Wednesday, August 16, 2023



Did Homosexuality Exist in Africa Before Colonization?

Much of Africa is now using the idea that western colonizers “introduced” homosexuality to the continent as a cultural argument against LGBTQ+ rights. However, there is no credible historical or anthropological evidence, nor has any been offered, to support the claim that same-sex relationships never existed before colonization. Homosexuality has been observed in virtually every culture in human history, and Africa is no exception.

Some of the evidence that same-sex relationships were in existence before westerners colonized Africa is listed below, but the list is far from complete. References for further reading are at the end of the article.

Historical Accounts of Homosexuality in Africa

Early European travelers documented same-sex relationships during their journeys through Africa. In the 1590s, Portuguese explorer Andrew Battell, who lived among the Imbangala (in present Angola), wrote, “They are beastly in their living, for they have men in women’s apparel, whom they keepe among their wives.” Even earlier in 1558, a Portuguese account described “unnatural damnation,” a euphemism for male-male sexual relations. 

Ironically, the records and laws of the colonizers can serve as indirect evidence. The very fact that colonial governments felt the need to criminalize same-sex relations is an indication that such relations existed prior to colonization. For example, the British introduced "sodomy" laws (“unnatural carnal knowledge”) in many of their colonies in response to indigenous practices.

 Anthropological Studies of Homosexuality in Africa

In E.E. Evans-Pritchard's anthropological work, he described how the Azandes’ older warriors of early Northern Congo took boy-wives as sexual partners until the boys were old enough to marry a woman. 

Same-sex relations occurred within among the gender-fluid Langi and Iteso peoples of Uganda and in pre-colonial Benin, where it was seen as natural for growing boys to have mutual sexual relations.

Ancient African Art

Cave-wall drawings by Zimbabwe’s San people depicted amorous relations between people of the same sex.

Ancient painting from San people of Zimbabwe (Mehra, Bharat & Lemieux, Paul & Stophel, Keri).

Cultural Practices

The Nzema people of Ghana had a tradition of same-sex marriage   between older and younger men, bearing a similarity to the pederasty of ancient Greece. Although these unions, called agonwole agyale, invariably begin with strong mutual physical attraction between the two men, according to the researcher of this paper, Italo Signorini, sexual intercourse did not occur even if both men slept in the same bed. The bottom line, however, is that same-sex marriage, and at least emotional and physical closeness did exist. There is a range of same-sex behavior, and just as in heterosexuality, sexual relations in homosexuality are important but not essential.

How Did Homosexuality in Africa Come to be Repudiated by Africans?

A Distortion and Denial of the History of Homosexuality in Africa

The idea of homosexuality as a category of identity is itself a relatively recent development in human history, associated more with modern Western societies, but same-sex behavior and diverse gender expressions have been a normal part of human societies around the world, including Africa, for millennia.

A discontinuity exists between acceptance of same-sex relationships in historical Africa and the present rejection and abhorrence of homosexuality. But in his book, Heterosexual Africa?: The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS, Marc Epprecht points out that the discontinuity originated not in Africa at all, but in Europe and North America. The European explorers of Africa, especially the missionaries, were in rigid opposition to same-sex relationships the time they arrived on the continent’s shores. In that case, how or why would they have “imposed” homosexuality on Africans? Further, Michael Foucault argued that the industrial and scientific revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries spawned a radical change in attitudes toward the nature of sexuality and gender roles.

How Russian and American Far-Right Organizations Came Together Over Anti-LGBTQ Rights

The right-wing organization, World Congress of Families (WCF) was founded in 1997 by a pro-family activist, anti-LGBTQ American college professor, Allan Carlson,  and Russian intellectuals Anatoly Antonov and Viktor Medkov. Since then, the WCF has worked to mainstream the doctrine of the “natural family” and curtail LGBTQ and reproductive rights across the world. A full account of the Russian involvement in the WCF can be found in this exhaustive article by Kristina Stoecki, but the short of it is that the Russian Orthodox Church became heavily involved from around 2006 with American religious right-wing institutions when a younger generation took over leadership from Anatoly Antonov. With sponsorship from wealthy donors, the WCF officially arrived in Russia in 2016. It had a deep connection to Russian politicians who introduced laws that affirmed “traditional family values” and condemned homosexuality. 

The WCF in Africa

If the language used by Russian lawmakers concerning the protection of “traditional family values” appears remarkably similar to Ghana’s Bill for the “Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values,” it isn’t a coincidence. The WCF, which is pro-Putin from the perspective of Russian criminalization of LGBTQ people and forbidding “non-traditional sexual relations,” has been holding conferences in Africa for years now, even though their activity since 2019 appears to have diminished somewhat. Malawi was the site for a WCF conference in November 2017. Along with the “natural family” language of the Russian traditionalists, the WCF has been appropriating anti-colonial rhetoric in its regional African efforts. Hence the insidious and now-entrenched belief that homosexuality is an import of colonization. The WCF has been active in Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria.

The irony, of course, is that as African politicians genuflect to right-wing Russian and American right-wing religious organizations, they claim that their respective countries are “sovereign and independent.”


Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies in African Homosexualities,  Stephen O. Murray  (Editor), Will Roscoe  (Editor), Marc Epprecht  (Preface)

Heterosexual Africa?: The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS, by Marc Epprecht

Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande, by E.E. Evans-Pritchard


  1. Kwei--I can't tell you how much I appreciate all your research on this series and the references you are generous enough to share. Tons of reading for me to do. Thanks.

  2. Replies
    1. From me too, Kwei, a heartfelt thank you for your string of well constructed and factually backed posts on matters that worry many of us. Important to raise awareness in this age when misinformation, bluff and bluster are so readily spread.