Readings in Sexualities from Africa
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Images and stories about African sexuality abound in today's globalized media. Frequently old stereotypes and popular opinion inform these stories, and sex in the media is predominately approached as a problem in need of solutions and intervention. The authors gathered here refuse an easy characterization of African sexuality and instead seek to understand the various erotic realities, sexual practices, and gendered changes taking place across the continent. They present a nuanced and comprehensive overview of the field of sex and sexuality in Africa to serve as a guide though the quickly expanding literature. This collection offers a set of texts that use sexuality as a prism for studying how communities coalesce against the canvas of larger political and economic contexts and how personal lives evolve therein. Scholars working in Africa, the U.S., and Europe reflect on issues of representation, health and bio-politics, same-sex relationships and identity, transactional economies of sex, religion and tradition, and the importance of pleasure and agency. This multidimensional reader provides a comprehensive view of sexuality from an African perspective.



Note on Sources

Introduction: Reading "sexualities" from "Africa" / Rachel Spronk and Thomas Hendriks

I. Representing "African" Sexualities

1. Is there a distinct African sexuality? A critical response to Caldwell / Beth Maina Ahlberg

2. Which bodies matter? Feminism, poststructuralism, race, and the curious theoretical odyssey of the "Hottentot Venus" / Zine Magubane

3. "Bisexuality" and the Politics of Normal in African Ethnography / Marc Epprecht

4. On Being Area-Studied: A Litany of Complaint / Keguro Macharia

II. Bio-Politics—Sexual Health

5. Dangerous Aphrodisiac, Restless Sexuality: Venereal Disease, Biomedicine, and Protectionism in Colonial Lagos, Nigeria / Saheed Aderinto

6. Irua Ria Atumia and Anti-Colonial Struggles among the Gikuyu of Kenya: A Counter Narrative on "Female Genital Mutilation" / Wairimu N. Njambi

7. "These Women, They Force Us to Rape Them": Rape as Narrative of Social Control in Post- Apartheid South Africa / Helen Moffett

8. "Transparent Sexualities": Sexual Openness, HIV Disclosure and the Governmentality of Sexuality in South Africa / Marian Burchardt

III. Same-Sex Practices—Gendered Identities

9. A Note on "Woman Marriage" in Dahomey / Melville J. Herskovits

10. Sexual Inversion Among the Azande / Edward E. Evans-Pritchard

11. "A Man is a Man Completely and a Wife is a Wife Completely": Gender Classification and Performance amongst "Ladies" and "Gents" in Ermelo, Mpumalanga'/ Graeme Reid

12. The Imagined Homoconference: "Activist-ism" and the Politics of Indirection, Serena Dankwa

IV. Love Transactions—Economies of Pleasure

13. The Materiality of Everyday Sex: Thinking beyond "Prostitution"/ Mark Hunter

14. On remuneration for homosexual practices in Bamako / Christophe Broqua

15. Belonging in Ethno-Erotic Economies: Adultery, Alterity, and Ritual in Postcolonial Kenya / George P. Meiu

16. The Pleasures of the City: Masculinity, Sexuality and Femininity in Dakar / Tshikala K. Biaya

V. Mobilizing Religion—Queering Tradition

17. Post-Colonial Histories of Sexuality: The Political Invention of a Libidinal African straight / Basile Ndjio

18. Homosexuality, Politics and Pentecostal Nationalism in Zambia / Adriaan van Klinken

19. "He Uses my Body": Female Traditional Healers, Male Ancestors and Transgender in South Africa / Cheryl Stobie

20. The sexual potentate. On sodomy, fellatio and other postcolonial privacies / Achille Mbembe

VI. Discrete Pleasures—Defiant Agencies

21. Sex Lives among Young People / Jomo Kenyatta

22. Eroticism, Sensuality and Women's Secrets among the Baganda / Sylvia Tamale

23. Sex, Food and Female Power: Discussion of Data Material from Northern Mozambique / Signe Arnfred

24. My Childhood as an Adult Molester / Zackie Achmat

List of Sources

List of Contributors




Publié par
Date de parution 04 février 2020
Nombre de lectures 3
EAN13 9780253047649
Langue English

