Well, dissertation stress has hit hard these past few weeks. Every moment seems to be reading through my draft, reading books, reading articles, reading specific chapters in edited books, re-reading through my draft, re-reading articles, re-reading chapters, then repeat ad infinitum until it is time for bed. Next day, see step one and repeat. That said, writing this dissertation has been a blast so far, I’ve loved every minute of it, so I thought I’d review one of the books I read for it here on this blog!
Boy-Wives and Female Husbands is a collection of essays surveying the diversity of same-sex practices across the African continent, moving from the Horn of Africa, Sudan, and East Africa, to West Africa, to Central Africa, and then finally to Southern Africa in its four sections. The editors have also included a selection of colonial writings on the nature of African sexuality, with texts from Kurt Falk, M. Haberlandt, Günter Tessman, amongst others being reprinted alongside contemporary academic scholarship. The central focus of the collection is the disputation of the oft-propagated ‘Myth of Homosexual Africa’, arguing that homosexuality has existed in Africa for years prior to colonial settlement, and that claims to the contrary have been shaped by powerful nationalistic erasures of homosexual cultures in Africa.
My favourite chapters within the collection were undoubtedly Kendall’s ‘”When a Woman Loves a Woman” in Lesotho: Love, Sex, and the (Western) Construction of Homophobia’, Marc Epprecht’s ‘”Good God Almighty, What’s This!”: Homosexual “Crime” in Early Colonial Zimbabwe’, and Rudolf P. Gaudio’s ‘Male Lesbians and Other Queer Notions in Hausa’, alongside the introductory and closing chapters written by the editors, Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe. Kendall’s chapter highlights the linguistic and cultural complexities evoked by discussions of Lesbianism amongst women in Lesotho. From the issues inherent in interviewing people from differing cultures and geographies, to the subtle distinctions from the western binary models academic scholarship often proffers, Kendall’s chapter is engaging, interesting, and wonderfully researched. A must-read for those interested in Lesbian relationships within African history.
Put frankly, I adore everything Marc Epprecht has written. For this dissertation, I’ve sat down and read a number of his texts (one of which, Hungochani, has a review in draft format ready for publication on this blog sometime!) and his chapter provided an excellent excavation of colonial records on same-sex contact, highlighting the discourses, absences, and actors described within the archival records that remain. Epprecht’s chapter is thoroughly researched, acknowledges the limitations of colonial sources upon the topic, and challenges existing preconceptions and myths surrounding the nature of African sexual cultures brilliantly. Epprecht excavates colonial criminal records to read into the construction of attitudes towards same-sex sexual contact and, by extension, the silences that are deployed within these documents.
Boy-Wives and Female Husbands is a well-collected (though by no means extensive) examination of the prevalence of sexual cultures across the African continent, highlighting both colonial and postcolonial voices on the subject through its chapters on distinct African geographical regions. The collection calls for a broader engagement with the history of African sexualities (an area that continues to be examined into the present), and offers an excellent introductory text for students of African history to launch their own enquiries.
That’s all for now,
Fig. 1 – Cover of Stephen O. Murray, Will Roscoe (eds.), Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies in African Homosexualities, Palgrave, 1998. Image taken from the Boy-Wives and Female Husbands Goodreads page which can be viewed here.
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