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African Art: Traditional  
 
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The exaggeration of the phallus as a part of a male figure is almost universal throughout Africa. The Yoruba god, Eshu, the god of confusion, the crossroads, chance, and sex, is depicted with a wooden phallus sprouting from the top of his head. Wooden figures of ancestral chiefs among the Ndengese of Congo (Kinshasa), are carved with enormous phalluses to emphasize the fertile power of the ancestors. The Egyptian god, Amun-Min, he who awoke the sexual potency of the god Osiris, is depicted as a mummy with an erection.

Among the Yaka of Congo (Kinshasa), during the initiation called nkanda, young male officials perform with erotic masks known as kholuka in the coming-out ceremonies. The masks, constructed by the young men, often are surmounted by human figures in heterosexual intercourse but also frequently by the single male figure with an enormous erection, very realistically formed, and sometimes shown in masturbation. During the dance, including pelvic thrusts, the dancer also carries a wooden phallus, and sometimes sheds his clothing to reveal his own erect sexual organ. During this performance, the men disparage the women and ridicule the women's sexual organs, while extolling their own.

Sponsor Message.

All these phallic representations are made by, made for, and used by, men exclusively. What is one to make of the stimulus for this? If men are the ones who venerate, worship, and manipulate the representation of the male organ, and are energized by it, it cannot be seen as other than same-sex attraction of a sort, and perhaps symbolic mutual masturbation, even as the stated intention is to honor the ancestors, to encourage fertility and increase, or to enliven the dead.

In female homosexuality, the creation of an artificial penis has been documented among the Ovimbundu. Wilfred Hambley mentioned, in 1937, that "A woman has been known to make an artificial penis for use with another woman."

In Zanzibar, the artificial penis was said by M. Haberlandt, in 1899, to have been made by black and Indian craftsmen. "It is a stick of ebony in the shape of a male member of considerable size, . . . sold secretly. Sometimes it is also made from ivory. There exist two different forms. The first has below the end a nick where a cord is fastened, which one of the women ties around her middle in order to imitate the male act with the other. The stick is pierced most of the way and it then pours out warm water in imitation of ejaculation. With the other form, the stick is sculpted with penis heads at both ends so that it can be inserted by both women into their vaginas, for which they assume a sitting position. This kind of stick is also pierced. The sticks are greased for use."

Cross-dressing in Art

African art history is full of references to cross-dressing, both male-to-female and female-to-male. Throughout Africa, masked dance is almost exclusively performed by men, even when the character represented is female. There are just a few examples of women's costuming, even fewer examples of any type of women's masking, and only one example where a woman exclusively wears a wooden mask representing a woman. So the opportunities for women to represent men are far fewer than the opportunities for men to represent women.

Still, numerous examples have been given of women costumed as men, without masks, in a performance of ridicule and perhaps defiance. Women of the Bondo association in Sierra Leone are seen in the final ceremonies of the girls' initiation dressed as men, frequently with two giant gourds under their pants meant to ridicule herniated men. The women sometimes approach men and imitate active sexual penetration, in a reversal of the norm.

Throughout Africa, it is common to see ceremonies in which some men dress as women, and this has been explained variously as ritual of inversion, ritual of rebellion, and as a means of "making special" or setting apart the event from the routine.

In a particular Bondo ceremony called e-lukne ("the transplanting"), men often dress as women in a ritual of total upheaval where the townspeople race around the town carrying rubbish, tree limbs, and old furnishings. Here the meaning seems to be one of overturning the social order, with no reference directly to homosexuality, and ultimately serving as a trope for the discombobulating transfer of the young woman from her clan of birth to the clan of her husband.

Among the Baga of Guinea, almost any masked dance occasions the appearance of one or two men without masks but in women's gowns and jewelry, a phenomenon completely unexplained except to say, "Because they like to."

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