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Jocelyn Alexander and David Pratten, editors
Edited by Rachel Spronk and Thomas Hendriks
Indiana University Press, in association with the International African Institute
This book is a publication of
Indiana University Press
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Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
2020 by International African Institute
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1 2 3 4 5 25 24 23 22 21 20
Note on Sources
Introduction: Reading Sexualities from Africa / Thomas Hendriks and Rachel Spronk
Part I. Representing African Sexualities
1 Is There a Distinct African Sexuality? A Critical Response to Caldwell / Beth Maina Ahlberg
2 Which Bodies Matter? Feminism, Poststructuralism, Race, and the Curious Theoretical Odyssey of the Hottentot Venus / Zine Magubane
3 Bisexuality and the Politics of Normal in African Ethnography / Marc Epprecht
4 On Being Area-Studied: A Litany of Complaint / Keguro Macharia
Part II. Biopolitics-Sexual Health
5 Dangerous Aphrodisiac, Restless Sexuality: Venereal Disease, Biomedicine, and Protectionism in Colonial Lagos, Nigeria / Saheed Aderinto
6 Irua Ria Atumia and Anticolonial Struggles among the G k y of Kenya: A Counternarrative on Female Genital Mutilation / Wairim Ngar iya Njambi
7 These Women, They Force Us to Rape Them : Rape as Narrative of Social Control in Postapartheid South Africa / Helen Moffett
8 Transparent Sexualities : Sexual Openness, HIV Disclosure, and the Governmentality of Sexuality in South Africa / Marian Burchardt
Part III. Same-Sex Practices-Gendered Identities
9 A Note on Woman Marriage in Dahomey / Melville Jean Herskovits
10 Sexual Inversion among the Azande / Edward E. Evans-Pritchard
11 A Man Is a Man Completely and a Wife Is a Wife Completely : Gender Classification and Performance among Ladies and Gents in Ermelo, Mpumalanga / Graeme Reid
12 The Imagined Homoconference: Activistism and the Politics of Indirection / Serena Owusu Dankwa
Part IV. Love Transactions-Economies of Pleasure
13 The Materiality of Everyday Sex: Thinking beyond Prostitution / Mark Hunter
14 On Remuneration for Homosexual Practices in Bamako / Christophe Broqua
15 Belonging in Ethnoerotic Economies: Adultery, Alterity, and Ritual in Postcolonial Kenya / George Paul Meiu
16 The Pleasures of the City: Masculinity, Sexuality, and Femininity in Dakar (1997-2000) / Tshikala Kayembe Biaya
Part V. Mobilizing Religion-Queering Tradition
17 Postcolonial Histories of Sexuality: The Political Invention of a Libidinal African Straight / Basile Ndjio
18 Homosexuality, Politics, and Pentecostal Nationalism in Zambia / Adriaan S. van Klinken
19 He Uses My Body : Female Traditional Healers, Male Ancestors, and Transgender in South Africa / Cheryl Stobie
20 The Sexual Potentate: On Sodomy, Fellatio, and Other Postcolonial Privacies / Achille Mbembe
Part VI. Discrete Pleasures-Defiant Agencies
21 Sex Life among Young People / Jomo Kenyatta
22 Eroticism, Sensuality, and Women s Secrets among the Baganda: A Critical Analysis / Sylvia Tamale
23 Sex, Food, and Female Power: Discussion of Data Material from Northern Mozambique / Signe Arnfred
24 My Childhood as an Adult Molester: A Salt River Moffie / Zackie Achmat
List of Original Sources by Chapter
List of Contributors
T HE EDITORS WISH to thank Stephanie Kitchen for her invaluable support with the logistics of getting this book together and her flawless enthusiasm; David Pratten and Jocelyn Alexander for their generous and perceptive comments on the Introduction; Siebert Wielstra and Marit Roomer for their diligent assistance assembling the text; and Silva Luna for help compiling the Index.
Note on Sources
A LL ARTICLES FROM Africa are republished courtesy of the International African Institute. Routledge (Taylor and Francis) are thanked for granting gratis permission to use material from the Canadian Journal of African Studies, African Identities , African Studies , and the Journal of Southern African Studies . All rights holders have been contacted and permissions secured as per details below.
Zackie Achmat
(1995) My Childhood as an Adult Molester: A Salt River Moffie, in M. Gevisser and E. Cameron (eds.), Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa . London and New York: Routledge, 325-41.
Reprinted by permission of Routledge, Taylor Francis Ltd, .
Saheed Aderinto
(2012) Dangerous Aphrodisiac, Restless Sexuality: Venereal Disease, Biomedicine, and Protectionism in Colonial Lagos, Nigeria, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 13 (3).
Reprinted with permission of Johns Hopkins University Press.
Beth Maina Ahlberg
(1994) Is There a Distinct African Sexuality? A Critical Response to Caldwell, Africa 64 (2): 220-42.
Permission courtesy of the International African Institute.
Signe Arnfred
(2007) Sex, Food, and Female Power: Discussion of Data Material from Northern Mozambique, Sexualities 10 (2): 141-58.
Published courtesy of Sage Publishing, UK.
Tshikala Kayembe Biaya
(2001) The Pleasures of the City: Masculinity, Sexuality, and Femininity in Dakar [translated version of Les plaisirs de la ville: Masculinit , sexualit et f minit Dakar (1997-2000) ], African Studies Review 44 (2): 71-85.
Permission courtesy of Cambridge University Press. Translated by Andrew S. Brown.
Christophe Broqua
(2009) On Remuneration for Homosexual Practices in Bamako [translated version of Sur les retributions des pratiques homosexuelles Bamako ], Canadian Journal of African Studies 43 (1): 60-82.
Reprinted by permission of Taylor Francis Ltd, . Translated by Andrew S. Brown.
Marian Burchardt
(2013) Transparent Sexualities : Sexual Openness, HIV Disclosure, and the Governmentality of Sexuality in South Africa, Culture, Health Sexuality 15 (S4): 495-508.
Reprinted by permission of Taylor Francis Ltd, .
Serena Owusua Dankwa
(unpublished) The Imagined Homoconference: Activistism and the Politics of Indirection.
Published with permission of the author.
Marc Epprecht
(2006) Bisexuality and the Politics of Normal in African Ethnography, Anthropologica 48 (2): 187-201.
Reprinted courtesy of Marc Epprecht and Anthropologica .
Edward E. Evans-Pritchard
(1970) Sexual Inversion among the Azande, American Anthropologist 72 (6): 1428-34.
Reprinted by permission of the American Anthropological Association.
Melville Jean Herskovits
(1937) A Note on Woman Marriage in Dahomey, Africa 10 (3): 335-41.
Permission courtesy of the International African Institute.
Mark Hunter
(2002) The Materiality of Everyday Sex: Thinking beyond Prostitution, African Studies 61 (1): 99-120.
Reprinted by permission of Taylor Francis Ltd, .
Jomo Kenyatta
(1938) Sex Lives among Young People, from Facing Mount Kenya. The Traditional Life of the Kikuyu, Nairobi: Heinemann Educational Books (EA) [originally published by the International African Institute], 155-62.
Permission courtesy of the International African Institute.
Keguro Macharia
(2016) On Being Area-Studied: A Litany of Complaint, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 22 (2): 183-90.
Republished by permission of the copyright holder, Duke University Press, .
Zine Magubane
(2001) Which Bodies Matter? Feminism, Poststructuralism, Race, and the Curious Theoretical Odyssey of the Hottentot Venus, Gender and Society 15 (6): 816-34.
Reprinted by permission of Sage Publications.
Achille Mbembe
(2006) Le potentat sexuel: propos de la sodomie, de la fellation et autres privaut s postcoloniales [ The Sexual Potentate: On Sodomy, Fellatio, and Other Postcolonial Privacies ], Le Messager , February 13.
Permission courtesy of Achille Mbembe. Translated by Andrew S. Brown.
George Paul Meiu
(2016) Belonging in Ethnoerotic Economies: Adultery, Alterity, and Ritual in Postcolonial Kenya, American Ethnologist 43 (2): 215-29.
Reprinted by permission of the American Anthropological Association.
Helen Moffett
(2006) These Women, They Force Us to Rape Them : Rape as Narrative of Social Control in Postapartheid South Africa, Journal of Southern African Studies 32 (1): 129-44.
Reprinted by permission of Taylor Francis Ltd, , on behalf of the editorial board of the Journal of Southern African Studies .
Basile Ndjio
(2012) Postcolonial Histories of Sexuality: The Political Invention of a Libidinal African Straight, Africa 82 (4): 609-31.
Permission courtesy of the International African Institute.
Wairim Ngar iya Njambi
(2007) Irua Ria Atumia and Anticolonial Struggles among the G k y of Kenya: A Counternarrative on Female Genital Mutilation, Critical Sociology 33 (4): 689-708.
Reprinted by permission of Sage Publications.
Graeme Reid
(2005) A Man Is a Man Completely and a Wife Is a Wife Completely : Gender Classification and Performance among Ladies and Gents in Ermelo, Mpumalanga, in G. Reid and L. Walker (eds.), Men Behaving Differently: South African Men since 1994 . Cape Town: Double Storey, 205-29.
Published courtesy of Graeme Reid.
Cheryl Stobie
(2011) He Uses My Body : Female Traditional Healers, Male Ancestors, and Transgender in South Africa, African Identities 9 (2): 149-62.
Reprinted by permission of Taylor Francis Ltd, .
Sylvia Tamale
(2005) Eroticism, Sensuality, and Women s Secrets among the Baganda, Feminist Africa 5: 9-36.
Published courtesy of Sylvia Tamale and Feminist Africa .
Adriaan S. van Klinken
(2013) Homosexuality, Politics, and Pentecostal Nationalism in Zambia, Studies in World Christianity 20 (3): 259-81.
Permission courtesy of Edinburgh University Press.
Reading Sexualities from Africa
Thomas Hendriks
Rachel Spronk
I MAGES AND STORIES about African sexuality abound in today s globalized mediascape. From the current wave of homophobia to female genital mutilation, from promiscuity, transactional sex and HIV to sexual violence and corrective rape, these images and stories often produce a dark picture of the African continent. This darkness is nothing new: it goes back to old stereotypes about African savagery and sexual permissiveness. In one form or another, sticky stereotypes continue to inform media coverage and popular opinions but also, to a certain extent, academic research on sexuality in Africa. Sex is thereby predominantly approached as a problem, urgently in need of solutions and interventions (usually from global health initiatives or sexual rights activists).
While there are, of course, many worrying issues and developments related to sex and gender in diverse African settings, the dominant framing of sex as a problem often calls for explanations that, explicitly or implicitly, look for answers in a distinctive system of African sexuality. Africa s sexual problems-from so-called traditional practices to the alleged difference of African AIDS-are thereby accounted for by referring to a different kind of sexuality: a sexuality that would be inherently African. In an often-cited article, demographer John Caldwell, anthropologist Pat Caldwell, and their colleague Pat Quiggin made an influential argument for the existence of such a distinct and internally coherent African system embracing sexuality, marriage, and much else (1989, 187). While their monolithic image of African sexuality did not leave much space for the many variations and diversities that exist on the African continent, their thesis was eagerly taken up in public health and development sectors, as it appeared to offer an explanation for Africa s supposed difference in the face of the imminent HIV crisis (Aina 1990; Heald 1995; Iliffe 2006; Patton 1992).
Although the African sexuality thesis has provoked many critiques, which have refuted its validity and unveiled its reproduction of deep-seated racial stereotypes (see section one in this book), studies from particular geographical locations on the African continent are still often used interchangeably and thus entrench the idea of an African sexuality as an a priori category in scholarly imagination and practice. As such, research often depersonalizes sex and reduces actual people to a population of objects whose individual characteristics, personal histories, and various erotic experiences are erased. Clearly, as researchers, academics, activists, citizens, and policymakers, we can do better.
The following chapters offer a collection of texts that refuse the easy solution of African sexuality as a way of understanding the various erotic realities, sexual practices, and gendered changes on the African continent, where-as all over the world-people engage in sex for many reasons: as a pursuit of pleasure, a desire for intimacy, an expression of love or affection, a definition of a gendered sense of self, or for procreation, domination, money, reproduction, power, or coercion, or any combination thereof. This book presents a comprehensive overview of the field of sex and sexualities in Africa, so as to serve as a guide through the quickly expanding literature. It offers a set of texts that use sexuality as an analytic prism for studying how communities unfold against the canvas of larger political-economic contexts and how personal lives evolve therein. While steering away from a homogeneous understanding of African sexuality, the selected texts illustrate how and why sexuality taps into multiple symbolic domains and is often central to social organization, cultural dynamics, and political contestation. As editors, we could thereby build on several earlier collections, further updating the developments that have been identified in these groundbreaking works and also extending their theoretical potential (Arnfred 2004a; Ekine and Abbas 2013; Izugbara et al. 2010; Matebeni 2014; Matebeni et al. 2018; Nyeck and Epprecht 2013; Tamale 2011a; Undie and Benaya 2006).
In selecting the texts for this book, we tried to strike a balance between scholars working from diverse African institutional settings and those working from European or American universities. We also deliberately mixed same-sex and cross-sex material, as well as texts on female and male erotic experiences. As such, we bring to the fore common themes and analytical directions that transcend binary categorizations and disturb a common academic division of labor. Moreover, while we decided to emphasize recent scholarship and cutting-edge work in order to reflect the many rapid changes occurring on the African continent today, we also included some older ethnographic work and new research on colonial and precolonial sexual settings, so as to historicize the field of sex and sexuality studies in Africa. Finally, although we cannot but recognize that, also in Africa, sexuality studies are a mainly English-speaking field, we nonetheless included texts from Francophone and Lusophone national settings (including translations from French texts).
We present the selected articles and book chapters in six thematic sections that cover the extensive field of sex and sexuality research in Africa, successively dealing with (1) issues of representation, (2) health and biopolitics, (3) same-sex practices and identities, (4) the transactional economics of sex, (5) issues of religion and tradition, and (6) the importance of pleasure and agency. It will, however, be clear to the reader that many texts have links to more than one section. The recurrence of themes, topics, and problems throughout the different sections effectively weaves this collection together, demonstrating the multidimensional and comprehensive character of sexuality.
African Studies and Sexuality
Over the last decade or so, the literature on sex and sexualities in African studies has grown extensively and has become increasingly diverse, as it managed to partially untie itself from the health and development framework from which it largely sprang. This explosion and diversification of sexuality studies in Africa directly reflects changing realities on the ground. While economic hardships transform gender relations and blatant inequalities spark religious programs for moral renewal, sexual landscapes are profoundly changing. For instance, sexual and gender dissidence tend to become increasingly politicized, as misogynist and homophobic discourses feed the imaginary opposition between an authentic African morality and a morally depraved West. New processes of erotic identification emerge at the interface of global cultural flows and older matrices of sex, gender, and desire, while cosmopolitan aspirations are expressed through new sexual practices of self-making that feed off neoliberal ideologies of consumerism (Spronk 2012). At the same time, a sexual and reproductive rights discourse, along with its underlying premise of the self as a rights-bearing individual, is appropriated and transformed in diverse settings and to different effects.
As a result of these changing realities, African studies and African scholars have increasingly turned toward sexuality. Whereas most (African) feminists, for instance, have long remained remarkably silent about sex-focusing instead on female agency, matrifocal cultural logics, and so-called harmful traditional practices (Arnfred 2009)-many are now preoccupied with erotics and pleasure. Today, researchers from all over the continent are also unearthing queer lives and worlds, courageously confronting heteronormative regimes of knowledge in their respective academic settings. This book thus captures the contemporary state of the art in the relatively recent dialogue between African studies and sexuality studies, building on and departing from older scholarly accounts and pointing at promising directions for future research.
This recent rapprochement between African studies and sexuality studies is, however, in no way consensual and generates many frictions of its own, not least because both fields mutually question the very terms on which their engagement takes place. In other words, whenever Africa and sexuality come together-as tropes, constructs, imaginaries, heuristic devices, or activist rallying cries-they partially undermine each other s conceptual reach and trouble each other s political unconscious. Hence, before presenting a brief historical overview of sexuality research in Africa, this introduction starts with a critical reflection on the two terms it explicitly mobilizes.
Rethinking Sexuality
Sexuality is an ambiguous and slippery term. It can refer to a biological drive or a human capacity to be sexually aroused. It might denote conscious or unconscious impulses, desires, and fantasies. It often refers to one s sexual orientation (or object choice) and thus comes in many forms-heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality-that might, or might not, give rise to so many sexual identities. Or it can be a seemingly straightforward way to describe sexual behavior and practices. Alternatively, sexuality can be taken as a particular discourse on sex or, rather, as the effect of a set of intersecting discourses: medical, psychological, pedagogical, moral. As such, sexuality is, as Michel Foucault stated, an especially dense transfer point for relations of power (1978, 103). In this latter sense, sexuality is not only a specific power/knowledge regime that regulates sex but also its main product or outcome. As such, it produces subjects for whom sexuality constitutes the essential core of their inner self. Sexuality thereby becomes an individual characteristic that one needs to know in order to understand one s innermost drives and desires. For these reasons, sexuality is a peculiarly sensitive conductor of cultural ideologies, social influences, and political divisions.
Many scholars in the humanities and social sciences understand sexuality as a social construction that arose at a particular time and place, and for specific reasons. Hence, before using sexuality as a concept for understanding cultural practices of particular people in Africa, as much literature on the subject does, we need to turn our attention to the historical pathways of how the idea of sexuality came into being in the first place. In its narrow sense, sexuality is nothing but the invention of nineteenth-century European sexology. It denotes a specific way of producing and organizing knowledge about sex, which first gave rise to the supposedly deviant category of the homosexual and only later to its supposedly normal mirror category of the heterosexual. According to Foucault, the scientific study of sex thus produced sexuality at the moment it transformed the (sinful) erotic practice of sodomy into a sexual identity: While the sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species (Foucault 1978, 43). This distinction between sexual practices and identities is, as several texts in this book illustrate, a necessary-though not always sufficient-condition for critically empirical studies of sex to move beyond the categorizing drive of early sexology. Indeed, as diverse erotic realities convincingly demonstrate, sexual practices are usually more fluid and ambiguous than what seemingly fixed sexual identities suggest.
Such a constructivist understanding of sexuality as a modern European invention, rather than as a human capacity characterized by a universal or biological essence, raises interesting questions for scholars studying sex outside the recent West. If, indeed, sexuality is a relatively recent and culture-specific form for thinking (and experiencing) desire, how should one study sex in situations where and when sexuality does not, or did not, exist as such? This problem is particularly salient in the case of so-called homosexuality. Marc Epprecht, for instance, argues that the language by which same-sex relationships are described [in academic literature] is often Eurocentric-the word homosexuality, notably, suggests a clarity arising from a specific history of scientific inquiry, social relations, and political struggle that did not historically exist in Africa and still does not very accurately describe the majority of men who have sex with men or women who have sex with women (2008, 8).
This issue of translation raises specific methodological, epistemological, and ethical issues for researchers who try to make sense of manifold erotic realities across the world with conceptual tools that have been forged relatively recently in Western contexts. Many authors therefore prefer alternative terms in order to avoid the essentializing tendencies, ideological assumptions, and blind spots of the concept of sexuality. At least, feminist scholar Sylvia Tamale argues, we should speak of sexualities in the plural in recognition of the complex structures within which sexuality is constructed and in recognition of its pluralist articulations (2011b, 2; our emphasis). Furthermore, scholars often try to avoid the term homosexuality by using terms like same-sex sexualities or non-normative sexualities . Or they shun sexuality altogether by taking refuge behind words such as sexual attractions , practices , desires , intimacies , love , or affects . Alternatively, some use rather technical terms like men who have sex with men (MSM) or women who have sex with women (WSW), which have been coined in HIV prevention discourse to reach out to people who engage in such practices without identifying as homosexual. Others still prefer queer as a catchall term for all kinds of sexual and gender dissidence, or use vernacular, emic, or African terms to denote specific practices and/or identities (Chitando and Mateveke 2017).
Yet, while the proliferation of such terms, words, and labels points at the underlying trouble of sexuality in cross-cultural studies of sex, the real issue is more than merely a question of terminology. Indeed, as anthropologist Henrietta Moore argues, the problem with sexuality is more . . . than a problem of nominalism [or] the argument that they -whoever they are-may not have a word for sexuality (emic category), but that we can still deploy sexuality as a comparative, analytic term (etic category) (2012, 11-12). Moore argues that one cannot understand people s gendered and sexual experiences by imposing analytic categories that would fundamentally misrepresent what is actually happening. As sex researchers, we therefore need to rethink the nature of the sexual subject, and resituate that subject within broader regimes of power and affect that are not necessarily captured appropriately by the term sexuality (ibid., 15). Such a reconceptualization would involve not only a break with the analytic category of sexuality and the pre-theoretical commitments in which it is founded, but a radical rethinking of sex as the site of rights, and of sexual identities and categories as the self-evident starting point for policy and programme intervention (ibid.).
