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African Literatures  
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The Need for Research into African Homosexuality

One of the chief difficulties in carrying out a study of homosexuality in African literature is the virtually total absence of investigations of the African historical record by practitioners of the emerging discipline of gay and lesbian studies.

A major exception is T. Dunbar Moodie's 1988 review of same-sex pairings among migrant laborers in the Witwatersrand gold fields of South Africa. Based on interviews by Vivienne Ndatshe and British Sibuyi with Mpondo and Tsonga veterans of the mines, Moody documents the institution of the tinkonkana, "the wives of the mine," younger men who entered into sexual relationships with older miners for the duration of their contracts. The miners' memories of this bond created to cope with the artificial world of the labor compounds date chiefly from the 1930s and 1940s.

It is noteworthy that the classic novel of South African literature dealing with conditions on the Rand, Peter Abrahams's Mine Boy (1955), makes no mention of this system of relationships, which was governed by a code of law known as the mteto ka Sokisi, focusing rather on the inequities of the apartheid system.

In part, this silence can be explained by the gradual changes on the Rand itself over a period of decades, which made such a network of tacitly acknowledged same-sex relationships no longer viable. The tradition does appear in the poem "Amagoduka at Glencoe Station" by Oswald Mtshali, where workers bound for the mines speak of living "in compounds where young men are pampered into partners for older men."

The Absence of African Literature on AIDS

The literature spawned by the AIDS pandemic in the United States gay community through such catalytic works as Larry Kramer's play The Normal Heart (1985) has, as yet, no parallel in contemporary African writing. This is due chiefly to the manner of expression of the disease, which, transmitted almost exclusively through heterosexual intercourse, has substantially reduced the population of many provinces and struck at the heart of the African extended family support network. The absence of AIDS as a theme in African writing may also be attributed to the deaths of members of the educated elites who might otherwise have served as creators.


In Africa generally, sexual expression is considered a spectrum of activity spanning an individual's entire life rather than the hallmark of distinct and separate lifestyles or identities, as is the case in the West. In African literature, many writers, such as Armah and Soyinka, continue to place homosexuality as entirely an activity of European or American expatriates within more general considerations of recent African history as cultural trauma.

The alienness of the concept of a separate class of beings known as "homosexuals" to the African frame of reference is perhaps most baldly stated by the grandmother in Maddy's play Big Berrin (1984). On being informed that a certain person is a homosexual, she inquires "Homosexuality? Wheyting be dat?" With the rise of gay and lesbian activism on the continent, this question may in time be given an African answer.

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arts >> Overview:  African Art: Contemporary

Bulelwa Madekurozwa and Rotimi Fani-Kayode are the most prominent of contemporary openly gay African artists who produce work with homosexual themes.

arts >> Overview:  African Art: Traditional

Many forms of ambiguous sexuality can be found throughout the traditional arts of Africa, including images of androgyny, hermaphroditism, and transvestism; and much of erotic sculpture and theater can also be seen as homoerotic.

social sciences >> Overview:  Africa: Sub-Saharan, Pre-Independence

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

arts >> Overview:  Islamic Art

The apparent invisibility of homosexuality in the visual arts of Islam is no indication of its absence in the culture.

social sciences >> Overview:  South Africa

The diverse South African glbtq community both thrives and struggles amid the contradictions between a conservative traditional culture and some of the most progressive gay rights legislation in the world.

literature >> Gilgamesh

The ancient Sumerian poem Gilgamesh is structured around the love that the heroic male couple Gilgamesh and Enkidu have for each other.

social sciences >> International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA)

The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) is a worldwide federation of local and national groups dedicated to achieving equal rights for glbtq people.

literature >> Kramer, Larry

Controversial playwright, novelist, and essayist Larry Kramer has been a pioneer in the gay political response to AIDS in America.


Baum, Robert M. "Homosexuality and the Traditional Religions of the Americas and Africa." Homosexuality and World Religions. Arlene Swindler, ed. Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1993. 1-46.

Dunton, Chris. "'Wheyting Be Dat?': The Treatment of Homosexuality in African Literature." Research in African Literatures 20 (1989): 422-448.

Moodie, T. Dunbar. "Migrancy and Male Sexuality on the South African Gold Mines." Hidden From History: Reclaiming The Gay and Lesbian Past. Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncey, Jr., eds. New York: Penguin, 1990. 411-425.

Murray, Stephen O. and Will Roscoe, eds. African Homosexualities. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Vignal, Daniel. "L'Homophilie dans le roman négro-africain d'expression anglaise et française." Peuples Noirs, Peuples Africains 33 (May-June 1983): 63-81.

Woods, Gregory. "Poems of African Manhood." Perversions 1.1 (1994).


    Citation Information
    Author: unknown, unknown  
    Entry Title: African Literatures  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 2, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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