My previous post about Nigeria’s proposed anti-gay law (passage of which is now said to be unlikely), and the parallels between it and post-colonial slave codes got some notice, both for the content and the title (which was chosen to make a point emphasized in the content). I hadn’t planned on returning to the subject, until I read a couple of items this morning that brought it back to mind, and underscored some associations I tried to make before.
The first was a report of a Nigerian man who, upon receiving a six week sentence and a fine for approaching another man for sex, plead guilty and claimed the devil made him do it.
A self-acclaimed homosexual, Mr. Francis Chima, was yesterday sentenced to six weeks in prison by an Abuja magistrate court for demanding sex from a man.
… Before he was sentenced, Mr. Chima pleaded for leniency and promised that he will not repeat such offence.
According to the First Information Report (FIR) “Francis Chima demanded to have sex with his victim at the riverside at Utako.”
The complainant reported the case according to police report, because he saw it as unnatural.
“It is the work of Satan but I promise that I will not do it again,” he told the court.
The devil made him do it? I couldn’t help asking myself, where did he — or anyone else — get that idea? The idea, that is, that same-sex activity os so foreign to Africa and Africans (and some might also say African Americans) that it takes an foreign agent — supernatural or otherwise — to, uh, insert it.
Why don’t we start with the Anglican Church of Nigeria?
Since man is created in the image and likeness of God and is also dependent on Him, his laws must be derived from those of God. When therefore there is a conflict between ‘human right’ and ‘God right’, the former must judge and redefine itself by and from the latter in order to live in true freedom.
Our conclusion therefore is that same sex union in whatever guise it may manifest – homosexuality, lesbianism, sodomy, bisexuality, gay, civil partnership – is unnatural, unbiblical, unreasonable, unethical, ungodly and unAfrican.
I won’t ask where Nigeria got an Anglican church, but the answer to the previous question essentially comes down to the assumption that homosexuality is un-African, an idea probably best exemplified by Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s claims that homosexuality was brought to Africa by Europeans and pretty well summed up by Keith’s explanation.
To be honest, these recent examples of African homophobia are not much different from the homophobia in the United States, but what makes them noticeable is the assertion that homosexuality belongs solely to other cultures. The leaders of these anti-gay campaigns seem to share a common belief that homosexuality is somehow un-African, a vestige of European colonialism. But “culture and values are changing things,” says Cary Alan Johnson, a representative for an American relief and development agency, who has been working in Central Africa since 1993.
Keith goes on to discuss work documenting that same-sex activity existed in Africa long before the arrival of Europeans and, as African journalist Chido Onumah writes in response to Nigeria’s anti-gay campaign:
The argument about homosexuality being un-African is not supported by the facts of history. Gays and lesbians may be in the minority but homosexuality in Africa is as old as civilization.
In fact, the facts of history suggest that not only was same-sex activity a reality in pre-colonial Africa, but many African cultures (note, plural) developed niches in their societies for those who were noticed to have predominantly same-sex orientations.
Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe’s book, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands (1998) explores African homosexuality and documents same-sex relationships in some fifty societies in every region of the continent. Essays by scholars from a variety of disciplines explore institutionalized marriages between women, same-sex relations between men and boys in colonial work settings, mixed gender roles in East and West Africa. The book covers recent developments in South Africa, where gays and lesbians successfully made that nation the first on the continent to constitutionally ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and assists in revealing the denials of African homosexuality for what they are – prejudice and wilful ignorance.
I’m just finishing William Naphy’s Born to Be Gay: A History of Homosexuality, which covers same-sex activity across many cultures from pre-Christian history to the present, including Africa, which has an important message for African leaders regarding their anti-gay campaigns.
If they wish to cling to a model of normality and morality constructed by their Western conquerors that is, of course, their choice, but their own histories, cultural heritage and linguistic record as well as the testimony of all other non-Western/Christian societies suggests that this would be aberrant — abnormal.
While he’s careful to draw distinctions between same-sex activity in the past and the modern definition of homosexuality or a gay identity (many cultures, for example, either accepted or tolerated same-sex activity so long as it didn’t interfere with reproduction and marriage, etc.), and he notes in the case of Africa that pre-colonial history regarding African homosexuality is hard to come by and post-colonial histories are colored by Western Christian prejudices (which justified colonialism in the first place) he makes an interesting point that:
Homosexuality, while never the behavior of the majority and also never seen as a life-long alternative to procreative relationships, has in almost all cultures been accepted and ‘fitted into’ the structures of soceity. Indeed, the virulent homophobia of Western Christianity has been shown to be a feature that came into fruition only in the past 500 years, and was never consistent. More importantly, the spread of the negative Christian view of homosexuality became worldwide only as a result of the nineteenth-century global hegemony of Europe, and the cultural and economic dominance of the United States in the las century. In effect, the West’s ‘colonization of the mind’ continues apace, aided and abetted by non-Westerners, who seem bent on sacrificing their own histories and traditions in an effort to emulate all aspects of what even they seem to consider the ‘successful’ cultures of the West.
And those with colonized minds sometimes readily participate in their own demise, culturally and literally. Case in point, the success of American Evangelical Christians in selling “abstinence-only” education to a African countries in the midst of an HIV/AIDS epidemic, with devestating results.
Because there are colonized minds on this side of the Atlantic, too. The typically hysterical African American homophobia has its roots in the same nineteenth-century Western/Christian hegemony that Naphy references and Horace Griffin spells out in Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians And Gays in Black Churches, which I reviewed earlier. And, as I pointed out before, our present-day religiously-fueled conservatism has its roots in the very same religiously-fueled racism that justified colonialism and all its consequences.
And how has it served us? How has it served Africa?
Well, it’s just my own observation, but I don’t know of any circumstances in which colonialism served the colonized nearly as well as the colonizers.