While many texts presented in this book use the term sexuality in one way or another, their respective contributions suggest that a more sustained critique of the concept is needed. In the introduction to her 2004 groundbreaking volume, Signe Arnfred already stated that the time ha[d] come for rethinking sexualities in Africa (2004b, 7). Since then, we argue, an emerging field calls for a more fundamental un thinking of sexualities. Research in several African settings provokes serious questions about the conceptual limitations of sexuality, even when consistently used in its pluralized form. Eventually, however, the question of whether or not to resort to the concept of sexuality, and in what form, should depend on empirical studies of the manifold erotic realities and worlds that people create and contest on an everyday basis. In many African contexts today, sexuality (and its derived terms and identities) is, for instance, used as a political or heuristic device by feminist and LGBT activists and by their political opponents alike. It can therefore not be simply avoided or ignored. But notwithstanding its circulation in discourses and the actual work it does in practice, a more radical unthinking of sexuality seems necessary. It would not just allow the study of sex to further distance itself from the sticky African sexuality thesis and its many transformations, but also open up conditions of possibility for thinking sex otherwise , triggered by and dedicated to the many ways people on the African continent themselves live, feel, and think about sex (Hendriks 2018).
Rewriting Africa
A similar critical attitude is also needed toward the second master trope that is invariably present in this book. Just like sexuality, Africa is a loaded term with a specific genealogy that needs to be taken into account whenever one decides to use words like Africa or African in one s description or analysis. In fact, both critical moves should be undertaken simultaneously, insofar as a critique of the ethnocentricity of sexuality (from an African perspective) necessitates a parallel critique of Africa (from a sexual perspective). When deconstructions of sexuality are not combined with similar deconstructions of Africa, well-founded critiques of ethnocentricity might quickly revive the troublesome divide between Africa and the West and thus bring back another version of Caldwell et al. s (1989) disturbing differentiation between African sexuality and its Eurasian counterpart. And, conversely, any critical analysis of the ideological construction of Africa needs to take into account its sexual connotations to lay bare how, historically speaking, the sexualization and racialization of Africa operated together, as well as to unveil how current heterosexist ideologies define supposedly true African subjects.
While Africa might seem to be a merely descriptive term that straightforwardly refers to a particular continent on our planet, it is actually the outcome of a historical process of construction that resulted in the arbitrary delineation of a particular area of great climatic, geological, political, and cultural diversity (Mazrui 2005). Moreover, in this historical process, Africa served as the ultimate paradigm of difference for Western imaginations, and as the quintessential other and mirror image for the definition and maintenance of a European self: wild, exotic, backward, traditional, emotional, and superstitious, rather than civilized, rational, modern, or scientific (Mudimbe 1988). This ideology of otherness not only justified and enabled imperial expansion and colonial projects of subjection and modernization but also characterized Western literary and scientific discourses-which, for this very reason, reveal little about the supposed African other but tell a great deal about the European Africanists imaginations and fantasies (Said 1978).
In this historical production of otherness, Africa was not only fundamentally racialized but also profoundly sexualized, whereby black skin became a signifier of dark morals and practices but also of a dark sexuality. Stereotypes of black hypersexuality, for instance, affected the libidinal construction of Africa (Gilman 1985), which came to function as what Anne McClintock calls a porno-tropics for the European imagination (1995, 22). As either an uncontrollable lustful primitive or an innocent noble savage, the African was supposed to be closer to nature and therefore inherently sexual: a racially fetishized object of fear and desire for the white (male) colonizer (Fanon 1952). Unfortunately, such deep-seated stereotypes of inherently excessive black sexuality are still very much with us today, quietly informing apparently scientific accounts of African sexuality or explicitly staged and performed in interracial pornography (Hendriks 2014).
Africa is, however, not only a product of the European imagination. It is also a notion that has been reappropriated by intellectuals and politicians who came to identify themselves and their peoples as African in a political refusal of Western domination and colonization (Ndletyana 2008). This emergence of African nationalism evolved in close interaction with notions of Africanity as they were being outlined by pan-Africanist thinkers in the New World (Falola 2004). In this transatlantic and diasporic reinvention of Africa, people of distinct ethnic identifications came to feel united in their experiences of slavery and racial violence and began to think of Africa as one land and see themselves as one people, sharing a common descent.
However, while such appropriations, reclaiming Africa s denied humanity, continue to hold great political value in today s world, with its old and new racialized inequalities, their postulations of sameness (and often also timelessness) can also result in new exclusions. The reification of African culture and tradition, and the identification of authentic African moralities and psyches, can lead to the exclusion of people who are, for one reason or another, supposed to be inauthentic or corrupted by outside influences, and therefore not truly African (see texts by Epprecht and Ndjio in this book). As a trope and political invention, Africa is thus, in many respects, as problematic as sexuality : (a) it imposes a fictional and static unity on an extremely diverse and dynamic reality; (b) it is often exclusively apprehended through a paradigm of difference, which neglects the many similarities and historical connections with the rest of the world; and (c) it potentially results in its own exclusions (although, as several texts in this book show, it can also be strategically reworked by those it seemingly excludes).
Reading Sexualities from Africa
Given the above-mentioned reservations about using both sexuality and Africa as concepts for understanding matters of sex on the continent, this book is a collection of readings in sexualities from Africa (rather than a collection on sexualities in Africa)-a deceptively small lexicological difference that reflects a much broader epistemological and political stance. In essence, we thereby propose to queer both sexuality and Africa, letting them speak to one another and engage in a productive relationship whereby sexualities studies from Africa produce new avenues for thinking sex globally (Nyanzi 2014).
Taking up Jean and John Comaroff s (2012) call for Theory from the South, we situate Africa first and foremost as a place from which to read, write, talk, (re)think, and disturb. African contemporary realities suggest innovative analytical directions of global heuristic value for gender and sexuality studies. For instance, whereas even in the West, the term sexuality starts to break down under its own conceptual weight, scholars in and from Africa have long recognized its limitations as an analytical frame to understand various sexual and gendered subject positions. Building on scholarship in postcolonial studies (Chakrabarty 2000; Mbembe 2001) and the recent decolonial turn (Mignolo 2009; Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2015), we aim to incorporate the so-called North as merely one of many sites in a world of multiplicity-a world that can (and must) be read from Africa as much as from anywhere else (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2018). Thinking from Africa thus implies that, rather than analyzing African realities by using (and exploring the limitations of) supposedly universal concepts such as sexuality, one aims to look for theory in the same place where one might otherwise only look for data: that is, out there in everyday experiences, understandings, imaginings, and experiments on the African continent.
Yet, any collection of readings in sexualities from Africa of course immediately raises the question of who is doing these readings. Of course, as editors, we have the responsibility of acknowledging our own relatively privileged position as two white European researchers calling for rethinking (or even unthinking) sexuality from Africa. Power structures in academia indeed continue to reproduce financial and institutional inequalities between scholars working on the continent and those working in, usually, more privileged academic contexts. For many scholars in African universities, a chronic lack of funding for fundamental research produces a vicious circle of enormous teaching loads and a heavy reliance on consultancy work (which, in turn, requires framing one s findings in donor language). Moreover, many African researchers do not have sufficient access to academic journals and experience great difficulties in attending international conferences. In addition, scholars on the continent are hindered by editorial gatekeeping and a citation gap that often prevents their work from being published in international journals. And yet, notwithstanding such financial obstacles and structural inequalities, many scholars working from African institutional settings are doing highly original work on sexualities (e.g., Ekine and Abbas 2013; Izugbara et al. 2010; Tamale 2011). This collection is a further testimony to this original thinking from Africa, whether produced by African scholars or by others who are willing to be intimately affected by multiple sexual realities on the continent today.
Sexuality: A Brief African History
From Kinship and Initiation to Demography and HIV . . .
When sexology developed as a Western science and an academic discipline in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it was mainly preoccupied with studying sexual behavior and practices in European and American societies. As in other supposedly nonmodern parts of the world, actual research on sex in Africa was generally left to that other new scientific discipline: anthropology (Lyons and Lyons 2004). Although sexuality was usually not its primary object of study, many anthropologists effectively touched on sex in their ethnographic descriptions of initiation rites, kinship, marriage, childbirth, and taboo. Sexuality was thereby implicitly understood as an indispensable aspect of cultural institutions and group cosmologies. And it was generally assumed that the social organization of sex signaled the passage from nature to culture.
But while these anthropologists were trying to recover a picture of precolonial African societies, sexuality was undergoing profound changes. Missionaries, for instance, combated so-called sinful sexual practices and pushed for the establishment of monogamous Christian families, composed of a responsible father, his desexualized (house)wife, and their legitimate children (Comaroff and Comaroff 1991). Colonial administrations used sexuality as a means to control their populations; for example, by medicalizing female sexuality in order to manage fertility and assure the reproduction of labor power (Hunt 1999; Thomas 2003; Vaughan 1991). They thereby often created a reified system of African customs and traditions, institutionalizing male dominance and marginalizing female autonomy (Amadiume 1997; Chanock 1985). And colonial rule itself was regularly justified as a way to discipline its African subjects supposedly excessive sexuality. In several countries, for instance, so-called black peril scares about lustful African men raping innocent white women enabled harsher measures of control (McCulloch 2000).
As a result of these changes, several anthropologists started studying sexual practices and ideologies as parts of social and economic transformations, particularly with regard to shifts in the gendered division of labor brought about by colonial policies (e.g., LeVine 1966). One perhaps unexpected aspect of industrialization, for instance, were the so-called inkotshane male-male mine marriages that arose as a direct consequence of male labor migration to mining sites in Southern Africa (Van Onselen 1976). But in general, during the second half of the twentieth century, anthropology retreated from its earlier focus on sexuality, because, in a Cold War context, any overt interest in sex could be read as possible proof of one s political perversions (Lyons and Lyons 2004). It is thus no coincidence that a major anthropologist like Evans-Pritchard, for example, only published his old ethnographic material on same-sex practices among the Azande near the end of his career (see section three). And although the inkotshane mine marriages continued to attract some attention, they were often explained as situational homosexuality in all-male labor compounds, while the possibility of erotic desire between mine workers was only acknowledged much later (Achmat 1993; Harris 1994; Moodie 1988; Niehaus 2002).
As overt anthropological attention for sex decreased, sexuality became increasingly studied in another field that was taking great interest in the African continent: medicine and public health. During the late 1960s, for instance, demographic panic about Africa s so-called population bomb fostered family planning programs that mainly studied sexual behavior as a way to curb high fertility rates (Molnos 1973; Bledsoe 1990). These population studies primarily tried to quantify the frequency of the coital act and analyze spousal decision-making with regard to family size and the use of contraceptives. From the 1980s onward, a renewed interest in development and public health then resulted in the reproductive and sexual health framework, producing a new set of studies (Cornwall and Jolly 2009). Global health projects promoting sexual health thereby shaped ideas about what constitute normal sexual practices and hence generated particular knowledge about sexuality (Adams and Pigg 2005).
From the mid-1980s, the AIDS epidemic drastically changed the climate for sexuality research in Africa, leading to an explicit examination of patterns of risk behavior among specific populations at risk, such as sex workers, migrants, and adolescents (Patton 1990). This development of medical research on sexuality and HIV/AIDS in Africa strongly resembled earlier studies of tuberculosis and syphilis in their focus on the question of why these diseases exhibited seemingly different epidemiological patterns in Africa from those in Europe and America (Packard and Epstein 1991). Early explanations of these differences focused on the peculiarities of African permissive sexuality (Caldwell et al. 1989), while largely excluding a wide range of contextual factors. And it was only much later that sexual transmission of HIV between men was recognized as an important factor in what was usually framed as a specifically heterosexual African health crisis (Epprecht 2008; Lorway 2006).
Today, global health efforts continue to play a central role in sexuality research in Africa. But while health is obviously an important concern for many actors on the continent, such policy-driven studies often prevent other research questions. Their constant framing of sex as a problem-as the cause of unwanted pregnancies, HIV infections, sexual violence, and so-called female genital mutilation-stimulates an instrumental approach to sexuality, whereby sex becomes de-eroticized to an act devoid of meaning (Izugbara et al. 2010; Spronk 2011; Tamale 2011). Moreover, the language of crisis and urgency leads to a widespread use of rather limited methodologies, such as surveys, questionnaires, and rapid-assessment approaches, that cannot adequately explain the causes and motivations behind the patterns they detect. The question is, therefore, how to develop an inclusive research program on sexual and gender justice in dialogue with, but not dependent on, the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) framework.
. . . Via Female Pleasures and Same-sex Desires to Activist Interventions
Although sexuality research in Africa is still very much affected by the silences and blind spots of this largely donor-driven sex-as-problem discourse, from the 1990s onward, researchers and scholars have started to focus on new topics, pushing the field into innovative directions. Two recent trends are particularly symptomatic for this diversification: (1) a feminist rediscovery of female pleasure, and (2) a gradual uncovering of same-sex sexualities on the continent. Researchers who take a fresh look at sex by foregrounding the pursuit of pleasure, intimacy, and affection often explicitly position themselves within the field of African feminism. As is illustrated in section six of this book, they thereby specifically focus on female pleasure, arguing against the taken-for-granted victimization of women in mainstream representations of sex and gender in Africa (Arnfred 2009; Spronk 2005). While earlier African feminists, like Ifi Amadiume (1987, 1997) or Oy r nk Oyew mi (1997), used to be rather reluctant to directly speak about sex and eroticism-often as a reaction against colonial and racist discourses that profoundly sexualized African women (Mama 1996)-younger feminists increasingly turn to female erotic capital as a source of power (Salo and Gqola 2006). The earlier Afrocentric arguments against Western feminist claims about universal female subordination thereby became a basis from which to foreground sexual pleasure, female agency, and bedroom power in otherwise misogynist and patriarchal social settings (Maticka-Tyndale et al. 2007).
A second relatively recent body of research that directly challenges some of the long-standing assumptions in African sexuality studies looks into the area of same-sex sexuality. Although, as we have seen, some earlier publications already touched on same-sex sexual practices, it was only from the 1990s onward that nonheterosexual desire and identities became a serious research topic, whereby men and male same-sex practices attracted the bulk of scholarly attention (but see Currier and Migraine-George, 2017). The introduction to section three in this book provides a detailed overview of this recent literature. Suffice to say here that this scholarship also has broader implications for the study of sexuality in Africa, pointing to the complexity and ambiguity of gendered performances, the situated and ephemeral nature of sexual identities, and the relational aspects of erotic practices.
A third recent research topic is the rise of sexual activism on the African continent, which is a direct result of the increasing visibility, politicization, and mediatization of same-sex practices and identities. Local activists and international LGBT+ organizations are calling for social justice in the face of a growing wave of popular and state homophobia. But while it is certainly true that some African countries have imposed (or tried to impose) new or stricter legislation against same-sex sexual practices (e.g., Burundi, Cameroon, Gambia, Nigeria, and Uganda) others have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual conduct (e.g., Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Mozambique, Sao Tom Principe, and, of course, South Africa). Hence, as Awondo, Geschiere, and Reid (2012) demonstrate, rather than expressing a supposedly innate African fear of homosexuality, contemporary homophobias are products of ongoing changes in gender relations and particular national trajectories of political contestation, as well as the result of international LGBT+ advocacy and its anti-Western backlash (Biruk 2014; Gunkel 2013; McAllister 2013; Nyeck 2013; Sadgrove et al. 2012; Thoreson 2014). Despite their good intentions, global LGBT+ movements can become complicit in a geopolitical mapping that opposes a homophobic Africa to a supposedly liberated West: sexual activism itself is not without its limitations and blind spots (see Serena Dankwa s chapter in section three).
Future Directions and Suggestions for Research
Although the scope of sexuality studies in Africa is broadening and much innovative work has been done over the last two decades, several blind spots in scholarly knowledge continue to affect its empirical and theoretical reach. It is, for instance, important to note that the recent and welcome focus on female pleasure/agency and same-sex sexualities has left a large part of erotic realities understudied-thereby indirectly, and perhaps paradoxically, contributing to the reproduction of taken-for-granted truths about male sexuality and heterosexual relations.
First, the dearth in empirical research on the actual relation between everyday male sexual practices and dominant notions of masculinity allows for a continuing reproduction of some version of the flawed African sexuality thesis. In many African settings today, where patriarchal ideologies are vigilantly defended against perceived attacks on African tradition, public declarations on male sexuality often produce a stereotypical image of African men as sexually dominant (Ratele 2013). Yet one should not mistake such public declarations for actual sexual experience. It would, for instance, erase a large group of men who do not engage in multiple erotic relationships or who, for various reasons (religious and otherwise), abstain from sex for longer or shorter periods. Although abstinence and monogamy are often invoked in moral and religious debates, they are rarely taken seriously as valid topics for empirical research (but see van Klinken 2013a).
Second, a more careful attention to the multiple sexual experiences and attitudes among men in different African contexts will also shed light on another related blind spot in the existing literature. In contrast to the recent attention on female pleasure, male pleasure is taken for granted at the background of most research but hardly studied or analyzed as such (for a notable exception, see Smith 2006). Here again, instead of taking patriarchal ideologies and their (anxious) obsessions with male libido at face value, future research should study the concrete manifestations and experiences of pleasure in actual men s lives. In a similar way, male agency should be studied for its complexities and ambiguities rather than simply assumed. Future research on sexuality in Africa can thereby benefit from a more sustained engagement with developments in masculinity studies on the continent (e.g., Lindsay and Miescher 2003; Ouzgane and Morrell 2005).
A third major blind spot in current empirical research about sexuality in past and present African realities is, perhaps surprisingly, heterosexuality. Although the majority of studies deal with sexual practices and relationships between people of a different sex or gender, these practices and relationships are not usually framed as heterosexualities. In contrast to same-sex relationships, cross-sex relationships are rarely recognized as sexualities at all-they are simply taken for granted as an obvious fact rather than explicitly unpacked as a sexual formation in themselves. More empirical research on cross-sex sexualities is thus needed for two reasons. It would denaturalize heterosexuality as a social institution that regulates sexual behavior and produces erotic desires in cross-sex intimacies, where gendered norms are constantly being reproduced as well as contested (Pereira 2009). And it would break open the black box of institutionalized or compulsory heterosexuality and reveal the existence of queer possibilities and affordances within the supposed iron law of heteronormativity that often remain unspoken in monolithic accounts of African sexuality (Gaudio 2014; Hendriks 2016; Spronk 2018).
