Arts + Culture

#Goals: Re-Imagining an Africa Where Gender and Sexuality Is Fluid

Before foreign invasion. Before cultural imperialism. Before the internalisation of Western values and ideals- there was a time of a tolerant and nuanced Africa- well much of it anyway.

By Thandiwe Ntshinga and Mamello Sejake


Before foreign invasion. Before cultural imperialism. Before the internalisation of Western values and ideals—there was a time of a tolerant and nuanced Africa—well much of it anyway. This Africa, made evident by research on precolonial West and Southern Africa, was home to empowered femininity through matriarchs and dual-sex systems. This Africa also understood and accepted the sexual fluidity of its people which went against western heteronormative assumptions.

Our Afrocentric future is simple and involves taking from the past as a means of informing the future. Fact may just be stranger than fiction in the cases of gender equality and sexual fluidity in precolonial Africa. A look into African history will show that homophobia and patriarchy in African society are nothing short of Western cultural imports.

An exploration into pre-colonial African society shows one which challenges the notion of what is “African” in contemporary Africa.

African Queens

Makobo Constance Modjadji VI via Wikimedia

Once upon a time, male dominance was not accepted as a norm. Instead, women were among the most revered and respected. The role of African women extended beyond the domestic domain and allowed women to hold great political authority as advisors, matriarchs and warriors. These displays of empowered femininity were social systems too sophisticated for the European mind of early explorers to comprehend. These include the militant Igbo women who resisted British invasion in Nigeria, the female ruler Ohemmaa of the Akan, in West Africa and South Africa’s Queen Modjadji the Balobedu Rain Queen. Uneasy with social structures which did not conform to Euro-Christian expectations, the ‘civilizing mission’ successfully instilled patriarchy into African society and diminished powerful representations of African women.

Arguably the most popular Black female comic book character, X-Men’s, Storm serves as an illustration of the representation of African women which reflects coloniality in society but also in the comic book sphere. Prior to being hyper sexualised as the token Black member of the X- Men crew, working under white leadership, Storm was actually of African royalty. Storm came from a royal line of Kenyan princesses, from Great Rift Valley, who were genetically inclined to “sorcery”. Unsurprising, with the Western understanding of African spiritual and supernatural practices, Storm’s inborn magical faculties of sorcery saw her as possessing ‘mutant abilities’ by western ‘mutant’, Charles Xavier .

In a discussion about decoloniality Afrofuturism researcher and author William Jones addresses the colonial relationship between Black and white as well as that between female and male characters, found in comics where in the post-colonial era the colonial relationship, symbolism and story remains the same.

Same Sex Relationships

It’s a common assumption in post-colonial Africa that same sex relationships have been informed by the Western world and are a satanistic expression of how colonialism continues to plague African society. The unwillingness to consider the fluidity of sexuality and gender which in itself precedes colonialism is what can be said to have been informed by to missionary contact in Africa that has done the work of reshaping social structures and traditions to suit the colonial legacy it has instilled.

Likewise, there is plenty of evidence that shows that prior to colonial invasion same sex relationships were not frowned upon and there were ethnic groups that allowed people to move within the gender spectrum. So, for example a female would have the freedom to declare herself a man for the sake of sexual liberties and have sexual or platonic same sex relationships. This fluidity was an openly practiced among the Nilotico Lango people from Uganda.

The advent of colonialism has brought with it the idea of fixed gendered roles laced with heteronormative thinking that is assumed to be an integral part of African life and culture. But, a look to Zimbabwe will show you a documentation that proves otherwise. The cave paintings left by San people, which are estimated to be around 2000 years old, depict same sex sexual relations between naked men. Then, further north, among the early Zande warriors in Congo and Sudan, same sex relations were believed to be common practice. The warriors were said to marry younger men who in turn performed the duties of a wife up until he was trained to become a warrior.

Men who behaved and dressed as women in northwest Kenya and Uganda’s Iteso society had sexual relations with other men. Likewise, same sex practices were also recorded among the Banyoro and Langi people from Uganda, while in pre-colonial Benin, engaging in same sex practices was seen as a natural phase for growing boys

There was even a time in Southern Africa when women who were said to be diviners had same sex relationships that may or may not have been sexual, based on the belief that the sanctity was understood to be closer to women and therefore by extension had spiritual intimacy to nature’s fundamental source of sustenance. The Nandi and Kisii people of Kenya, and parts of East Africa, have also been documented as people who practiced female to female marriages as a means of exercising social influence. Therefore, in such societies, these marriages make it possible for women to gain social status as the head of the household and mainly for inheritance purposes.

