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Opinions of Saturday, 23 July 2011

Columnist: Sarpong, Justice

Don't Blame Westerners For Homosexuality In Ghana

Sarpong, Justice

The homosexuality issue has brought to the fore how homophobic Ghanaians, including the Clergy, Politicians and opinion leaders who help shape the policies that guide us are.The myth of exclusive heterosexuality in indigenous black/sub-Saharan Africa was widely diffused by Edward Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1781)."Referring to homosexual behavior, Gibbon wrote, "I believe and hope that the negroes in their own country were exempt from this moral pestilence." Gibbon's fond hope was based on neither travel to Africa nor on inquiry of any kind."

A century later, Sir Richard Burton, who unlike Gibbon did know something of Africa, reinforced the myth of African sexual exceptionalism by drawing the boundaries of his "sotadic Zone," where homosexuality was supposedly widely practiced and accepted, in such a way as to exclude sub-Saharan Africa.

Is homosexuality akin to Africa and for that matter Ghanaian culture? Did Homosexuality exist in Africa before western influence? Our Political and spiritual leaders would like Ghanaians to believe homosexuality is a foreign culture in Africa which Ghana is part of. Even our own President Atta Mills has said so, but folks, I hate to burst your bubble but there is overwhelming evidence that, homosexuality existed in pre-coloniel africa.In fact the first recorded gay couple in history is of ancient Egypt, namely Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum. The most common form of homosexuality in traditonal africa prior to european influence, was that of men and boys. As a matter of fact anyone who belives that homosexuality did not exist in Africa prior to European influence is a bigot who can’t accept africa the way it really was but rather believe in an “africa” that fits their baseless ideolistic view of africa. Africans and for that matter Ghanaians like to believe that we have moral superiority than any other group of people on Eartth and as such we want to run away from our own history of practising homosexuality. History has not been kind to us when it comes to homosexuality, let not blame anybody for something that has existed with us for centuries.

"Boy Wives": Age-differentiated Homosexuality

In the central African Zande culture, before European conquest, it was regarded "as very sensible for a man to sleep with boys when women are not available or are taboo." What do we mean by taboo? In most cultures in Ghana, it was deemed a taboo to have sex with women when they are in their mentrual period. Not long ago, especially in the villages, a women in her menstrual period was banished from the main compound and has to prepare her food outside. It was a taboo for the wife to cook for the husband when she was in her "period". English anthropologist E. E. Evans-Pritchard was told that in addition to times when women were not available for sex, some Azande men had sex with boys "just because they like them."

The adult males paid the families of boy wives, just as they paid for female brides. The two slept together at night, "the husband satisfying his desires between the boy's thighs. When the boy grew up he joined the company and took a boy-wife in his turn. It was the duty of the husband to give his boy-wife a spear and a shield when he became a warrior. He then took a new boy-wife."

One commander, Ganga, told Evans-Pritchard that there were some men who, although they had female wives, still married boys. "When a war broke out, they took their boys with them. . . . If another man had relations with his boy, the husband could sue the interloper in court for adultery.

"Among the Fon, the predominant people in Dahomey (now Benin), Melville Herskovits in the 1930s reported that, after the age at which boys and girls may play together, "the sex drive finds satisfaction in close friendship between boys in the same group . . . . A boy may take the other 'as a woman,' this being called gaglgo, homosexuality. Sometimes an affair of this sort persists during the entire life of the pair" (though he earlier referred to homosexual relations as a "phase" through which adolescents pass)."

The South African Thonga provide another particularly well-documented instance of a boy-wife role. A number of southern and western African societies also had female husbands, though whether these husbands had sexual relations with their wives is unclear in what has been written. (It seems that anthropologists studying the phenomenon did not ask that question.)

Gender-crossing homosexuality has been discussed as common in the (Nigerian) Hausa bori cult (and in Afro-Brazilian offshoots of west African spirit-possession religion). Among the Maale of southern Ethiopia, some males crossed over to feminine roles. Called ashtime, these (biological) males dressed as women, performed female tasks, cared for their own houses, and apparently had sexual relations with men, according to Donald Donham. One gave Donham a clear statement of the "third gender" conception: "The Divinity created me wobo, crooked. If I had been a man, I could have taken a wife and begotten children. If I had been a woman, I could have married and borne children. But I am wobo; I can do neither."

Among Swahili-speakers on the Kenya coast, particularly in the port of Mombasa, mashoga are transgendered prostitutes who have all the liberties of men and are also welcome in many contexts in which men are prohibited. The paid partner usually takes the receptive role during intercourse, but it is likely that his inferiority derives from the fact that he is paid to provide what is asked for, rather than from his undertaking a particular sexual role. The one who pays is called the basha (derived from "pasha," a high-ranking official and the local term for the king in packs of playing cards).

Most of the reports of homosexual relations not involving differences in age or gender status involved young, unmarried men's sexual relationships with each other. Kurt Falk wrote about an especially intimate bond of association, soregus, among the southeastern African Naman that included sex both between men and between women (with mutual masturbation the most common form of sex, but also males taking turns at anal penetrations and females using dildoes on each other).

An "exceptionally reliable" Nykakyusa (a people living around what is now the Tanzania/Zimbabwe border) reported to Monica Wilson in the early 1930s that male friends, who live in villages of age-mates when not out herding cattle, generally sleep together. The Nykakyusa accepted that male friends who danced together would have sexual relations. "Even if people see them in flagrante delicto, they say it is adolescence (lukulilo), all children are like that: they say that sleeping together and dancing is also adolescence," according to Wilson's elder. He reported that interfemoral intercourse is "what boys mostly do" and also reported anal and oral sex, ("some, during intercourse, work[ing] in the mouth of their friend, and hav[ing] an orgasm").

With reports from hundreds of sub-Saharan African locales of male-male sexual relations and from about fifty of female-female sexual relations, it is clear that same-sex sexual relations existed in traditional African societies, though varying in forms and in the degree of public acceptance. Much of this same-sex activity was situational or premarital, though there were long-term relationships, too. The special Christian animus toward homosexuality was carried to Africa by Europeans and stimulated denials that "the sin not named among Christians" existed among "unspoiled" Africans.

The motive behind this research on African homosexuality and for that matter Ghana having been practising homosexuality without the influence of Western culture is not to ab solve white people for other crimes committed against Africa, especially slavery but my main reason of doing this is to give a face to those who are homosexuals. We talk about homosexuals as if they are not humans like us. We have to realise that, the people we want to arrest and lynch are human beings like us who have feelings and have the same souls our creator gave us hetrosexuals. Their behaviour is not something we have to accept or condone but we don't have to treat them as if they are animals.

Some people are using the HIV/AIDS epidemic as an excuse to eliminate homosexuals but we are not doing ourselves any good because it is the homosexuals who because of societal demands are forced to marry women to camouflage their true sexual preference who are dangerous to the hetrosexual society because these are the people society has turned them to bi-sexuals having sex with women and men to hide their homosexual behaviour. I am not calling for anybody to accept homosexuals and their behaviour but we should not be spewing the KKK kind of hatred in modern Ghana, our behaviour towards homosexuals is simply primitive.

Justice Sarpong

Houston, Texas