A last gap in existing scholarship worth mentioning is the relative absence of detailed studies of the dynamics of parenthood. Although, since its very beginnings, the study of sexuality in Africa has always been preoccupied with reproduction-either because of anthropology s focus on so-called African lineage ideologies or because of demographic concerns with overpopulation-most sexuality literature somehow sidelines the significance of parenthood. In many cases, however, it seems that parenthood is more formative to notions of personhood than (Western) conceptions of sexual orientation-thereby allowing, for instance, for ample opportunities to engage in same-sex eroticism without calling for a fixed sexual identity behind these erotic practices. Moreover, in line with the blind spots identified above, parenthood is often reduced to motherhood, while its repercussions for men-and their achievement of social adulthood-remain underexplored.
These four tentatively identified gaps in current scholarship point at promising and concrete directions for future research. On a more general level, we suggest that it should be the overall ambition of research to fundamentally rethink sexualities from Africa. As we argued in this introduction, this requires a willingness to constantly question the concept of sexuality itself. Multiple African erotic realities not only point to the inherently fluid, ambiguous, and situational nature of sex, gender, and desire but also indicate that the existence of a universal subject for whom sexuality is a matter of individual orientation and/or choice can by no means be taken for granted. Moreover, such rethinking also requires a certain openness to the many ways in which people themselves think about sex, gender, pleasure, and desire. Rather than assuming an objectivist position from where to claim to fully explain their practices, as scholars from Africa and beyond, we should look for ways to theorize sex with our interlocutors, both in unspoken moments of intimacy and in more reflexive moments of research.
Such an epistemological and methodological stance is, so we argue, a political necessity. Academic knowledge production can only hope to make a difference when it provides space for the proliferation of multiple erotic lives and worlds, many of which would otherwise remain unknown. The texts in this collection contribute to this ongoing production of a new (queer) African archive that might one day, as Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina (2014) hoped, free our imaginations.
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T HIS FIRST SECTION focuses on the politics of representation at the crossroads of African studies and sexuality studies. As indicated in the introduction, deep-seated traditions of Western scientific and artistic representation still affect contemporary depictions of sexuality in Africa. As scholars and students, we thus have to be aware of the explicit and implicit reproduction of racial stereotypes on African sexuality in past and present research, so as to critically analyze them and avoid their continuing reproduction.
The section opens with a seminal text by Beth Maina Ahlberg in which she tackles the fundamental issue of representation in the context of the debate about the existence of a supposedly African sexuality. Her article is a direct response to the publication of The Social Context of AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa (Caldwell et al. 1989). In this influential text, Caldwell et al. had claimed that one could only explain the apparent difference of African AIDS if one understands the specifics of a certain African sexuality as a distinct and coherent system. According to these authors, African sexuality is (and was) characterized by seven traits that would distinguish it from so-called Eurasian sexuality: African sexuality would thereby (1) not occupy a central position in African moralities; (2) allow for general sexual permissiveness ; (3) accord low value to female chastity because of the reproduction focus of African lineage ideologies; (4) be based on a dual-sex system that separates a female sphere from a male sphere; (5) produce loose and emotionally weak conjugal bonds; (6) not recognize female pleasure; and (7) be characterized by a high occurrence of so-called transactional sex.
As a reaction to such generalizations, Ahlberg s response shows the importance of empirical and historical approaches to sexuality. Together with others (e.g., Heald 1995; Leblanc, Meintel, and Pich 1991), she unpicks the flaws in Caldwell et al. s argumentation and provides telling counterexamples from her own research in Kenya, which demonstrate how sexuality did and does occupy an important position in dominant moralities, directly contesting the first characteristic of the African sexuality thesis.
The position of sexuality within rather than without moral ideologies is moreover also illustrated by much African scholarship on female circumcision. According to vernacular gender ideologies, female circumcision is explicitly seen as a means of controlling female sexuality and thus guaranteeing moral sexual behavior (Boddy 2007). While this literature directly contests Caldwell et al. s amoral reading of African sexuality, its exclusive focus on control nevertheless risks erasing female agency and politics of resistance (see section two and six in this book).
The second text in this section speaks to the old colonial stereotype of black hypersexuality that uncannily reappears in Caldwell et al. s characterization of African sexuality as above all, permissive (1989, 78). Zine Magubane revisits Sander Gilman s seminal 1985 essay on the iconography of black and white female sexuality in the nineteenth-century Western imagination. In his widely cited text, Gilman illustrates how the naturalized idea of African hypersexuality was discursively constructed and analyzes the iconic story of Saartjie Baartman, a Khoikhoi woman who was taken to England in 1810, where she was exposed as a curiosity in fairs as the Hottentot Venus before ending on a dissection table in France. While endorsing the need to critically engage with race as a discursively constructed phenomenon, Magubane argues that Gilman (and in his wake, many feminist scholars) assumed race to emerge from psychological dispositions and a single transhistorical ideology rather than, as she argues, from actual social relations.
Notwithstanding the many different ways in which race and sexuality interact in specific contexts, the resurfacing of sticky stereotypes in new research on sexuality in Africa remains salient. Caldwell et al. s often-cited arguments, for instance, illustrate that the old idea of Africans as sexually promiscuous by nature is often reformulated in an explicitly cultural mode. Culture thereby becomes responsible for HIV infection, not only because of its supposed permissiveness but also because of specific cultural practices, such as polygyny (mostly referred to as polygamy), or wife inheritance, that would explain high HIV risks (Nyanzi et al. 2008). Other cultural practices, such as male circumcision-a recurring issue in old anthropological analyses of initiation rituals-are, on the other hand, seen as positive factors in the fight against HIV infections (Adams and Moyer 2015; Peltzer et al. 2007; Westercamp and Bailey 2006).
In the introductions to sections four and six, we will critically return to some other aspects of Caldwell et al. s notorious African sexuality thesis. But it is important to note at this point that not all of the seven characteristics identified in their publication have attracted equal criticism. The focus on reproduction in African lineage ideologies, for instance, reappears in writings by African feminists who explicitly foreground the value of fertility and motherhood in African moralities and cosmologies (Oyew m 1997, 2000). And the existence of a dual-sex system that separates a female sphere from a male sphere is also explicitly present in modified form in some women-centered approaches to gender and sexuality that account for (and celebrate) female power, autonomy, and consciousness in precolonial Africa (Amadiume 1987).
Another stubborn sexual stereotype that is still haunting representations of sexuality in Africa is its taken-for-granted straightness. In the third text of this section, Marc Epprecht (2004) offers a concise history of the explicit or implicit denial of sexual diversity in African ethnography. The erasure of same-sex sexual practices and identities from the African histories written in the West has produced an image of a heterosexual Africa, which is now, ironically, being reproduced by African leaders in nationalist and religious discourses that disqualify same-sex sexuality as un-African.
As a direct reaction to this exclusion of same-sex erotics, the last decades saw a significant increase in scholarly and activist writing on non-normative and dissident desires, erotic practices, and sexual identities all over the African continent. However, even in this current movement toward the construction of a queer African archive, issues of representation remain. Given the long history of racialized imaginations, the political questionability of area studies and the stubborn Euro-American focus of queer theory, the current dialogue between African studies and queer studies is in no way straightforward (Clarke 2013; Currier and Migraine-George 2016; Matebeni 2014). While several African scholars are critically claiming queer as a flexible notion that can do progressive work in the area of African studies (Ekine and Abbas 2013; Livermon 2012; Matebeni 2014; Munro 2012), in the last text in this section, Keguro Macharia (2016) offers us a powerful and poetic reminder of the dilemmas of writing from Africa as a queer African scholar (see also Nyanzi 2014).
Further Reading
Epprecht, M. 2008. Heterosexual Africa? The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS . Athens: Ohio University Press.
Hoad, N. 2007. African Intimacies: Race, Homosexuality, and Globalization . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Lewis, D. 2005. Against the Grain: Black Women and Sexuality. Agenda 63 (2): 11-24.
Matebeni, Z. 2014. Reclaiming Afrikan: Queer Perspectives on Sexual and Gender Identities . Athlone, South Africa: Modjaji.
McClintock, A. 1995. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest . New York and London: Routledge.
Adams, A., and E. Moyer. 2015. Sex Is Never the Same: Men s Perspectives on Refusing Circumcision from an In-Depth Qualitative Study in Kwaluseni, Swaziland. Global Public Health 10 (5-6): 721-38.
Amadiume, I. 1987. Male Daughters, Female Husbands . London: Zed.
Boddy, J. P. 2007. Civilizing Women: British Crusades in Colonial Sudan . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Caldwell, J. C., P. Caldwell, and P. Quiggin. 1989. The Social Context of AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. Population and Development Review 15 (2): 185-234.
Clarke, D. 2013. Twice Removed: African Invisibility in Western Queer Theory. In Queer African Reader , edited by Sokari Ekine and Hakima Abbas, 173-85. Dakar: Pambazuka.
Currier, A., and T. Migraine-George. 2016. Queer Studies/African Studies: An (Im)possible Transaction? GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 22 (2): 281-305.
Ekine, S., and H. Abbas, eds. 2013. Queer African Reader . Dakar: Pambazuka.
Epprecht, M. 2004. Hungochani: The History of a Dissident Sexuality in Southern Africa . Montreal: McGill-Queen s University Press.
Gilman, S. 1985. Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth Century Art, Medicine, and Literature. Critical Inquiry 12 (1): 204-42.
Heald, S. 1995. The Power of Sex: Some Reflections on the Caldwells African Sexuality Thesis. Africa 65 (4): 489-505.
Le Blanc, M., D. Meintel, and V. Pich . 1991 The African sexual system: comment on Caldwell et al. Population and Development Review 17 (3): 497-505.
Livermon, X. 2012. Queer(y)ing Freedom: Black Queer Visibilities in Postapartheid South Africa. GLQ 18 (2/3): 297-323.
Matebeni, Z. 2014. Reclaiming Afrikan: Queer Perspectives on Sexual and Gender Identities . Athlone, South Africa: Modjaji.
Munro, B. M. 2012. South Africa and the Dream of Love to Come: Queer Sexuality and the Struggle for Freedom . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Nyanzi, Stella, Justine Nassimbwa, Vincent Kayizzi and Strivan Kabanda. 2008. African Sex Is Dangerous! Renegotiating Ritual Sex in Contemporary Masaka District. Africa 78 (4): 518-39.
Oy ew m , O. 1997. The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourse . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Oyew m , O. 2000. Family Bonds/Conceptual Binds: African Notes on Feminist Epistemologies. Signs 25 (4): 1093-98.
Peltzer, K., C. I. Niang, A. S. Muula, K. Bowa, L. Okeke, H. Boiro, and C. Chimbwetel. 2007. Editorial Review: Male Circumcision, Gender and HIV Prevention in Sub-Saharan Africa: A (Social Science) Research Agenda: Original Article. SAHARA: Journal of Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS Research Alliance 4 (3): 658-67.
Westercamp, N., and R. C. Bailey. 2007. Acceptability of Male Circumcision for Prevention of HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Review. AIDS and Behavior 11 (3): 341-55.
1 Is There a Distinct African Sexuality? A Critical Response to Caldwell
Beth Maina Ahlberg
Summarizing the African Sexuality Thesis
Determining sexual patterns . Caldwell et al. caution that African sexuality is often misinterpreted because it is viewed from a Western perspective. Their analysis begins, however, with a similar perspective: a contrast between African and Eurasian sexuality. 1 The latter, they argue, attaches moral and religious value to sexual activity. In contrast, sexual activity in Africa is free and has no moral value (1989, 194). The major difference, however, is in female sexuality: in Africa, it is blatantly free (1989, 197). Having argued that chastity is little valued, they attempt to link African sexual activity to female sexual enjoyment. They find little evidence supporting high female sexual pleasure. They therefore describe the characteristic features of the African social system that determine sexual patterns and provide the impetus that maintains those patterns.
The characteristic features of African social systems . The African economy is small in scale, with an inheritance system in which property remains within the lineage or clan. The lineage system stresses loyalty not to the individual family but to the lineage, thus preventing the development of conjugal bonds. Polygamy, which is more widespread in Africa than it is in Eurasia, has similar effects. Within a polygamous marriage, the economic unit is the woman and her children. Divorce or separation, even in the contemporary period, is thus no disaster. 2 Furthermore, the society, the ancestral spirits, and the gods, whom they claim are otherwise of little day-to-day importance, place emphasis on fertility. In addition, practices such as long postpartum sexual abstinence, separate living and movement of young men and women, initiation ceremonies, 3 divorce, and sexual transactions encourage premarital and extramarital sexual activity.
Caldwell et al. then attempt to establish the extent of premarital and extramarital sexual activity. They note that there is little information on male premarital and extramarital sexual activity, primarily because researchers have assumed that the lack of restraint in male sexual activity is taken for granted. They therefore restrict themselves to female sexual activity.
Female premarital and extramarital sexual activity . They refer to many sources that suggest that there is a great deal of sexual freedom for girls, noting that, in contrast to West Africa, premarital sexual activity is more permissible in East Africa. However, it results in fewer premarital pregnancies and births. Two factors encourage this permissive premarital sexual activity. The first is the movement at puberty of young people to separate houses. The second is the practice of incomplete sex. Female extramarital sexual activity is also widespread, although it is regarded as less licit than that of males, not on moral grounds but for fear of an angry husband.
The Caldwell conceptualization of change in African sexuality . Caldwell et al. are concerned primarily with how to identify sexual partners within the permissive sexual environment they describe. They contrast the current situation, where there is little information on sexual partners, with the past, when substitution of sexual partners was, in some societies, institutionalized. To this extent, they agree that change has taken place. They indeed stress that the African system may not be intact, owing to centuries of assault by the Eurasian system. However, since they are interested in the change from the permissive African sexuality to the Eurasian model, they conclude that the Eurasian assault resulted only in modest changes in African sexuality.
Urbanization, they argue, had a profound impact on sexual activity because it created an unbalanced sex ratio and reduced polygamy. Here too they fail to deal with the dynamic forces that created unbalanced sex ratios in African cities. While noting that sexual activity is more extensive in sub-Saharan African cities, they dispute claims that this is a sign of urban life and Western influences on African traditions. Compared with cities in South Asia and the Mediterranean, sexual activity involves a greater proportion of the female population and is achieved much faster in sub-Saharan African cities (Caldwell et al. 1989, 218).
They then describe the types of women who move into urban centers and the main reasons they move. There is selective movement into urban areas, primarily of women who want more than rural customary marriage or wish to escape from rural gerontocratic control. Apart from failing to elaborate on which categories of women wish to escape rural customary marriage-whatever that is-or the forces leading to these rebellious actions, their reasoning contradicts documented evidence that among the first to move into urban areas, particularly in eastern and southern Africa, were women who were barren, widowed, or divorced. This category of women moved to urban areas not in search of sexual satisfaction, as is implied, but because colonial forces broke down the social security systems that previously supported them in rural areas. Protestant missionaries, in particular, forbade polygamy and levirate marriage. African Christian male converts were forced to divorce all wives except the ring wife married in church or through the marriage ordinance (Morris and Read 1972; Beidelman 1982).
Within the colonial system, women were excluded from the labor market. The concurrent disruption of social systems in the rural areas, particularly women s loss of access to land for subsistence production and other forms of social support, nonetheless forced them to escape into urban areas for economic survival. In the urban areas, faced with antiwomen employment policies, and with their low educational status, women mostly became beer brewers and prostitutes (Furedi 1973; White 1983; Presley 1988; Doyal 1979). Because of the sex imbalance, which was exacerbated by colonial laws denying male migrant workers the right to bring their wives with them, 4 firm sexual relationships could not be established. In some African societies, such as the Kikuyu, this was the beginning of prostitution, where women in addition to sexual services also provided domestic services to the male migrants. Prostitution as a source of sexual and domestic services for male workers was supported by the colonial employers to ensure labor stability (White 1983; Doyal 1979; Van Onselen 1976). 5 The argument that prostitution has grown faster in sub-Saharan Africa than in Asian cities begs the question: Do the cities that Caldwell et al. have in mind include Manila and Bangkok? 6
Pressure against premarital pregnancy has increased. This, to Caldwell et al., is a recent phenomenon arising either from the spread of Christianity or as a result of societies having a reduced form of lineage. Whatever the source of change, they stress that the fear of premarital pregnancy in contemporary Africa is not a moral issue because, in spite of the fear, pregnancy figures suggest that premarital sexual activity is still widespread. Education is no doubt central to the lives of African people. But the case of the Kikuyu suggests that the Christianization process profoundly disrupted mechanisms that controlled and regulated adolescent sexuality.
Caldwell et al. observe that a secularization process has taken place insofar as female extramarital sexual activity is concerned. Instead of fearing gods, wives today only need to fear a beating by their husband. 7 Despite recognizing this secularization process, Caldwell et al. fail to explore its nature or the factors shaping it. Furthermore, they dispute early anthropologists suggestion that the societies they were describing were undergoing rapid changes, as a result of which they could not determine the nature of sexual activity. This, Caldwell et al. argue, was not because the societies were undergoing rapid change. It was rather because African males strongly discouraged the oral tradition in which females talked about their sexual activity, thus surrounding it with silence (1989, 210).
Caldwell et al. recognize that change has taken place. To this extent, we cannot accuse them of ignoring change. But their conceptualization ignores or suppresses patterns of change that would undermine their thesis of permissive African sexuality. By assuming (1) that no religious moral value was attached to sexual activity, (2) that the forces of change (including the Eurasian assault and urbanization) had little impact, and (3) that early anthropologists reached wrong conclusions about change, Caldwell et al. have few options but to see change only in terms of expanded permissiveness. They then advance the hypothesis that only AIDS will perform the miracle that the colonial assault failed to accomplish (1989, 225). 8
These observations raise what I feel are the major shortcomings in their article. Firstly, there are problems in the research into sexual behavior that influence the quality of data, problems that Caldwell et al. ignore or treat superficially. Secondly, moral and religious value is not seen in its diverse as well as specific social and cultural contexts. Thirdly, their analysis is ahistorical. The following section focuses on some of these problems.
An Alternative Perspective
The Caldwell definition of Eurasia reveals inconsistencies. Caldwell et al. argue that the Old World religions were exported through Christianity and Islam to northern Europe and the New World. However, control of female sexuality was never firmly rooted (1989, 194), and with the twentieth-century secularization and urbanization processes, it became even weaker.
By concluding that Christianity did not control female sexuality as the old religions did, Caldwell et al. suggest they are aware that there is no single Eurasian sexual model. Since they make no such distinction for Africa but rather conclude that the Eurasian assault had little impact on African sexuality, I assume they refer to the entirety of Eurasia as they define it, including Western Europe, the Arab world, and Asia. 9 However, the area in sub-Saharan Africa where HIV/AIDS is most widespread has, except for the coastal region, seen the least influence from the Arab world and Asia (Groves 1948-58). The Eurasian assault on Africa is thus from Western Europe and North America, and the agents are colonial administrators, settlers, and missionaries.
This assault can be traced back to the time of the slave trade. But it was not until the nineteenth century that direct colonial intervention totally disrupted African social institutions. This is not to say that the violence of slave hunting and the slave trade did not disrupt African institutions (or create new ones). The slave trade caused a regular loss of productive manpower, which thwarted the process of development in the continent (Cutrufelli 1983). However, it involved taking individuals away from the community. Its impact on local institutions was therefore not as overwhelming as when entire communities were exposed to colonial rule. I therefore limit my analysis to the period of direct colonial rule by European powers and, more specifically, to the process of Christianization. 10 Before examining this process, I discuss some of the problems in the research into sexual behavior.
Problems of Research into Sexual Behavior