In Dark Matter, a comic series from the 90’s, there is a story by Samuel Delany where people have been completely stripped of their gender. This was written during a time when it was thought to be improbable that people could exist without conforming to a particular gender which is a replica of western thinking that suggests that one’s gender is informed by their body. Africa’s archives tell tales of many who lived outside of these Eurocentric ideals.

Peering into our past allows us to reimagine a tolerant and nuanced Africa where empowered femininity as well as sexual and gender fluidity are embraced and encouraged. The beauty of our past is in her inconsistency with claims that patriarchy and heteronormativity are synonymous with African culture.

If you allow yourself to turn your mind’s eye back into our past then you have examples of ways of reimagining the future in a way that gives life to the prospect of an Africa that is not Eurocentric in its homogeneousness. Instead, what it offers is an Afrocentric future where our magic lives in our recognition of the sincerity of gender and sexual fluidity as well as a celebration of gender equality.

popular
"Zion 9, 2018" (inkjet on Hahnemuhle photo rag)" by Mohau Modisakeng. Photo courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery.

South African Artist Mohau Modisakeng Makes Solo NYC Debut With 'A Promised Land'

The artist will present the video installation 'ZION' and other works centering on the "global history of displacement of Black communities" at the Jenkins Johnson Gallery in Brooklyn.

Renowned South African visual artist Mohau Modisakeng presents A Promised Land, his latest solo exhibition, opening at Brooklyn's Jenkins Johnson Gallery this month. This marks the New York debut of Modisakeng's ZION video installation, based on the artists's 2017 performance art series by the same name. It originally debuted at the Performa Biennial.

"In ZION the artist deals with the relationship between body, place and the global history of displacement of Black communities," reads a press release. "There is an idea that all people are meant to belong somewhere, yet in reality there are millions of people who are unsettled, in search of refuge, migrating across borders and landscapes for various reasons."

In addition to the video, the show also features seven large-scale photographs that communicate themes of Black displacement. From 19th century Black settlements in New York City, which as the press release notes, were eradicated to clear space for the development of Central Park, to the scores of Africans who have faced conflict that has led them to life as refugees in foreign lands.

Keep reading...
popular
Installation view of Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara © The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2020, photography by Anna-Marie Kellen.

The Met's New Exhibition Celebrates the Rich Artistic History of the Sahel Region

'Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara' is an enxtensive look into the artistic past of the West African region.

West Africa's Sahel region has a long and rich history of artistic expression. In fact, pieces from the area, which spans present-day Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, date all the way back to the first millennium. Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara, a new exhibition showing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, dives into this history to share an expansive introduction to those who might be unfamiliar with the Sahel's artistic traditions.

"The Western Sahel has always been a part of the history of African art that has been especially rich, and one of the things that I wanted to do with this exhibition, that hasn't done before, is show one of the works of visual art...and present them within the framework of the great states that historians have written about that developed in this region," curator Alisa LaGamma tells Okayafrica. She worked with an extensive team of researchers and curators from across the globe, including Yaëlle Biro, to bring the collection of over 200 pieces to one of New York City's most prestigious art institutions.

Keep reading...
Audio
Rema in "Beamer (Bad Boys)" (Youtube)

The 10 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Tony Allen x Hugh Masekela, Sarkodie, Rema, Costa Titch x Riky Rick x AKA and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our best music of the week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Keep reading...
popular
Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Netflix Launches 'Netflix Naija' and Announces First Nigerian Original Series

Netflix is stepping up its game in Nigeria.

After much anticipation, Netflix has announced its presence in Nigeria.

Yesterday, the streaming giant, which had been procuring Nigerian content throughout much of last year after acquiring Genevieve Nnaji's Lionheart in 2018, announced the arrival of Netflix Naija with a new Twitter account.

"N is for Naija. N is for Nollywood,"read the account's announcement tweet. "N is the 14th alphabet. 14 is also how many great talents you're looking at. N is for Netflix. But most importantly...hello, Nigeria!"

The tweet was shared along with a photo of some of the Nigerian film industry's most notable actors and filmmakers, including Banky W, Adesua Etomi, Kunle Folayan, Kemi Adetiba, Omoni Oboli as well as veteran actors Ramsey Nouah and Richard Mofe-Damijo and several others.

Keep reading...

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.