“African culture” is not against homosexuality
There are many ways of condemning same sex marriage and of increasing discrimination against LGBTQI communities in Africa, however the most common and forceful ones are always based on culture, tradition and faith. A confused trio based on ignorance. Sadly, it has become normal that in many African countries, people say homosexuality is not African; that is is unatural and a sin for those who belive in God.
The question that arises is then; how much do people know about their cultures, traditions and faith as they were before colonialism, so as to truly understand what their culture is (the claim of an “African culture” as not taking into account the diversity of such a big continent)? Few might be able to reply to this question.
Affirming something based on lie or ignorance as part of culture is culture abuse. Many know what they have been taught at school, church or through political spheres. Yet, these institutions were not present before colonisation, so they are not able to dig into the true culture that was lived before colonisation. As Caryl Churchill said, people should understand that African culture was not innately against homosexuality, instead the encounter with the western world through colonisation and Christianity brought discrimination towards the same sex unions and intimacy which was present in many part of Africa as part of the society.
In many african societies and countries such Gabon, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya etc., same sex union and practices were accepted and celebated as part of the society. Certainly, we cannot talk about homesexuality or the LGBTQI community as we talk about it today. There were norms and attitudes that were normal for communities and more well recognized than today. This can be shown in some literature, and in a very considerable way it can be found in a piece of theatre entitled Pigs & dogs by Caryl Churchill. This piece try to portray the reasons that lead Uganda to establish the Anti Gay bill,l allowing those found guilty for homosexuality to punished by death sentence.
Churchill talked about the stance of country leaders such as the late president of Zimbabwe, Mugabe, who openly said “if dogs and pigs don’t do, why must human beings?”. She also points out the involvement of American evangelists who are trying to win Africa because they are losing influence in America. It is a piece that talks about gender fluidity and also emphasizes homosexuality in Africa as a practice that is not new.
African history as documented by anthropologists Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe presents us an unknown Africa where both women and men engaged in same sex marriages, such as the Nandi and Kisii in Kenya, Igbo in Nigeria, Nuer in Sudan, Kuria in Tanzania and so forth. Same-sex pactice were also recorded in many other parts of Africa.This suggests that the reason why African countries are hostile to homosexuaity is due to colonial laws. Colonisation silenced certain practices and attitudes that it considered uncivilised.
France and England, two major countries that colonised many countries in Africa, both had laws that criminalized homosexuality during that period of time, so implementing them in the countries they ruled was more than normal. Sadly these laws remained even after independence, as many countries inherited a copy of their ex-colonist’s constitution. The only country that tried to integrate something new based on their own culture framework into law is South Africa.
The concept of Ubuntu was introduced in South African law to play an important role after apatheid was abolished, and it is no wonder that it is the only country in Africa that allows gay marriage and recognizes gay rights. Instead, we can see how these laws have been “straightened” by chrisian morality.The piece of Churchill for instance acknowledges the role of colonisation and Christianity in bringing homophobia to Africa.
It is hurtful when people uses scriptures to justify their discrimination and marginalize the LGBTQI community. Unfortunately, the bible has become a reference point for making someone’s life be viewed as meaningless and unworthy. However shocking it might sound, this behaviour is not new. Even when slaves were being exploited for centuries, in one way or the other the Bible was used to justify it. The Bible has also beenused to justify the discrimination of women in pubic spaces and in the Church. There is nothing new – only the subject changed. Claiming that the Bible is clear about homosexuality is not enough. Throughout the centuries, the Bible has been understood in different ways. Indeed, since the very beginning the interpretation of the gospel has not been not clear.
The episode of Peter baptizing an uncircumstanced Cornelius (Acts 11:1-10) can show us how unprepared the community was for the spirit of God to work even for people considered unworthy for salvation. In the same way, it took centuries for lay people to be given access to the Bible and be able to read it on their own as a source of meditation and spiritual growth. It also took more than a century for us to understand that wars are not the way to evangelise and convert people into Christianity.
Time changes and history teaches, however the struggle of letting go of opinions which do not give the space to love and value someone’s life, can be seen when people use their faith in God and religious convictions to justify why LGBTQI people should not have rights. That they should not have the right to be protected, a scenario unfortunately common in many countries across Africa. Being welcoming is a beautiful thing, but what does it mean if faith doesn’t permit true acceptance and inclusion not only in society but also in churches and families.
It would be like the time apostles welcomed the uncircumstanced and non jewish christians but wouldn’t eat with them. This kind of welcoming does more harm than good. It is what the apostle Paul called “hypocrisy” in Galatians (2:11-13) when he confronted Peter for not eating with the Gentiles anymore.
Ignorance and unwillingness to know more about your own culture and your own faith can have a huge impact on how one views the world and life in general. The blame game of who brought homophobia or homesexuality will only stop when responsability takes over. The responsibility of loving our neighbour unconditionally as the bible teaches, the responsibility of protecting the other no matter how different he or she might appear, and last but not the least, the responsibility of learning to understand more and not be satisfied with the little we know as indisputable truths.