Caldwell s use of anthropological sources . Caldwell et al. are aware of problems in sexual behavior research. However, there are inconsistencies in the way they argue and use their sources. 11 First, they dispute the reliability only of sources that suggest that there was moral restraint attached to sexual activity in Africa. They consider such sources to reflect more the biases of the researchers than the reality such researchers describe. For example, on p. 196, they dismiss as an idealization of the past the observation by Kisekka that, among the Baganda, pressure was exerted on unmarried girls to remain chaste. 12 Idealization of a past can be disputed or confirmed only through a historical analysis, which in this case they fail to carry out. Second, at the same time as they are accepting early anthropological sources that indicate that there was no moral value attached to sexual activity, they are also contradicting anthropologists who observed that the societies they describe were changing rapidly. Thirdly, in spite of their thorough search, they have omitted important references such as Kenyatta (1938) and Worthman and Whiting (1987) that describe the socioeconomic and cultural context within which sexuality, including nonpenetrative premarital sex, was regulated among the Kikuyu. Finally, they refer to Beidelman s earlier work that describes the social organization of the Kaguru people of Tanzania but omit his later work that analyses how the activities of the Church Missionary Society transformed the Kaguru from a matrilineal to a patrilineal society (Beidelman 1982, 139). I see no reason for Caldwell et al. to dispute or omit such sources, other than that those sources call into question their thesis of a lack of moral value in sexual activity. Nonetheless, they acknowledge the paucity of data on sexual activity, which they attribute to the reluctance of anthropologists to study sexuality in depth. They fail, however, to discuss the reasons for this reluctance.
Anthropology and the study of sexuality. An examination of the anthropological literature indicates that the reluctance to study sexuality in any depth stems partly from the context within which anthropology developed. Gebhard (1970) notes that modern anthropology was in its infancy during the Victorian era. The period is characterized by the strong belief that a man s sexual urge is biologically natural, while a virtuous woman should be asexual. This rationalized the double standard whereby unchastity was excusable and understandable in men, but unnatural and unforgivable in women (Bland 1983). If a man was not sexually satisfied by his virtuous, asexual wife, he could use prostitutes. The nineteenth-century feminist campaigns against male sexual immorality, which was regarded as a major reason for the increase in prostitution and venereal diseases, opened up what Bland (1983) calls the most unspeakable of subjects. The Church of England was also involved in the campaign against Victorian sexual practices (Preston 1987).
The level of male immorality and promiscuity that early feminists and the Church of England campaigned against certainly raises doubts about the contention that female sexual purity was maintained by degrees of seclusion and by males avoiding the use of female sexual services even where chances to use such services occurred. By the time of the colonial expansion, males in Britain in particular did not forgo all potential female sexual services. Female seclusion was restricted to middle- and high-class women, while males in those classes made use of the sexual services of lower-class women (Mies 1986; Schmidt 1989). The double standard and the silence prevailing in Victorian England partly explain the reluctance among early anthropologists to study the subject of sex.
Apart from the fact that anthropology was developing at a time when sex was a taboo subject, the enormous problems facing the colonial administrators in their task of establishing colonial rule and the disruptive impact of colonial intervention on African people necessitated a shift from the study of the exotic and relics in African cultures to a focus on the unfolding context (Malinowski 1930; Mair 1957). Many studies were commissioned to provide knowledge about African social systems useful for colonial rule (Rice 1947; Morris and Read 1972; Lambert 1947; Jones 1974). However, many anthropologists opposed applied anthropology on the grounds that it would be politically controversial (Hogbin 1957).
This was the beginning of the continuing self-criticism that indicates the problems facing anthropologists in their attempts to integrate anthropological methods into the study of contemporary problems (Berreman 1981; Clifford 1988; Beidelman 1982). Beidelman (1982) notes that, even with the disappearance of exotic societies, most anthropologists have avoided analyzing the mainstream within their own societies. Within the colonial process, most studies focused on the impact of colonial rule on the natives. Little was written about the colonizers. Whether anthropologists were involved in basic or applied anthropology, their failure to study the colonizers raises the question of objectivity on their part. Objectivity may be hampered by racially, culturally, and class-predetermined and -prejudiced attitudes. The very idea of studying the sexual life of the savages, which characterized early anthropological studies, underlines the prevailing prejudiced attitude (Ray 1976, 3). 13 With this type of background, many sources need to be used cautiously. This is not, however, to discount the value of anthropological sources. There is a great deal of work in which anthropologists have attempted to interpret issues in terms of their meaning from African perspectives (Ray 1976; Beidelman 1982).
Other problems in sexual behavior research . There are many other problems that affect the quality of data on sexual behavior. Many of these problems stem from the research difficulties of investigating sexuality. Because sexual activity occurs in private, researchers rely principally on what is reported by their respondents. The subject is not readily conducive to participant observation. Moreover, the stigma and myths associated with sexual activity may distort what is reported for fear of exposure and the desire to present oneself as favorably as possible (Marshall and Suggs 1970; Broude and Green 1976).
Related to this are situations where target subjects may be expressing resistance by giving false information, especially when they feel their needs and priorities are not being met or are threatened. This resistance can take many forms, including less obvious forms such as those used by women s groups in Kenya (Ahlberg 1991). When questioned about whether they were in favor of family planning, women s groups enthusiastically indicated that they supported the program. However, investigations in greater depth revealed that the groups were only rhetorically positive: they wanted to avoid punitive measures from the government for not using family planning services. Indeed, some of their actions-for example, their open discussion of rumors about frightening side effects-indicated that they even discouraged contraceptive use. But, side by side with these forms of resistance, women were found to be ashamed of the current close spacing of births. Elderly women, for example, blamed younger women for not controlling their sexuality and fertility as was done in the past. Here the problem is not an African sexuality or a culture that values high fertility, as Caldwell et al. suggest; rather, there is a shortcoming in family planning programs that are based on decontextualized knowledge or the application in one context of knowledge systems developed in another (Baumgartner et al. 1986). In this type of situation, conditions and realities as experienced by the local people are largely ignored. Furthermore, because of the belief that the transfer of such knowledge would solve social problems in the new contexts, local people are not just ignored: their initiatives are suppressed and their support is demobilized. This is what the modernization process in Africa has entailed.
Ambivalent or invalid responses may arise from the questions posed. Questions, however, reflect preconceived ideas and assumptions that are themselves shaped by the social environment. Moreover, because social issues are organized or patterned differently in different social environments, misconceptions arise if a situation is viewed outside its context. The free expression of sexuality does not, for example, mean that sexual activity is not regulated. This is what Marshall and Suggs (1970) appear to suggest when they criticize the view propagated by popular writers that American culture is obsessed with sex. Their position is, however, rather paradoxical in that, although they oppose the view of those who see American society as obsessed with sex, they themselves nonetheless conclude that some Polynesian and African societies are even more sexually oriented than American society. Nevertheless, they make an important observation. Using examples from Western societies, they argue that there is a general tendency toward social hypocrisy regarding sexual behavior. They also note that the sex life of the lower socioeconomic classes in the United States and other Western societies is not as permissive as was once presumed by the middle and upper classes. 14 Messenger (1970) also suggests that, although the Irish of Inis Beag lead bleak sex lives, in behavioral terms, one cannot say that sex is not a major preoccupation of the Irish culture. It is expressed in a negative and indirect fashion, that is all. Similarly, recent studies among the Kikuyu (Ahlberg 1991) indicate that the openness with which sexuality is expressed does not necessarily mean that sexual activity is indiscriminate. The problem arises where sexuality is evaluated using foreign moral formulations.
The Problems of Religious Moral Value
Caldwell et al. conceptualize religious moral value as a social organizing principle for regulating behavior, including sexual behavior. Their central thesis is that no religious moral value is attached to sexual activity in Africa. They nonetheless recognize that gods and ancestral spirits are believed to punish wrongdoing. However, without providing any criteria, they assign to the gods and ancestral spirits a peripheral role in the control of sexual activity in Africa. 15 In this way, they ignore the fact that moral formulations, as the Kikuyu social system suggests, are organized and expressed differently in different cultural and religious systems.
The Kikuyu people had a social system where social balance and the well-being of individuals, lineages, and the entire community were strongly linked to the conduct of individuals and groups (Kenyatta 1938; Kinoti 1983; Mbiti 1969; Mugambi 1989). To maintain social balance, socially accepted behavior had to be strictly observed. Failure to comply resulted in disease and other forms of social imbalance. The social system was organized around belief in ancestral spirits that could punish the living for misconduct. It was furthermore believed that people could suffer for sins committed by others.
To avoid the wrath and punishment of ancestral spirits, maintenance of what was defined as proper conduct was of the utmost importance in the daily lives of the Kikuyu people. This was mainly because, unlike in Protestant Christian morality, where sinners wait until Judgment Day to answer for their sins, punishment among the Kikuyu was instituted in this life. Moreover, punishment could apply to individuals and groups other than those committing the breach of conduct. The pressure to maintain proper conduct was thus strong under such a moral order. 16 But to ensure that individuals and groups maintained good conduct, society was organized in ways that minimized misconduct. Taboos were extensively used to guide social conduct. In addition, ritual ceremonies and sacrifices were performed either to rectify a breach of conduct or to prevent its occurrence, while social pressure was exerted through peer groups and other networks to enforce socially acceptable conduct. Other African societies, such as the Nyakyusa in Tanzania (Wilson 1957), the Akan in Ghana (Appiah-Kubi 1981, 14-17), the Kaguru in Tanzania (Beidelman 1982), the Luo in Kenya (Hauge 1974), and the Kamba in Kenya (Ahlberg 1979) are reported to have had a system similar to that of the Kikuyu. 17
Social pressure is similarly applied to enforce Christian morality. Messenger (1970), for example, observes that local gossip, a separate social life between men and women, and the power of the local priest play an important role in the control of sexual activity among the Irish of Inis Beag. The role of such earthly orders and their organization within different moral systems is not taken into account by Caldwell et al.
Moreover, they have ignored historical processes and their impact on moral formulations and sexual behavior. While maintaining that Christianity had limited impact on African sexuality, they make little effort to analyze the Christianization process in Africa. We should be concerned with the process itself, because the introduction of change shapes how and what change takes place. When change is grounded on local patterns or is contextualized-that is, when local communities are mobilized-the chances of the change being accepted and supported are high. Whatever the case, even where local patterns and conditions are ignored, as is the case in many development programs, the introduction of any change can disrupt local patterns and structures. Dealing with problems in such contexts thus requires sifting through to identify what has once been the case, what is new, and what is mixed. The following brief analysis of the Christianization process attempts to do that.
It would, however, be inadequate to examine the Christianization process in Africa without first examining the internal changes taking place within Christian morality up to the time of the colonial expansion. By suggesting that African sexuality resisted Christian moral value, Caldwell et al. equally fail to take into account the changes taking place in Europe and the way those changes shaped Christian morality. According to Preston (1987), the Christian morality or ethic, which had developed under fairly stable conditions, became increasingly unable to deal with conditions in industrial societies.
Christian theology, moreover, faced greater intellectual challenges from the various sciences, including Darwinism, Marxism, and Freudianism, all of which accelerated the secularization of European thinking. As a result of these forces, there was a decline of ecclesiastical control and the social prestige that went with it. By 1900, in England, few resources for a social-sanctioning ethic were available to the Church of England, and half the churchgoers had deserted the Church (Preston 1987). At the period of its expansion, Christian morality had lost a great deal of its authority over the lives of Europeans.
What impact did these changes have on the missionaries and their Christianization of Africa? Beidelman (1982) suggests that the introspective tendencies particularly associated with the evangelical revival in Britain, leading to the founding and expansion of the Church Missionary Society, may have been a reaction to the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution. In Africa, this sometimes led to the establishment of missionary settlements isolated from the supposed potential contamination of unconverted heathens and worldly Europeans. Missionaries who ran away from modern Western life, rejecting it as contradictory to their own values, thus sought to reconstruct in Africa a new Christian society clearly impracticable in Europe and America. In this sense, missionaries demanded a level of Christian conduct beyond what they had ever experienced among ordinary people at home.
The Christianization Process in Africa
The conclusion that Christianity has had little impact on African sexuality can be reached only after proper assessment of the Christianization process among African populations and the key agents in that process. Without this, the conclusion becomes part of the belief commonly held in development discourse that African culture is the major barrier to African development (Hyden 1983; Foster 1962; Caldwell and Caldwell 1988).
Christian missions aimed at overall changes in the beliefs and practices of the native people. Compared with colonial administrators and businessmen, the impact of missionaries was more far-reaching (Beidelman 1982). 18 Yet their cultural background and the colonial milieu within which they functioned influenced their behavior in ways not necessarily determined by Christian beliefs-a position soon questioned by Africans. There were thus many discrepancies in the Christianization process. Dodge (1964), the first Methodist bishop to be elected in Africa, offers one of the most thoroughgoing self-criticisms. As a missionary in the 1930s, Dodge was concerned with the growing African criticism of the Christian faith and its implications for the future of the Church in Africa. He largely blames this on the missionary approach.
The missionaries identified more with the colonial administrators because they shared a common social and cultural background. Patriotism and imperialistic sentiments expressed by the missionaries reflected their cultural background (Beidelman 1982). Moreover, missionaries occupied a privileged position while they similarly practiced racial segregation (Groves 1958, 175). Christian missionaries, in addition, competed among themselves for influence in ways that contradicted their mission of converting the Africans to a single Christian morality or God. Denominational competition meant that not even the Protestants, who had a more openly prejudiced attitude toward African customs, agreed on any one moral issue. For the Catholics, what mattered most was that the African converts should affirm the universality of the Catholic Church 19 and that Catholicism represented the whole truth of the Christian faith (Mugambi 1989; Beidelman 1982).
For the Africans, the missionaries were oppressive. But perhaps the Protestant missionaries in particular were criticized for the manner in which they approached African customs. Without any prior knowledge or attempt to understand their order and logic, and although they disagreed on whether many practices were inconsistent with Christianity, Protestant missionaries attacked African customs, which they presumed were evil and had to be denounced (Dodge 1964; Mugambi 1989; Beidelman 1982). However, rather than moral commitment, conversion to Christianity was measured by the extent to which the Africans abandoned their customs. Even so, and contrary to what one would expect, the missionaries also did not want to expose Africans to a great deal of Westernization. Many were, for example, reluctant to teach English, arguing that Africans had to be protected from exposure to dangerous ideas. 20 More significant for the transformation of sexuality was perhaps the prohibition of initiation ceremonies and related practices.
Protestant missionaries in particular took an uncompromising stand with regard to initiation rites, especially female circumcision (Murray 1974; Groves 1948-58). And whether they approached the issue directly or indirectly, their aim was to eradicate the custom (Groves 1948-58). However, in spite of sustained attempts to eradicate it, a large proportion of women in Africa still undergo female circumcision (McLean and Graham 1985, 3-21). It would appear that eradication has proved impossible because the custom has deep roots in the societies where it is practiced. While initiation is no doubt one pillar around which many societies in sub-Saharan Africa were organized, Groves (1958) provides evidence suggesting that there were different responses to the missionary ban, depending on which approach the missionaries used.
Where missionaries directly prohibited female circumcision (as was the case among the Pondo, the Lokele, and the Kikuyu), there was greater resistance, even violence in some cases. In Kenya, the nationalist movement (the Kikuyu Central Association) used the issue of female circumcision in the 1920s to mobilize the Kikuyu people against colonial rule. To counteract this, three missionary societies-the Scottish Mission, the African Inland Mission, and the Gospel Missionary Society-ordered the African teachers and others in their employment to sign a declaration denouncing the custom and the nationalist movement. Many declined, and as a result were suspended, village schools were closed, and church membership dropped dramatically (Church of Scotland Mission, 1931).
In areas where the missionaries used more indirect methods (as was the case in Masasi in southern Tanzania, among the Bechuana, in Niger, and among the Mende in Sierra Leone) there was, according to Groves (1958), less resistance. Whatever the approach, perhaps more significant in shaping sexual behavior thereafter was, as the experience of the Kikuyu people suggests, the actual manner in which the ban on initiation ceremonies was instituted.
The Kikuyu Sexual Order
It was socially accepted among the Kikuyu that men and women could, during certain periods, have more than one sexual partner. 21 In addition, there were many occasions where sexuality was publicly addressed. During initiation and ritual ceremonies related to marriage and childbirth, the community collectively and publicly addressed sexuality through gitiiro songs and dances. Women were allowed to sing songs that in normal circumstances would have been considered obscene. To this extent, it can be argued that the Kikuyu people had a fairly open sexual order, with public discourse around sexual activity. But sexual activity was not indiscriminate and, as in the case of ngw ko among newly initiated youth, penetration was strictly prohibited (Ahlberg 1991; Worthman and Whiting 1987).
Newly initiated youth could sleep together and engage in ngw ko , a form of controlled sexual activity for the purpose of achieving sexual satisfaction without penetration. The concept of safe sex was, in this case, well understood and practiced. For young people, sleeping together without full sexual intercourse required strong sexual discipline. This is an example of the inductive moral education system described by Mugambi (1989), where, instead of lectures, individuals are presented with concrete situations that serve as a case for ethical analysis of themselves and others. Sexual discipline did not thus develop naturally. It was instilled and maintained through social control. There were two broad methods of imparting and maintaining discipline in sexual matters.
Imparting sexual discipline: the Kikuyu education system . Discipline in sexual matters was imparted through a long education process that culminated in initiation ceremonies. Young men and women undergoing initiation had long periods of seclusion, during which the community values and the social expectations of adult life were imparted. During the initiation ceremonies, songs and dances ( gitiiro ) which in normal circumstances would be considered obscene were used to inculcate sexual values in ways that stressed collective responsibility. Krige (1968) describes similar ritual ceremonies, songs, and dances among the Zulu people in South Africa, while Evans-Pritchard (1965, 76-101) offers evidence that many other societies in Africa had what he calls collective expressions of obscenity that were also public.
Maintenance of sexual discipline . Taboos and prohibitions were extensively used in the maintenance of good conduct. It was believed that breaking sexual taboos could affect the health of a mother, father, and siblings and even cause death. But taboos were not considered sufficient on their own. Group and peer pressure was exerted to discourage any breach of the sexual rules.
Age groups put pressure on each other by punishing those they suspected to have broken the rules (Ahlberg 1991). 22 There were definite ways of discovering those who might have breached the rules. During occasions when the newly initiated unmarried men and women were together, relations between them were expected to be rather rough and abusive. If men, for example, were favorably disposed toward a girl on these occasions, other girls would suspect her of having full sexual intercourse. She would be fined or ostracized (Ahlberg 1991). The punishment applied to men as well. 23
