countries.

In Zimbabwe, ancient rock paintings show two men engaging in ritualistic sex. In the pursuit of “spiritual rearmament”, ethnic groups in Nigeria, Sudan, Burundi and Rwanda – among other countries – have engaged in homosexual acts. Traditional languages ​​such as Wolof, Yoruba, and Hausa all have their own words for queer identities, indicating what we already know: LGBTQ + identity and culture is not a modern invention but a deeply rooted condition and widespread of mankind.

Chidera Ihejirika, writing on Igbo culture, sex and gender, says:

Colonization is a structure, an unhealed wound that remains open to this day, in the form of Western gender norms among multiple other manifestations. In examining this structure, we must not forget the indigenous system, values ​​and agency that preceded it. There are many lessons to be learned from the rich history of gender and sex in African society. In particular, the value of seeing human beings for their true, authentic selves and not the labels that society assigns to them.

Examining gender expression and gender identity in various African LGBTQ cultures not only proves how rich queer history can be, but also that it is possible to live in a world where heterosexuality is not completely accepted as the norm.

Did you know that queer expression and identity in some African LGBTQ cultures throughout history is so diverse?