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Boy-Wives and Female Husbands

edited by Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe


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The contributions to this volume unequivocally refute claims that African societies lacked homosexual patterns and had no words for those who desire their own sex. Evidence of same—sex patterns has been reported or reviewed here for some fifty African societies, all of which had words—many words, with many meanings—for them. These societies are found within every region of the continent, and they represent every language family, social and kinship organization, and subsistence pattern. There is substantial evidence that same—sex practices and patterns were “traditional”and “indigenous.” While contact between Africans and non—Africans has sometimes influenced both groups’ sexual patterns, there is no evidence that one group ever “introduced” homosexuality where it had not existed before. Since anthropologists and other observers have rarely inquired systematically into the presence of homosexuality in Africa (or elsewhere), absence of evidence can never be assumed to be evidence of absence. Considering that this collection represents the first serious study of the subject, undoubtedly future research will identify many other groups with distinct patterns of homosexuality.

Boy Wives and Female Husbands is the basis of the short play by Caryl Churchill, Pigs and Dogs, which premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in July, 2016.

African Terms for Same-Sex Patterns*

kimbanda, diviners; esenge (pl. omasenge), man possessed by female spirit; eshengi (pl. ovashengi), "he who is approached from behind"
—Ambo/Ovambo (Wanyama)

wändarwäräd, "male-female"; wändawände,"mannish women"
—Amhara (Amharic)

jigele ketön, reciprocal anal intercourse
—Bafia (Fia)

mzili (pl., inzili); buyazi
—Bagishu/Bageshu, Gisu

kitesha (pl. bitesha), male and female

mokobo, tongo, sterile men

akho’si, lagredis, court eunuch; gaglgo, homosexuality
—Dahomey (Fon)

m’uzonj’ame katumua, male lover; m’ndumbi, "podicator"

onek, active male

’dan daudu (pl. ’yan daudu); k’wazo/baja, older/younger men; kifi, lesbianism

okutunduka vanena, anal intercourse; epanga, lover; oupanga, erotic friendship (male or female)
—Herero (Damara)

mwaami, "prophet"

mudoko dako

Boy-Wives and Female Husbands is organized geographically according to four broad regions of sub-Saharan Africa—the Sudan, Horn of Africa, and East Africa; West Africa (including coastal West Africa and the interior sudanic region); Central Africa (from the tropical rainforests of the equatorial region to the Congo basin and east to present-day Tanzania); and southern Africa (from Mozambique and Zambia to South Africa and Namibia). Each of the four regional sections begins with a survey of historical and anthropological reports of same-sex patterns by the editors. The volume concludes with a review of the literature on woman-woman marriages, a general conclusion, and an appendix in which correlations between same-sex patterns and other features of African societies are analyzed. . . .



londo, nonmasculine males




tubele, nonmasculine males
—Mesakin (Ngile)

mke-si-mume, "woman, not man," male and female homosexuals; mashoga (sing. shoga), male; basha (pl. mabasha), partner of mashoga; msagaji, msago (pl. wasagaji, misago), "grinders," lesbians
—Mombasa (Swahili)

soronés, pages
—Mossi (More)

tinkonkana, boy wives
—Mpondo/Pondo (Pana)

koetsire, sexually receptive males; soregus, friendship bond; ôa-/huru, /huru, mutual masturbation; /goe-ugu, "tribadie"

agyale, "friendship marriages" (sex denied)

eshenga, gender-mixing male shamans
—Ondonga (Ndonga)

a bele nnem e bango, "he has the heart [aspirations] of boys"
—Pangwe/Pahouian (Fang)

umuswezi, umukonotsi, "sodomite"; kuswerana nk’imbwa, kunonoka, kwitomba, kuranana inyuma, ku’nyo, male homosexuality; ikihindu and ikimaze (Mirundi), "hermaphrodite" priests
—Rwanda/Ruanda (spoken by Hutus and Tutsis)

nkhonsthana, tinkonkana, nkonkana boy wife; nima, husband
—Tsonga (Thonga)

chibadi, chibanda, chibados, jimbandaa, kibamba, quimbanda
—Umbundu/Mbunda/ Ovimbundu

omututa, (male) homosexuals; eponji, "lovers"

gor—digen, men—women; yauss, insertors; oubi, "open," insertees

ndongo—techi-la, boy-wives

inkosi ygbatfazi, "chief of the women" (diviners); amankotshane, izinkotshane, inkotshane, boy-wife; skesana, cross-gender males; iqgenge, masculine partners

*The names of most African groups in the historical and ethnographic literature are language names. Language appears in parentheses in the case of groups whose names are not language names. Variants of group names are separate by slashes.



“A superb collection of primary research articles and literature review essays on the organizations of homosexuality and the complexities of same-sex patterns.”
—Peter M. Nardi, American Journal of Sociology


“...will likely become regarded as a groundbreaking and vital addition to several fields of study. It soundly refutes the notion of homosexuality as 'un-African' and forces readers to rethink many of the basic Western concepts they take for granted.”
—J. S. Hall, Bay Windows