Apart from these forms of control, social activities (including sexual activity) were in general organized in ways that minimized the chances of breaching the rules. Ngw ko , for example, was collectively organized. Many couples slept together in one room, thus discouraging full sexual intercourse by those who might be tempted. In addition, the girl tightly tied her cloth between her thighs to make it difficult for the man to penetrate her even if he dared to try (Kenyatta 1938).
The discussion above suggests that sexual activity, including ngw ko , was not casual. It took place within strongly regulated codes of conduct. Rules of conduct were socially defined, thus giving social actors, individuals, and groups definite boundaries within which to act. This may explain why, in spite of sex appearing so free, and with contraceptives not being available then, there still were, as Caldwell et al. note, few pregnancies or illegitimate births in East Africa. Thus, contrary to their claims, there was a strict moral order, and rules of sexual conduct were strictly observed.
The Missionary Response to Adolescent Sexuality
Protestant missionaries attempted to ban female circumcision on the grounds that it was useless and dangerous to women. But the ensuing resistance forced them to compromise and to allow the physical operation to continue to be performed in mission hospitals by specially trained operators (Church of Scotland Mission 1931; Murray 1974; Strayer 1978; Philp 1925). What they successfully prohibited were the ritual ceremonies, songs, and dances, or the collective, public sexual discourse (Murray 1974; Ahlberg 1991; Ashton 1967). Similarly, they prohibited ngw ko without prior knowledge of its social organization and meaning.
The type of ban instituted on female circumcision legitimized the survival of the physical operation without the related mechanisms of imparting discipline and regulating sexual behavior. It was particularly in the context of this ban that the link between community moral values and sexual behavior was broken. Female and male circumcision (or at least the operation) thus continued without the collective public discourse or the socially imparted discipline in sexual activity. In addition, missionary activities entailed disorienting the Africans from their belief system, including the use of taboos and prohibitions. With no public discourse or socially imparted and maintained sexual discipline, and with changed beliefs (or, rather, a reduced influence from their belief system), coupled with the individualization characteristic of Christian morality, socially sanctioned, nonpenetrative sexual activity was replaced in time by full sexual intercourse.
To anybody observing Kikuyu society today, the silence around sexuality has become a striking feature. However, in the light of the historical analysis presented above, Caldwell et al. s conclusion that the silence arose from the strong male objection to women talking about their sexual activity is striking. Caldwell et al. failed to tell us how and why African men found it necessary to silence their women. Whatever their reasons, the impact of the Christianization process cannot be understood fully without also focusing on the sexual behavior of the Europeans, including the missionaries in Africa.
Paradoxically, while the missionaries suppressed African sexual practices in the name of Christianity, they themselves failed to live according to the virtues they preached. Dodge (1964) mentions the laxity especially in sexual morality among the Europeans in Africa, including missionaries, and discussed some of the reasons for it (1964, 55): Isolation from other Europeans and separation from family controls often give a feeling of license, a certain laxness in morals. The monogamous ideal, as proclaimed by Jesus, has not always been followed by Europeans in Africa . . . It is widely rumored that some representatives of the Church did not always maintain their vows of celibacy and chastity; if these rumors are true, the Church has accommodated itself in practice to a pattern of life which it officially repudiates.
Unfortunately for Dodge, the existence of double standards is blatantly clear, as evidenced by the racial mix in South Africa, where racial segregation is a policy with strong Christian overtones. White (1990) describes how European men visited African women prostitutes in Nairobi. At first, servants helped these European men look for women, but by 1939, they were using taxi drivers. The Protestant missions themselves took care not to recruit or send single men and women out as missionaries (Beidelman 1982). This suggests that not even the Protestant churches themselves believed their moral value alone was enough to control sexual behavior. It seems that morality, be it Eurasian or African, makes sense only when its maintenance mechanisms operate effectively. It thus needs to be analyzed in the context of its specific social organization or order.
What Did Christianization Entail?
Protestant missionaries in particular aimed at converting individual African souls. Yet, in practice, conversion was measured by the extent to which African converts abandoned their customs. Moreover, the missionaries introduced Western secularizing forces, including Western education and medical care. 24 This fact, and the double standards entailed in Christian morality, meant that the Christianization process itself alienated Christianity. Nonetheless, many Africans converted. However, the same confusion and contradictions inherent in the Christianization process were reflected in the tensions experienced by African converts who were expected to detach themselves from their unconverted relatives and the members of their community and team up with fellow converts under the guidance of the missionary (Mugambi 1989). This brought about a crisis in the individual convert, because he or she became a social outcast from his community and was thus torn between two forces. Converts resolved the problem by living double lives, assuming one type of behavior inside the mission station and another outside it (Beidelman 1982; Mugambi 1989). This solution meant that, in practice, moral issues could not be discussed openly at a depth that would reveal the tensions. Even if it was, the missionaries could neither feel nor appreciate the agony, because, in addition to their prejudiced attitude, they were not products of African culture.
The African was expected to obey his foreign master, even when the master oppressed, exploited, and maltreated him. He was not expected to protest against injustice, because the brand of Christian morality he had been exposed to maintained that slaves must obey their master and masters must love their slaves. One solution to this paradox was, again, a kind of double life. The African convert continued to affirm whatever he was expected to publicly, but in practice, he did what was most practical to survive. If he could cheat his master to get a few days off, he cheated. But he did not see this as necessarily evil under the circumstances, because his Christian master was himself unjust (Mugambi 1989). Africans accepted Christianity but individually and collectively opposed humiliating European missionary control and the prohibition of their customs. 25 But, however much Africans might have opposed Christianity in an attempt to retain their customs, the link between norms and practices was disrupted.
A Transformed Sexuality in Africa: Challenges and Prospects for Preventive Strategies
So far, I have examined the thesis of Caldwell et al. that African sexuality is inherently permissive, a factor that has made it resist change. I then discussed an alternative view that, as the Kikuyu sexual model suggests, sexuality was dramatically transformed, from a context in which it was open but kept within well-defined social control and regulating mechanisms to being an individual, private matter surrounded largely by silence.
This process has two important implications for strategies designed to prevent and control HIV/AIDS. First, it has removed the social support that many agencies have come to realize is important in helping community members achieve or maintain desired sexual behavior. There is increasing evidence that AIDS educational campaigns have generally resulted in increased information but little change in behavior. Although this problem may arise because AIDS educational messages are confusing and at times contradictory (Levine 1991), evidence suggests that behavior change is more likely to occur if there is social support for it. 26 The critical need in Africa now is to study the processes, dynamics, structures, and networks within communities that are more likely to support or facilitate behavioral change.
Second, a new moral system and new moral agencies have been introduced. African people thus have two distinct moral systems, neither of which has much authority over sexual behavior. This means that people may continue to believe that certain types of behavior are wrong, yet they have no effective means of sanctioning deviant behavior. It is thus not difficult to understand, for example, why, in spite of the prohibition by both Christian and non-Christian parents, adolescent premarital sexual activity is still widespread, as adolescent pregnancies, induced abortions, and sexually transmitted diseases suggest (Ojwang and Maggwa 1991). Parents have simply no mechanisms to support or enforce the norms around sexual activity.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the numerous agencies involved in HIV/AIDS control have moral and ideological perspectives as varied as their number. It is possible to isolate four types of moral regimes: the Christian, the traditional African, the administrative/legal, and the more secular romantic love. Campaigns have emphasized at least two conflicting messages, depending on the agency doing the advocating. Some promote moral chastity, including sexual abstinence before marriage and marital monogamy. Others emphasize safer sex, which mainly means reducing the number of sexual partners and using condoms (Leichter 1991, 210-48; Bell 1991; Lovegrove 1990). Agencies promoting moral chastity take the more aggressive approach.
It is perhaps among the more secular agencies that the problem is greatest, because their secular emphasis does not completely exclude a moral perspective. The message from the more secular agencies, including national governments and funding agencies, is often to refrain from sexual activity before and outside marriage, and that otherwise, condoms should be used. This half-moralist, half-secular perspective has far-reaching implications, particularly in Africa, where local agencies, including governments, depend on external funds for their HIV/AIDS control programs. It can be argued that the funding of local agencies should present few problems. However, foreign assistance goes beyond funding and, through experts or staff attached to funded programs or through the powerful position of the funding agencies, attempts to influence what is done and how it is done, even if local agencies and their people want it done differently (Hancock 1989). USAID, for example, is a major exporter of condoms to African countries. However, it is opposed to the distribution of condoms to adolescents outside marriage (Turshen 1989, 218-41), 27 and moreover, it has used its muscle to force agencies in Africa and in the international arena to adhere to its policy or risk a cut in aid. This form of power immobilizes the more secular agencies in Africa and empowers those promoting a moral perspective.
This may partly explain why, in most African countries, governments have avoided dealing with adolescent sexuality. As Horgan (1991) notes, many officials are not in a position to mount any opposition, as this would amount to biting the hand that feeds them. In contrast, the religious agencies have been more assertive in the area of adolescent sexuality. Their main concern has been to inculcate in adolescents behavior commonly termed responsible parenthood. An examination of a number of booklets on the Family Life Education Programme in Tanzania, Zambia, Kenya, and Uganda indicates that the main message is No sex before marriage.
Adolescents are thus presented with four moral regimes. Three of them-the traditional, the Christian, and the administrative/legal, the ones accepted by most of the various agencies and actors in the adult world-prohibit premarital sexual activity, sex education in schools, abortion, and contraceptive use. But adult norms against adolescent sexual activity operate in a vacuum or lack sufficient regulating and control mechanisms. The adolescents therefore live in a highly paradoxical situation of prohibition, silence, and confusion on the part of the adult world.
Young people, however, embrace the romantic love moral regime that dictates that sexual activity is all right as long as people are in love, regardless of their marital status. The romantic love moral regime in Africa, as in many other areas, leads to a form of sexual activity characterized by serial monogamy, where loving relationships occur in quick succession between female and male adolescents of the same age group. This form of sexual activity has implications for HIV infection. While a relationship lasts, the adolescents may not practice safe sex, simply because they consider themselves at no risk: their relationship at that particular time is firm and involves just one faithful partner. Furthermore, because the adult world does not allow sex before marriage or provide information about sex, conception, and preventive measures for adolescents who fall in love, the only opportunity such adolescents may have is quick, unprotected sexual intercourse behind a bush or a school, as Gordon and Kanstrup (1992) suggest. It is clear that, if there is to be any success in the control of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, there is a dire need to address the paradoxical situation of silence and prohibition. 28 In essence, this means dealing with the adult world and the institutions that shape it at the local level and globally. The problem is thus not untamed African sexuality, because even if typical African sexual networking were discovered, what message would be promoted given the confused social and political environment described above?
What is required is an approach that makes people recognize themselves. To deal with groups upholding prohibitionary moral regimes, it would, for example, make more sense to initiate a discourse from the point which Caldwell et al. call the idealized past. In this case, it would be more appropriate to tell the Kikuyu people that they once had an open sexual model that protected adolescents engaging in sexual activity outside marriage, rather than telling them to change from their inherently permissive and unchanged sexuality. In this context, we are calling for an education system that focuses on people s history. Our experience in using local history indicates that this is an important entry point in generating open dialogue, as it activates people s meanings rather than attempting to confirm assumptions that have racial and cultural prejudices (Ahlberg 1991). Only when we are able to mobilize such meanings can we hope effectively to empower people to deal with the problems of sexuality, be they fertility control or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
1 . Their Eurasia is a vast landmass extending from the Mediterranean countries to the Gangetic plains and includes China.
2 . This applies only where women are assured of land use rights or other economic activities. In some areas where there is land shortage and women are disadvantaged in education, training, and therefore gainful employment, women consider divorce to be catastrophic (Ahlberg 1991, 148).
3 . They claim that these are more important at the commencement of sexual activity than they are for marriage. However, girls married soon after initiation, which is at puberty. Sex and marriage thus began about the same time.
4 . Women in central Kenya described how, when they visited their husbands, they had to spend days and nights in the house to avoid being discovered by their husband s master (Ahlberg 1991).
5 . Doyal (1979) also notes that African women prostitutes were considered a necessary protection against the rape of white women by African male workers.
6 . They mention nothing of prostitution in Asian cities such as Manila and Bangkok, the extent of which, thanks to HIV/AIDS, is beginning to be understood. We should add that the growth of prostitution in this region is exacerbated by international sex tourism.
7 . They note that traditionally, there was a belief that adulterous women would die in childbirth or shortly afterward.
8 . They aim thus to carry out research not only to discover sexual networking in Africa but also how AIDS is changing African sexuality.
9 . They mean that the expansive landmass they refer to as Eurasia and the entire continent of Africa, with all their varied peoples and cultures, each has no variation in sexuality.
10 . I focus on the Christianization process not because other colonial forces did not disrupt African systems but because I am responding only to Caldwell et al. s thesis of a religious moral value.
11 . By listing nearly two hundred references, the authors present a wealth of sources on a topic about which relatively little is known. The listing of sources is the most valuable part of the paper. See also criticism of the same article by Le Blanc et al. (1991) and Turshen (1991, 111-22).
12 . They equally dismiss (on p. 223) the observations by Ocholla-Ayayo about the Luo people in Kenya and by Leith-Ross about Ibo girls in the 1930s as emanating from the anthropologist rather than the reality.
13 . These racial and cultural biases and prejudices unfortunately haunt many scholars of Africa to this day, and since the 1980s, HIV/AIDS has greatly reactivated these biases and prejudices (Hunt 1989; Rushton and Bogaert 1989; Sabatier 1988).
14 . Prostitutes and working-class women in Victorian Britain were generally seen as sexual, a biological throwback to an earlier evolutionary stage akin to the promiscuity of primitive people (Bland 1983).
15 . They in this case represent scholars, who admit that, in the African societies they study, right behavior is mystically rewarded and wrongdoing mystically punished, thus suggesting a connection between religion and morality. In spite of this, they deny any such connection (Wilson 1971, 76-99).
16 . The fear of and the belief in ancestral spirits by African people were among the major influences the missionaries condemned and worked hard to weaken.
17 . Zahan (1979), Gaba (1971), and Ray (1976) make similar observations about many other African societies.
18 . Colonial economic strategies varied. Some countries, such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, were settler colonies. Others, such as Uganda, Tanzania, and Nigeria, were largely small African producers. In both, the Protestant missionary approach to African customs was similar.
19 . This universality was manifested liturgically in the mass, linguistically in the use of Latin as the official language of the Church, and institutionally in the Pope (Mugambi, 1989).
20 . They criticized the traditional African style of dress, yet blamed Africans for being materialistic when they purchased European clothing, shoes, and ornaments. If the goal was to inculcate Christian moral values, there should have been no need to force the Africans to assume European names that had little meaning for them.
21 . This is one of those societies in Africa that Caldwell and his colleagues note had institutionalized substitution of sexual partners.
22 . Westermarck (1894, 61-68) presents evidence suggesting that many African societies prohibited premarital sexual activity and that those breaching the rules of conduct incurred severe punishments, including banishment and death.
23 . Similarly, the Kang ei/Nyakinyua women s groups comprising newly married as well as women past childbearing age exerted pressure on both men and women to observe rules during the periods when sexual intercourse was prohibited (Ahlberg 1991).
24 . The importance of missionary education as a Christianizing tool is clearly demonstrated in the organization of punishments. One of the things denied to children of African converts who slipped back to this or that heathen custom was education.
25 . The major contention in the African independent church movements was not Christian morality, nor was it a result of the stubbornness of African sexuality; rather, it was the oppressive form in which Christianity was introduced (Hayward 1963; Welbourn 1961).
26 . Gay men in the United States could fight both against discrimination and support themselves in changing their risky behavior because of their organized support (Bayer 1989; Bell 1991; Wachter 1992). Studies in Africa (Plummer et al. 1988) indicate that the use of condoms among prostitutes is positively correlated with the support the prostitutes give each other to demand condom use from their clients.
27 . The same applied to population control, where USAID supports fertility control but prohibits the development of clinics that would give service and information to large numbers of women who need an abortion (Horgan 1991).
28 . The situation in many African countries is more complicated because the sexual activity of large numbers of young women is primarily motivated by economic needs.
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2 Which Bodies Matter? Feminism, Poststructuralism, Race, and the Curious Theoretical Odyssey of the Hottentot Venus
Zine Magubane
A NY SCHOLAR WISHING to advance an argument on gender and colonialism, gender and science, or gender and race must, it seems, quote Sander Gilman s (1985) Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature. First published in a 1985 issue of Critical Inquiry , the article has been reprinted in several anthologies. It is cited by virtually every scholar concerned with analyzing gender, science, race, colonialism, and/or their intersections (Abrahams 1997; Crais 1992; Donald and Rattansi 1992; Fausto-Sterling 1995; Gordon 1992; Haraway 1989; hooks 1992; Lindfors 1999; Loomba 1998; McClintock 1995; Pieterse 1995; Schiebinger 1993; Sharpley-Whiting 1999; Stoler 1995; Strother 1999; Thomson 1997; Vaughan, 1991; Wiss 1994).
In the article, Gilman uses Sarah Baartmann, 1 the so-called Hottentot Venus, as a means of showing how medical, literary, and scientific discourses work to construct images of racial and sexual difference. Baartmann, a Khoikhoi 2 woman, was taken from the Cape Colony in South Africa and exhibited at the Piccadilly Circus in London because of the purported abnormality of her sexual organs. She was said to suffer from both steatopygia (an enlargement of the buttocks) and an elongation of the labia (thus named the Hottentot Apron ). Baartmann suffered the indignity of public exhibition and became the subject of popular lore and political lampooning before her premature death and subsequent dissection at the hands of Georges Cuvier, a French anatomist. The basic premise of Gilman s argument is summed up in this frequently quoted passage: The antithesis of European sexual mores and beauty is embodied in the Black, and the essential Black, the lowest rung on the great chain of being, is the Hottentot. The physical appearance of the Hottentot is, indeed, the central nineteenth-century icon for sexual difference between the European and the Black (Gilman 1985, 231). Gilman s analysis of Baartmann was the genesis for a veritable theoretical industry. After the publication of Gilman s article, Baartmann was, in the words of Z. S. Strother (1999, 1), recapitulated to fame and became an academic and popular icon. The theoretical groundswell her story precipitated cannot be separated from the growing popularity of poststructuralist analyses of race and gender. The ways in which science, literature, and art collectively worked to produce Baartmann as an example of racial and sexual difference offered exemplary proof that racial and sexual alterity are social constructions rather than biological essences. Thus, her story was particularly compelling for anyone interested in deconstructing difference and analyzing the othering process.
