Former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe once described homosexuality as “un-African” and a “white disease.”
Other African leaders, plus several other people on the continent have shared in his view, and this has elicited homophobia, persecution and anti-gay laws in countries like Uganda, Tanzania, Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya.
In recent years, it has been made clear that same-sex sexual relations existed in traditional African societies even before the colonisers arrived.
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From the 16th century, homosexuality has been recorded in Africa by European missionaries and anthropologists.
An example of this is the boy-wives’ tradition of the Azande ethnic group of North Central Africa.
Formed in the 19th century, the Azande people were a warrior tribe mostly found in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
These warriors were not only practising homosexuality and bi-sexuality but actually married boys or young men.
According to anthropologist E.E. Evans-Pritchard, there was a scarcity of women for these warriors, particularly, the poorer ones at the time due to social traditions.
As such, men or warriors who were against masturbation were expected to marry boys and satisfy their sexual needs with them.
A warrior who is ready for this would select a boy between the ages of 12-20, go to his parents’ house and request the boy’s hand in marriage.
He would have to pay a bride price for the boy which is usually in the form of spears and other items.
Once married, the husband would then have to take care of the boy’s parents, who are now his in-laws.
The boy would also take on household duties like a woman, including collecting firewood, fetching water and holding the warrior shield when travelling.
“At night the boy slept with his lover, who had intercourse with him between his thighs (Azande expressed disgust at the suggestion of anal penetration). The boys got what pleasure they could by the friction of their organs on the husband’s belly or groin.
“However, even though there was this side to the relationship, it was clear from Zande accounts that there was also the comfort of a night sharing of the bed with a companion,” Evans-Pritchard wrote in his work published in early 20th century.
Note that, the warriors of the Zande people were not the only ones practising this; young princes were also involved.
If a boy appealed to a Zande prince, the prince would take on the boy as a servant and a sexual outlet. The prince would also compensate the boy’s family.
There were men who had female wives but also married boys. During wars, they took the boys with them to perform duties at base camp.
One interesting fact is that unlike instances of homosexuality, sex between Azande men did not have much to do with love and longer unions. They only wanted sexual gratification, companionship and service.
Marriage to a woman was still what they hoped for. They just loved boys because women were scarce.
Besides, the husbands would eventually marry women, and the cycle would continue with the former boy-wife following the same direction.
This tradition ended in the early 20th. century, Evans-Pritchard noted.