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'Gay people have always existed in Africa - it's time for us to start telling our stories'

Former pastor Edafe Okporo sheds more light on the little-known history of African queer culture.

2020-08-19

Despite the recent decriminalisation of homosexuality in countries like Gabon and Angola, it remains a sad fact that same-sex sexual relations remain illegal across more than half of the continent.

Many of these antiquated laws were imposed on African nation states by colonial European powers (most often, Britain), and as countries such as Nigeria and Uganda continue to persecute LGBTQ people on a widespread scale, some are trying to corrct the false narrative that to be gay is a 'Western' imposition and 'un-African'.

In the Attitude September issue, available to download and to order globally, former pastor Edafe Okporo sheds more light onabout the little-known history of African queer culture and explains why - despite the homophobia of his native Nigeria - he still finds solace in his faith.

Photography: Christopher Tomás

"Prior to the European invasion of Africa and other indigenous lands, there were a vast spectrum of sexualities and gender identities", explains Okporo, who fled Nigeria in 2016 and now resides in New York City.

"[In the 17th century], there was Queen Nzinga Mbande, a powerful ruler of present-day Angola. She organised her court so she was not 'queen', but 'king' of her people.

"She dressed as a man and had multiple husbands who dressed in women’s clothes and were known as her wives.

Queen Nzinga Mbande

"In Angola at the time, gender was recognised as a situational, symbolic, and a personal innate individual characteristic. As a result of this, there were alternative gender roles among groups."

He continues: "In Nigeria, the Bori tribe of the pre-Islamic Hausas consisted of men called dan daudu — “men who are like women”. They were encouraged to openly express themselves, had sex with other men, and lived with women until they took a husband.

"Colonisation forcibly embedded the Western/European view of the Christian religion on indigenous people."

Okporo was born in Warri, an oil city in Southern Nigeria, and was raised by his family in the Christian faith - a religion which was first brought to the country by European colonisers.

Photography: Christopher Tomás

Describing life in Nigeria as a "living hell" for LGBTQ people, he reflects: "We lost a huge part of us to colonisation; we might never get to embrace who we are for a very long time. 

"Our colonisers have passed down a different story about who we are and where we came from."

He goes on: "Confronting colonisation is going to be hard for Africans because it means challenging their Christian God.

Photography: Christopher Tomás

"The subtext of colonisation was to remove Africans from their traditional worship and to use the Bible as a way to police them to follow a new God and to give up their powers."

He adds: "Gay people have always existed and it is time for us to start telling the stories of our existence to prevent further erasure of who we are."

Read the full interview in the Attitude September issue, out now to download and to order globally.

Subscribe in print and get your first three issues for just £3, or digitally for just £1.54 per issue.