As we continue to explore shamanism I’d like to address a concern that many curious queer people have about African traditions. Africa is without a doubt a hotbed of homophobia on the planet. In this post, we’re going to explore why that is. The facts may surprise you.
Homosexuality is not African
We’ve all heard the claims that queerness is not African but is a “disease” spread there by Westerners. Natural variants in human sexuality aren’t disorders. That truth has been asserted by mental health professionals for many years. Why do so many Africans cling to outdated views? Simply put, colonialism.
Some religions continue to spread their bigoted views on queerness. Both evangelical Christianity and conservative elements in Islam have infected their communities in Africa with hate. Evidence from pre-colonial cultures on the continent runs contrary to the idea that homosexuality was not tolerated in Africa.
Pre-Colonial Attitudes Towards Homosexuality
Many African countries have attitudes, and laws, that reflect those of their colonizers. Even though, in most cases, the colonizers’ cultures have grown beyond them. It’s difficult to sort out what happened before the Europeans arrived. But, there is compelling evidence that attitudes in Africa were much more relaxed before colonization.
As far back as 2400 BC, tombs have been excavated in ancient Egypt with two men’s bodies embracing each other as lovers. In the 16th century, the Imbangala men of Angola had “men in women’s apparel”, who were kept amongst their wives. There was an openly gay monarch, King Mwanga II of Buganda (present-day Uganda), who actively opposed Christianity and colonialism. The Igbo and Yoruba tribes, found mostly in present-day Nigeria, did not have a binary understanding of gender and typically did not assign gender to babies at birth, and instead waited until later in life. Similarly, the Dagaaba people (present-day Ghana) assigned gender not based on one’s anatomy, but rather on the energy one presents.
A Path Forward
The Nigerian/Yoruba head of my Ifa lineage, Afolabi Epega, believed that variations in human sexuality and gender are natural. They are an important factor in the spiritual development of the individual. A view likely held by the Yoruba people before the arrival of Christianity.
Hopefully, as Africans address the negative impacts of religious colonialism they’ll begin to reclaim a more authentically African view. It is crucial that Westerners support queer organizations across the continent in their struggle for freedom and justice. We must also address the damage we have done to the original peoples of our own lands and their cultures.