The fact that Gilman s article has been instrumental in transforming Baartman into a late-twentieth-century icon for the violence done to women of African descent (Strother 1999, 37) makes it even more critical that we reconsider the ways in which Baartmann, as both subject and object, has been deployed theoretically. In the pages that follow, I will argue that although most studies that discuss Baartmann (or Gilman s analysis of her) are scrupulous in their use of words like invented, constructed , and ideological , in their practice, they valorize the very ground of biological essentialism they purport to deconstruct.
Thus, in this article, I examine the parameters of inquiry that have structured how scholars have posed their research questions. I am particularly interested in looking at what assumptions about racial and sexual difference inform the theoretical orthodoxy about Baartmann. I argue that most theorists have, following Gilman s theoretical lead, focused obsessively on Baartmann s body and its differences. As a result, they have accepted, without question, his core assertion that by the eighteenth century, the sexuality of the Black, both male and female, becomes an icon for deviant sexuality in general (Gilman 1985, 228). They have not, however, asked what social relations determined which people counted as black, nor for which people did blacks become icons of sexual difference and why. Neither have they investigated the important differences that marked how social actors in different structural locations saw and experienced Baartmann, in particular, her different interpellation into French versus British medicine and science. As a result, their work has actually placed Baartmann outside history.
In the interest of placing Baartmann (and racial and sexual alterity) back within history, the remainder of this article will take issue with, and disprove, three of Gilman s core assertions. The first assumption I disprove is that Europeans fears of the unique and observable physical differences of racial and sexual others was the primary impetus for the construction and synthesis of images of deviance. The second assumption I challenge is that ideas about blackness remained relatively static and unchanged throughout the nineteenth century. The final assumption I critique is that Baartmann evoked a uniform ideological response, and that her sexual parts represented the core image of the black woman in the nineteenth century. The article will conclude with a discussion of the theoretical lapses that precipitated Baartmann s recent theoretical fetishization.
Ways of Seeing: Hierarchies of Value and the Social Construction of Perceptions
Long before the first poststructuralist put pen to paper, Emile Durkheim (1982, 34) argued that social life is made up entirely of representations. His strongest criticisms were directed against social theorists who naturalized these representations, treating them as the result of universal sensory impressions rather than historically specific cultural creations. He thus argued that consciousness allows us to know them [representations] well up to a certain point, but only in the same way as our senses make us aware of heat or light, sound or electricity. It gives us muddled impressions of them, fleeting and subjective, but provides no clear, distinct notions or explanatory concepts (36).
Durkheim argued that representations must be analyzed like social facts (1982, 36). Viewing representations as social facts, he explained, is not to place them in this or that category of reality; it is to observe towards them a certain attitude of mind. He was essentially arguing that analyses of psychic impressions must give way to analyses of social relations if the theorists are to arrive at a sophisticated understanding of how we perceive and order our world.
It appears that Gilman (1985, 231) was determined not to repeat the mistakes of a generation of theorists before and after Durkheim when he began his essay with this compelling question: How do we organize our perceptions of the world? His analysis suggests that he sees differences as myths that are perceived through the ideological bias of the observer (1985, 223). However, the ahistorical perspective he adopts on how human beings perceive difference and organize hierarchies of value belies this seemingly radical constructivist stance. Gilman essentially argues that ideas about difference are the unmediated reflex of psychic impressions. In his analysis, the visible stigmata of racial and corporeal abnormality-what he terms unique and observable physical differences -are of key importance (1985, 231). He argues that the scientific discourse of degeneracy, which was key in pathologizing the other, devolved primarily in relation to non-European peoples as an expression of fears about their corporeal difference: It is the inherent fear of the difference in the anatomy of the Other that lies behind the synthesis of images. The Other s pathology is reveled in anatomy. The white man s burden thus becomes his sexuality and its control, and it is this which is transferred into the need to control the sexuality of the Other. . . . This need for control was a projection of inner fears; thus, its articulation in visual images was in terms which described the polar opposite of the European male (Gilman 1985, 256).
Despite his ahistoricism and psychological determinism, a number of feminist scholars wholeheartedly embraced Gilman s analysis. Several, following Gilman s theoretical lead, argued that Cuvier s dissection was an expression of his inner fears of Baartmann s anatomical difference and his need for control (Fausto-Sterling 1995; Haraway 1989; Schiebinger 1993; Sharpley-Whiting 1999). Fausto-Sterling (1995, 42) was clearly drawing on Gilman when she argued, Cuvier most clearly concerned himself with establishing the priority of European nationhood; he wished to control the hidden secrets of Africa and the woman by exposing them to scientific daylight. . . . Hence he delved beneath the surface, bringing the interior to light; he extracted the hidden genitalia and defined the hidden Hottentot. Lying on his dissection table, the wild Baartmann became the tame, the savage civilized. By exposing the clandestine power, the ruler prevailed.
Anne McClintock (1995, 41) also employed Gilman in support of her claim that it was necessary to invent visible stigmata to represent-as a commodity spectacle-the historical atavism of the degenerate classes. As Sander Gilman has pointed out, one answer was found in the body of the African woman, who became the prototype of the Victorian invention of primitive atavism.
In following Gilman s lead and analyzing the discourse of degeneracy as a product of psychological dispositions, these accounts cannot explain the paradoxical stance of the founder of the science of degeneracy, Augustine Benedict Morel. Morel argued between the intellectual state of the wildest Bushman and that of the most civilized European, there is less difference [emphasis added] than between the intellectual state of the same European and that of the degenerate being (Pick 1989, 26). Morel s comments become even more striking when we recall that many scientists and travelers believed that Baartmann was a female member of the so-called Bushman tribe.
Morel s comments become much more understandable if we proceed from the assumption that social relations, rather than psychological dispositions, provide the background and context for human encounters. Degeneration, as an explanatory framework, did not develop in response to external others and their corporeal alterity. Rather, the discourse was a response to fears about the blurring of class and status differences within the European polity. This was considered far more threatening than the racial and sexual alterity of non-European peoples. Malik (1996, 112) explained that for the ruling classes equality and democracy were themselves symptoms of degeneracy. What was distinctive about the idea of degeneration was that external features were not reliable indicators of its existence. Degeneration was not always (or even primarily) associated with unique and observable physical differences. As Pick (1989) explained, degeneration was considered so dangerous precisely because it was a process capable of usurping all boundaries of discernible identity. Degeneracy was marked by its slow, invidious, and invisible proliferation.
The importance of analyzing social relations rather than enumerating psychological dispositions is nowhere more evident than in Georges Cuvier s stance on the Great Chain of Being. The Great Chain of Being was a theory that speculated that all creatures could be arranged on a continuous scale from the lowliest insect to the most highly evolved human. After the publication of Gilman s article, Cuvier became popularly (and erroneously) associated with the Great Chain of Being (Gordon 1992; Sharpley-Whiting 1999; Strother 1999). Wiss (1994, 29), for example, asserts that Cuvier, by fractioning the gradual continuities of the great chain of being was able to divide humanity into four distinct races.
What these analyses do not and cannot account for is Cuvier s stubborn and enduring resistance to the doctrine. As Appel (1987, 50-51) explained, Of all the speculative theories, the one that most aroused Cuvier s passions was the eighteenth-century doctrine of the chain of being. It became in effect his bete noire . . . . Cuvier s main stated objection to the chain was that it was a speculative a priori scheme that went beyond the facts. . . . By 1812 Cuvier had already renounced even the possibility of arranging classes along a scale of perfection.
Cuvier s stance can be better understood if it is analyzed in relation to nineteenth-century European class dynamics, rather than simply concluding that his actions reflect the generalized psychological dispositions and fears of European men. Indeed, his disaffection for the notion of a Great Chain of Being stemmed equally from sociopolitical as it did from scientific or psychological sources.
In Cuvier s day, it was commonly believed that speculative philosophies had been the source behind the French Revolution. During the Revolution, scientific theories had been intensely politicized. Thus, Cuvier was acutely aware of the power that unregulated ideas, political or scientific, could have on the masses. The ideas of Mesmer, for example, had been joined to the revolutionary ideas of Rousseau, as were Felix Pouchet s ideas about spontaneous generation. Cuvier associated speculative theories with materialism and feared that the two taken in tandem could be used to promote social unrest. Speculative theories could, in his opinion, be more easily exploited by the masses who were intent on overturning the social order.
Thus, although Cuvier s observations about Baartmann suggest that he viewed her as sharing a number of affinities with apes, it is important to note that he never explicitly stated that she was the missing link. His reluctance to do so tells us less about his attitudes toward racial and sexual alterity than it does about his attitudes toward class. It demonstrates his profound aversion to any action that could potentially endow the dangerous classes claims to equality any legitimacy. This aversion was strong enough to prevent him from drawing the logical conclusion about Baartmann, based on his own empirical observations. As strong as Cuvier s fears about Baartmann s corporeal difference were, it appears his fears about the potential political equality of his fellow Frenchmen were even greater.
The actions of Cuvier demonstrate that the social relations of nineteenth-century France tell us far more about the process of constructing boundaries between self and other than do blanket generalizations about the psychological dispositions of European men. His behavior makes evident the truth of Barbara Fields s (1982, 148) claim that the idea one people has of another, even when the difference between them is embodied in the most striking physical characteristics, is always mediated by the social context within which the two come into contact.
Sex and Savagery: Africa in the Historical Imagination
The ahistorical and psychologically determinist perspective Gilman adopts in his discussions about degeneration and the Great Chain is even more pronounced in his discussions about race. The publication of Black Bodies, White Bodies (Gilman 1985) in the anthology Race, Writing, and Difference , edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr., was instrumental in securing the article s place as a foundational text in a postfoundationalist world. The anthology soon became one of the most cited texts in the fields of poststructuralism, feminism, critical race studies, and postcolonial studies. It is not difficult to ascertain why. In the introduction, Gates explains that the purpose of the text was to deconstruct the ideas of difference inscribed in the trope of race (Gilman 1985, 2). The title s use of quotation marks around the word Race announced the volume s emphasis on critically engaging race as a discursively and socially constructed phenomenon. The characterization of race as a trope, and thus similar to any other kind of figurative language, was clearly meant to decisively and permanently disrupt any notion of race as referring to innate biological or physical differences. Race, as a trope, is the ultimate empty signifier.
Although Gilman s intention is to argue that perceptions of difference are socially constructed, he focuses on Baartmann s inherent biological differences. He argues that her physiognomy, her skin color, the form of her genitalia label her as inherently different (1985, 232). Gilman argues that because of her unique and observable physical differences, Baartman represented Blackness in nunce (1985, 225). He thus concludes that while many groups of African Blacks were known to Europeans in the nineteenth century, the Hottentot remained representative of the essence of the Black, especially the Black female (225).
Gilman s theoretical adherents, with little question and much enthusiasm, took up the idea that Baartmann s physical stigmata transformed her into a representation of Blackness in nunce (Fausto-Sterling 1995; McClintock 1995; Schiebinger 1993; Sharpley-Whiting 1999; Wiss 1994). Donna Haraway (1989, 402), for example, uses Gilman to support her claim that because of their perceived biological differences, Black women were ontologically the essence of animality and abnormality.
Most scholars, in accepting Gilman s declaration about Baartmann s racial representativeness, have neither historicized nor problematized the idea of blackness. They have made the assumption that race is an observable physical fact, a thing, rather than a notion that is profoundly and in its very essence ideological (Fields 1982, 144). However, as Wacquant (1997, 223) observed, American conceptions of race are better thought of as folk conceptions that reflect the peculiar schema of racial division developed by one country during a small segment of its short history. The fact that many Baartmann scholars have unthinkingly reproduced commonsense understandings of blackness as it exists in the contemporary United States is evidenced by two historically untenable assumptions they make about race. The first assumption is that Baartmann s color and sexual difference not only marked her as different but also rendered her fundamentally the same as all other black people. The second assumption is that ideas about what constitutes Africanity and blackness have remained relatively unchanged over time.
The assumption that Khoikhoi people were considered broadly representative of Africans as a whole is central to Gilman s argument. It allows him to move from a discussion about Baartmann to making much broader claims about perceptions of African people as a whole. This theoretical maneuver allows him to argue that Baartmann represented Blackness in nunce . However, the reports of nineteenth-century travelers show that this particular assertion also does not withstand historical scrutiny.
Travelers made much of the fact that the Khoikhoi were not black or brown but yellow or tawny and thus different in important respects from Africans living farther north, as well as those on the west coast (Barrow 1801; Burchell [1827] 1953; Lichtenstein 1812; Pringle 1834; Thompson 1827). Travelers and naturalists also drew sharp divisions between different classes of Khoikhoi people, based on their color, culture, geographic location, and appearance. Barrow (1801, 151), for example, distinguished between the so-called colonial Hottentots or bastard Hottentots, who lived inside the colony, and those in the outlying regions ( savage Hottentots who retained more of their original character ). He went on to note that although the elongated nymphae [Hottentot Apron] are found in all Hottentot women . . . in the bastard Hottentot it ceases to appear (1801, 281). Other travelers testified to the existence of different races within the Hottentot nation. George Thompson (1827, 269), for example, remarked that in personal appearance the Korannas are superior to any other race of Hottentots. Many of them are tall with finely shaped heads and prominent features.
Even those travelers who did not make such fine distinctions between individual Khoikhoi people drew sharp distinctions between the Khoikhoi and other black ethnic groups within the Cape Colony. It was widely agreed that the Xhosa (called variously Kaffirs, Caffirs, and Caffers) and the San (pejoratively referred to as Bushmen) were wholly unlike the Khoikhoi. An article in The Quarterly Review remarked that no two beings can differ more widely than the Hottentot and the Caffre (Review of Lichtenstein s Travels 1812, 388). Barnard Fisher (1814, 7) likewise commented that three races more distinct and unlike than the Hottentot, Caffre, and Bushman cannot possibly be. James Prior (1819, 14) echoed Fisher when he marveled at the marked differences as appear in the three races of Kaffir, Hottentot, and Bushman.
The fact that historical evidence suggests that the Khoikhoi did not represent Blackness in nunce is important because it forces us to return to the central question posed earlier: How do we organize our perceptions of the world? Gilman (1985, 250) imputes a timeless stability to the idea of race. He argues that the primary marker of the Black is his or her skin color. However, skin color and hair textures were not stabilized as markers of racial difference until fairly late in the nineteenth century. Barrow (1801, 168), for example, observed that the Xhosa were dark glossy brown verging on black. He also described them as having short curling hair. Nevertheless, he concluded that they had not one line of the African Negro in the composition of their persons (1801, 205). Lichtenstein (1812, 303) concurred with Barrow that the Kaffirs have in many respects a great resemblance to Europeans. Indeed they have more resemblance to them than either to Negroes or Hottentots. Thomas Pringle (1834, 413) echoed Barrow when, after describing the Xhosa as being dark brown and having wooly hair, he declared them as having features that approached the European model. What these historical observations suggest is that Blackness is less a stable, observable, empirical fact than an ideology that is historically determined and thus variable.
The profoundly ideological nature of blackness becomes even more apparent when we consider that as Englishmen continued to speculate as to whether the dark-skinned (by contemporary standards) Xhosa should be classified as Negroes, they were convinced that the pale-skinned (again by contemporary standards) Irish most definitely should be. As Cheng (1995, 26) noted, the Irish/Celtic race was repeatedly related to the Black race not merely in terms of tropes, but insistently as fact , as literal and biological relatives. Indeed, much was made of the unique and observable physical differences (to borrow a phrase from Gilman) that separated the Anglo-Saxons from the Celts. Dr. John Beddoe, founding member of the British Ethnological Society, devoted most of his career to establishing that the Irish Celts were not only genetically distinct from and inferior to Anglo-Saxons but also bore biological affinity to Negroes. His work served to confirm the impressions of many Victorians that the Celtic portions of the population in Wales, Cornwall, Scotland, and Ireland were considerably darker or more melanous than those descended from Saxon and Scandinavian forbears (Curtis 1997, 20). Beddoe was by no means alone in his estimation of the Africanoid origin of the Irish (Bentham 1834; Price 1829; Prichard 1857).
I have gone to such lengths to demonstrate (1) the Khoikhoi were not considered representative of Africans, (2) not all Africans were thought of as Negroes, and (3) not all Negroes were black for two reasons. My first objective is to challenge Gilman s core assertions and thus unsettle the theoretical orthodoxy about Baartmann. My second objective is to make a larger sociological point about ideologies concerning racial differences (or any other kind of differences, for that matter).
As the above selections from British travel writing, missionary reports, and related ephemera so graphically illustrated, there was not a uniform opinion on the Khoikhoi or other Africans with regard to sexuality, appearance, habits, or otherwise. This is because race is not an idea but an ideology. It came into existence at a discernible historical moment for rationally understandable historical reasons and is subject to change for similar reasons (Fields 1990, 101). Races are not clearly demarcated and bounded groups existing out there in the world, prior to the process of categorization. English perceptions of the Irish make it clear that the characteristics that we currently identify as important for establishing difference (i.e., dark skin) were not preexisting in the world, simply waiting for someone (scientists, colonialists, travelers, Europeans) to come along and construct a hierarchy of value. Rather, what we see when we look at each other is profoundly mediated by social context. Whether we are looking at the source of discourses of degeneration or impressions of biological characteristics, the end result is the same. An analysis that does not go beyond psychological impressions to consider the importance of social relations will do nothing more than produce theories that explain not the facts . . . but the preconceptions of the author before he [ sic ] began his research (Durkheim 1982, 38).
When and How Do Bodies Matter? Science, Sex, and Ideological Struggle
There is no doubt that the express aim of poststructuralist scholarship on Baartmann has been to critique racism and biological essentialism. The question must be asked, therefore, why the theoretical orthodoxy has reproduced the very assumptions it purports to destabilize. Part of the problem stems from the fact that despite theorists claims that race is a notion that is essentially ideological, their analyses fail to actually treat it as such. This fact becomes especially clear when we subject Gilman s most popular theoretical claim to a rigorous sociological analysis. Writing almost a decade and a half after the article was first published, Strother (1999, 38) observed that Gilman s assertion that Baartmann s sexual parts serve as the central image for the Black female throughout the nineteenth century remains its most frequently cited statement. This assertion, perhaps more than any other, was taken up without question (Crais 1992; Fausto-Sterling 1995; Haraway 1989; McClintock 1995; Pieterse 1995; Sharpley-Whiting 1999). Londa Schiebinger (1993, 159), for example, argued that African women were seen as wanton perversions of sexuality. . . . They served as foils to the Victorian ideal of the passionless woman, becoming, as Sander Gilman has written, the central icon for sexuality in the nineteenth century. bell hooks (1992, 62) also cites Gilman in support of similar claims, writing that Gilman documents the development of this image . . . he emphasizes that it is the Black female body that is forced to serve as an icon for sexuality in general.
Although writing about ideology, these scholars fail to appreciate the very essence of ideology-what makes them so ideological -is the fact that they are riddled with contradictions and marked by continuous conflicts and struggles over meaning. As Mannheim (1936, 9) explained in Ideology and Utopia :

