The common belief among Africans is that homosexuality is primarily a story of seduction by Europeans and/or Americans, in which the Africans acquiesced out of fear or from a desire for money. . . But we know that this is a lie, and this is an attempt to shed some light on our true history, that which our colonial masters had ensured was kept hidden from us. In the black/white relationships that did develop into homosexual unions, the white partner appears to have been the aggressor. No doubt the abuse of African people by European/American people has included sexual abuse. What is untrue, the lie, is that such abuse was the origin of African homosexuality.
There are two false assumptions in anthropology. The first false assumption is that savage or primitive people know nothing about homosexuality; the second false assumption is that Africans were savage or primitive. Where there was clear and indisputable evidence of African homosexuality, anthropologists had to invent excuses in order to save these false assumptions, and that is what they did.
The first excuse was that Africans learned homosexuality from the Arabs. Then the excuse was that Africans learned homosexuality by hustling Europeans. Anthropologists said homosexuality was only a corruption practiced by the overly rich chiefs. Then they said that poor people practiced homosexuality because the overly rich chiefs had monopolised all of the women in harems. They said it was only youthful high spirits: the African was not really homosexual; he was just real drunk last night. Every excuse you are likely to hear from a deep closet case was used by Euro-American academics in the attempt to explain away the facts. The facts were: homosexuality was found in almost every major African ethnic group that we know of, through all of the history we know of. Few of the societies of Africa could be called savage or primitive, but all over the world, those people who might fairly be called savage or primitive are perfectly familiar with homosexuality. Homosexuality is not the white man's way. It is the way of gay people of all colours and nations, of all places and times.
One common mistake made, is that of confusing the popularity of homosexual activity with what gay people are doing and how they are treated. In Azandeland, in modern day northern Congo and the Central African Republic, most men, or at least very many men, had homosexual affairs. However, most men were still expected to marry women, father children, and so forth. The Azande knew very well that some men preferred to have sex with other men. Although every man was expected to marry a women, Azande customs provided a man with an excuse to have sex with another man whenever he wanted, throughout life. Marriage between warriors and recruits was only a part of the Azande accommodation to male homosexuality. The Azande were not a liberal people. They were the rare example of a society that punished female homosexuality while imposing no penalty on males. Because it was thought fatal to any man who witnessed it, female homosexuality could, in theory, entail the death penalty. But in fact female homosexuality was common and the public knew about it. In an Azande folktale two women conspire to fool a husband in order to get together. The most common sexual activity between men was intercourse between the thighs. This sort of adaptation is common in cultures where homosexual affairs become fashionable among non-gay men. We do not know what the gay, or preferentially homosexual Azande did. We only know the Azande knew there were such men.
In societies where homosexuality becomes popular across the board, it is usual to find that older men choose unmarried young men and that the older men assume the role of top in these relationships. So it is perhaps instructive to look at two groups in Africa that went counter to that tendency. A good example of an African people with a tradition of male homosexuality between lovers of the same age was the Nyakyusa who lived north of Lake Malawi (aka Lake Nyasa). However important the family was in Africa, you cannot form strong states and vast empires such as Africa had, on the basis of family alone. Intermarriage helps some. But to build a strong state you must have forces that run across family lines, that hold the various families together, and that keep feuds and rivalries from tearing society apart. Various African societies have used various institutions to paste society together. There might be secret societies, like fraternities and sororities, especially in West Africa. There might be trade organisations or craft guilds. There may be dance associations or religious institutions. Very commonly, people are organised in age groups. The Nyakyusa of what is now southwestern Tanzania and northern Zambia carried organisation by age group to the extreme. They organised their villages by age group. One of the first things young Nyakyusa boys did, to show they were becoming responsible, was to herd cattle. Generally a boy and his best friend would herd their families' cattle together. Pasturing the cattle gave the boys plenty of time to play around. And, of course, what they did was to have sex. They danced together, engaged in mutual masturbation, anal sex, and intercourse between the thighs.
Oral sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual, was not very popular in traditional African societies. Most of them thought it was very bad. Oral sex or rape were considered serious crimes which might entail a cattle fine. All of the other things the boys did might get them a tongue lashing or a minor whipping if they were caught by the adults. But everyone knew what was going on and no serious attempt was made to stop the boys. At a fairly young age Nyakyusa boys had to move out of their fathers' homes. At first they were likely to sleep with other boys in abandoned huts or other bachelors' quarters in their fathers' villages. Boys slept together, and naturally had sex with each other at night. So long as force was not used, no crime was reckoned to have occurred when the boys had sex. For the boys, homosexuality was considered a perfectly normal, if not completely desirable, sexual outlet that required no explanation, supernatural or otherwise.
Eventually boys of the same age, perhaps from several parent villages, got together and began to form a village of their own. At first this was a boys' village. The girls remained in the parent villages until the boys reached a marriageable age. In a sense, Nyakyusa villages have a life cycle from boyhood through manhood to old age. A village is child to some other villages, parent to some villages, and brother to yet others.
Now, what do I mean by boys? In Africa you are a child until you become a boy. You remain a boy until you of an age to have a house, a female wife, and children of your own. Nyakyusa began having homosexual relations at 10 to 14 years of age. They seldom married before they were 25. So for ten to fifteen years of the most sexually active part of life, Nyakyusa men practiced homosexuality. Once they got married to women, and virtually all of them did, Nyakyusa men were supposed to stop having homosexual relations. Nonetheless, a few cases of relations between men and boys came to light. This was punishable by a cattle fine. It is said, however, that the men were not afraid of the fine, but of the shame of being caught in activity associated with witchcraft. In any event, Nyakyusa men did not believe it sacrificed their masculinity to perform anal sex in either position. They did not believe they were castrated in the middle of their burning skulls just because they had sex with their friends. Certainly the Nyakyusa public thought it peculiar if a man with a wife at home preferred to have sex with a man or boy, but that only raised questions of witchcraft, not questions of manhood.