Gay Sub-Saharan Rock Art In Zim

Gay Sub-Saharan Rock Art In Zim

by Patrick Toomey                              Posted: 2016/06/06

Ancient rock art found in Zimbabwe proves that homosexuality isn’t foreign to African culture.

There exists a pervasive idea in the minds of countless Africans that homosexuality is inherently un-African by nature. Many people living in southern Africa believe that homosexuality was a colonial import and that it did not exist prior to European imperialism on the continent. These beliefs have bred a vicious, and often violent, form of homophobia in various sub-Saharan African nations, with political leaders in a number of countries publicly encouraging a mentality of denial regarding the very existence of homophobia in their nations.

Robert Mugabe, the long-term leader of Zimbabwe, once famously described homosexuals as being “worse than pigs, goats and birds”. Last year while speaking to the General Assembly of the United Nations, Mugabe went on a tirade in response to international criticism of Zimbabwe’s persecution of homosexuals: “We equally reject attempts to prescribe ‘new rights’ that are contrary to our values, norms, traditions, and beliefs. We are not gays!”

Mugabe’s beliefs here are made quite clear: homosexuality is un-African, and certainly un-Zimbabwean. What a queer statement for the long-term Zanu PF leader to make, for Zimbabwe is home to one of the oldest cave paintings on Earth which depicts, well, an orgy. But not just ANY orgy – a gay orgy!

Marc Epprecht, a British-born professor of Global Development Studies and History at Queen’s University in Canada, published a book in 2004 titled, Hungochani: The History of a Dissident Sexuality in Southern Africa. In the first few pages of the book is an image painted by San Bushmen, “dating from at least two thousand years ago” and depicts “what appears to be three males engaged in anal or intercural intercourse, plus two male couples, one embracing face to face while in the other one partner guides an enormous erect penis toward his behind (Garlake 1995, 28).” 

Epprecht goes on to explain that, “Anthropologists of the Bushmen and related Khoi in recent times … do confirm that same-sex sexual practices not only existed in pre-modern milieu but were common enough to be socially acceptable”.

This “pre-modern milieu” of course includes the period estimated to be 2 000 years ago when the aforementioned San cave-painting was created, and thus predates the earliest known European explorers in southern Africa by well over 1 000 years. It seems then that Mugabe’s notion (one shared by many African statesmen) of homosexuality being un-African is completely and utterly false.  

(Photo courtesy of Hungochani: The History of a Dissident Sexuality in Southern Africa, by Marc Epprecht)


From where, then, does this homophobia in southern Africa arise? This is, of course, not an easy question to answer, but a good place to start is the introduction of mission Christianity by European colonists.

Prior to the introduction of mission Christianity onto the African continent there existed an enormous variety of traditional African religions. These faiths shared many commonalities with each other while also possessing unique characteristics and rituals depending on the geographic location and the tribe practising the faith in question. In pre-Christian (and thus pre-colonial) Africa, traditional African faiths centred on the honouring of one’s ancestors, the spirits and presence of whom remained among the living, for they often were believed to have acted as intermediaries between the living and the divine. These faiths emphasised the vital importance of praying and honouring the departed so as to ensure a bountiful harvest, good health for the living, and general prevention of hardship. These faiths did not offer critiques of homosexuality, or human sexuality in general for that matter: that was Christianity’s job.

The Bible is not shy to homophobia. One homophobic quote from the Old Testament reads: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads” (Leviticus, 20:13). The message here is clear, and the introduction of a faith so virulently committed to the eradication of homosexuality spelt the beginning of centuries of oppression for sub-Saharan Africa’s rich examples of non-heterosexual ways of life.

Enze Han, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Politics and International Studies at SAOS at University of London, and Joseph O’Mahoney, Assistant Professor at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University, USA, produced a report in 2014 titled The British colonial origins of anti-gay laws, which noted that “57 percent of states with such a law [which criminalizes homosexuality] have a British colonial origin. Almost 70 percent of states with a British origin continue to criminalize homosexual conduct”.

Former British colonies, including Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Uganda, all have laws punishing homosexuality, laws which, along with intense cultural homophobia, are part of these nations’ brutal colonial inheritance.

The year is 2016, and European notions of race, sexuality, and gender continue to permeate their former colonies throughout Africa. Christianity informed the anti-sodomy laws and anti-homosexual laws of the British Empire, laws which continue to legally persecute millions of non-heterosexual Africans. What leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Sam Nujoma of Namibia need to accept and admit is that their nations’ possess a history before European colonisation: a history of cultures and tribes that promoted progressiveness.

In pre-colonial and pre-Christian Uganda, it was the “mudoko dako”, effeminate men who were treated by their societies as women and who were permitted to marry other men. In Namibia it was the Damara, who had instances of lesbian couples using artificial penises during intercourse. And, of course, in Zimbabwe it was San Bushmen partaking in gay orgies, which (thank the gay gods) have been recorded for the entire world to see.

Ancient rock art found in Zimbabwe proves that homosexuality isn’t foreign to African culture.


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