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Out in Africa

Out in Africa: Same-Sex Desire in Sub-Saharan

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Out in Africa
    Book Description:

    Homosexuality was and still is thought to be quintessentially 'un-African'. Yet in this book Chantal Zabus examines the anthropological, cultural and literary representations of male and female same-sex desire in a pan-African context from the nineteenth century to the present. Reaching back to early colonial contacts between Europe and Africa, and covering a broad geographical spectrum, along a north-south axis from Mali to South Africa and an east-west axis from Senegal to Kenya, here is a comparative approach encompassing two colonial languages (English and French) and some African languages. 'Out in Africa' charts developments in Sub-Saharan African texts and contexts through the work of 7 colonial writers and some 25 postcolonial writers. These texts grow in complexity from roughly the 1860s, through the 1990s with the advent of queer theory, up to 2010. The author identifies those texts that present, in a subterraneous way at first and then with increased confidence, homosexuality-as-an-identity rather than an occasional or ritualized practice, as was the case in the early ethnographic imagination. The work sketches out an evolutionary pattern in representing male and female same-sex desire in the novel and other texts, as well as in the cultural and political contexts that oppose such desires. Chantal Zabus holds the IUF [Institut universitaire de France] Chair of Comparative Postcolonial Literatures and Gender Studies at the University Paris 13 and at the Universities Sorbonne-Paris-Cité, France I. She is author of 'Between Rites and Rights'; 'The African Palimpsest: Indigenization of Language in the West African Europhone Novel', and 'Tempests after Shakespeare'.She is presently Editor-in-Chief of the on-line journal 'Postcolonial Text'.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-197-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction To Make Things Perfectly Queer
    (pp. 1-15)

    The African Continent has always been more queer than generally acknowledged, as Jarrod Hayes had already intuited in Queer Nations (2000) with regards to the Maghreb. It has always rainbow-hazed into such a range of sexualities that it is a matter of legitimate political and critical concern that homosexualities and African societies are currently and were throughout the twentieth century widely read as antinomous. In particular, homosexuality, itself a slippery contender, is still thought to be quintessentially ‘un-African’. Both average citizens as well as contemporary African religious authorities, legislators and heads of state, for whom homosexuality is ‘completely strange to...

  5. 1 Anthropological Wormholes From Pederasts to Female Husbands
    (pp. 16-51)

    Ethnographers and anthropologists writing at the outset of the twentieth century have applied their own vocabularies to grapple with their notion of African homosexualities. Their attempt to marshal and regiment such a fluctuating range of sexualities resulted in an initial clash between sexual relativism and universalism, between indigenous and imported words. I here provide cautionary tales around the instabilities and at times the inappropriateness of terminology around Sub-Saharan African same-sex relations; they function as anthropological ‘wormholes’¹ or pre-texts to the literary texts that endorse them or enfeeble them and will be discussed in subsequent chapters.

    Expressions and phrases to designate...

  6. 2 The Text that Dare Not Speak its Name Forging Male Colonial Intimacies
    (pp. 52-74)

    In this chapter, my concern is with two texts emanating from either side of the colonial African linguistic divide: Le roman d’un spahi (1881) by French novelist Pierre Loti and My Kalulu (1873) by the British explorer Henry Morton Stanley. Even though it is not a text pertaining to Africa, I also make a brief incursion into T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1938) because it provides insights a posteriori into Loti’s and Stanley’s texts. I also briefly refer to Stephanie Newell’s research findings on British writer John Moray-Stuart-Young in that they locate his desire between Nigerian (Igbo) parlance and...

  7. 3 The School for Scandal Missionary Positions & African Sexual Initiations
    (pp. 75-124)

    The ‘nameless love’, recoded as a ‘vice’, was thought to be imported into Africa by depraved Europeans or invasive Arab emirs, who penetrated the passive Sub-Saharan land. Sexuality, or at least one aspect of sexual behaviour coded ‘homosexual’, complicates the clash between two civilizations but also two belief-systems. I therefore outline a movement from early novels in the 1960s and 1970s on both sides of the linguistic divide (Anglophone/Francophone) to later novels in the first decade of the twenty-first century, from sexual initation to gay emancipation. More specifically, this chapter makes a case for a church-and-state pincer plot around the...

  8. 4 The Stuff of Desire Boarding School Girls, Plain Lesbians & Teenage Dykes
    (pp. 125-159)

    In this chapter, I outline the evolutionary stages in writing about female same-sex desire. Tentatively at first and then with increased candour, the women writers under scrutiny encode in their texts the pleasures derived from these relationships and shared between consenting partners in oppressive cultural contexts, which hold that lesbianism is alien to Africa. The authors’ excavation of such pleasures is wrought, however, tentatively and with ontological insecurity, and is marked, in two instances (African and diasporic) by the Gothic mode.

    I first examine implicit ‘queer’ gesturing by African women novelists as of the 1970s, starting with, among others, Selina’s...

  9. 5 Apartheid, Queerness & Diaspora
    (pp. 160-216)

    Diasporic African writing, as illustrated in the discussion of Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching (2009) in the previous chapter, is given another twist in earlier South African novels by women – for example, Bessie Head, Sheila Kohler, Shamim Sarif. Significantly, they wrote from a diasporic position outside South Africa about women desiring women. However unwittingly, they forged their own reconstructions of female same-sex desire against not only the canvas of Apartheid law but also the Afrikaner grain of an ‘erotic patriarchy’, after Michiel Heyns’s apt phrase, which I extend to South African Englishness.¹ Mark Behr’s The Smell of Apples (1993;...

  10. 6 Male & Female Mythologies
    (pp. 217-250)

    Many male African writers deem that their ‘homosexuality’, a word they themselves use, needs to be buttressed by African myths about the creation of the Universe out of a fleshly severance, which is often perceived, after Guinean Saïdou Bokoum in Chaîne (1974), as a ‘humongous reaming’. Surprisingly, as if to corroborate various theses such as those of Cheikh Anta Diop around the Egyptian origins of Sub-Saharan Africa,¹ male African writers have evoked Egyptian myths around Osiris and Horus or around the Mout-Itef or primordial Mother-Father to justify their attraction to men. Others have evoked African phallic cults or creation myths...

  11. Conclusion Trans Africa
    (pp. 251-268)

    From roughly the 1860s through the liberation struggles of the 1960s, and the 1990s with the advent of queer theory, up to the first decade of the twenty-first century, I have, over six chapters, identified those texts by a handful of colonial writers and some thirty African postcolonial writers that present homosexuality-as-an-identity, however nebulous, rather than an occasional or ritualized practice as was the case in the early ethnographic imagination. These texts in which men have sex with men or boys and women have sex with women or girls gain in complexity as they move from considering same-sex desire in...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 269-292)
  13. Filmography
    (pp. 292-292)
  14. Index
    (pp. 293-302)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 303-303)