It is with this clashing of modes of thought, each of which has the same claims to representational validity, that for the first time there is rendered possible the emergence of the question which is so fateful, but also so fundamental in the history of thought, namely, how is it possible that identical human thought-processes concerned with the same world produce divergent conceptions of that world [emphasis added]. And from this point it is only a step further to ask: Is it not possible that the thought-processes which are involved here are not at all identical? May it not be found, when one has examined all the possibilities of human thought, that there are numerous alternative paths which can be followed?

Theorists who contend that there was a single ideology, central icon, or core image about blackness and sexuality in the nineteenth century make two mistakes. First, they discount the extent to which ideas about blackness were still emerging. Second, their analysis implies that this particular ideology magically escaped the types of conflicts that all other ideologies are subject to. Only by underplaying the existence and importance of ideological conflict can they sustain Gilman s argument that people from such widely different social locations as French aristocrats, English merchants, displaced peasants, gentlemen scientists, and factory workers held a singular and unified opinion about and image of black women and sexuality.
The available historical evidence strongly contradicts Gilman s claims about the alleged ideological unanimity of such diverse social actors. Historical sources demonstrate quite clearly that the issue of whether or not steatopygia was a general attribute of Khoikhoi women and whether Baartmann was considered a typical example of a Khoikhoi person remained open to debate. Fisher (1814, 8), who compiled a compendium of his journey to the Cape, noted that there is something like symmetry in the person of a Hottentot, their limbs being neatly turned, but they are for the most part of a diminutive stature, and no just idea of them can be formed from the specimens seen in this country [England], particularly that singular character the Hottentot Venus.
William Burchell (1822, 216) made a similar observation in his Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa . After describing a Khoikhoi woman with a very large and protuberant behind, he hastened to add that this was not a general condition of the Khoikhoi people:

The exhibition of a woman of this description, in the principal countries of Europe has made the subject well known to all those who are curious in such matters. . . . I ought not to allow this occasion to pass by without endeavoring to correct some erroneous notions. . . . It is not a fact that the whole of the Hottentot race is thus formed. Neither is there any particular tribe to which this steatopygia, as it may be called, is peculiar. Nor is it more common to the Bushman tribe than to other Hottentots. It will not greatly mislead if our idea of its frequency be formed by comparing it with the corpulence of individuals among European nations.

It might be tempting to conclude that some people are simply more prescient observers than others are or, alternatively, that some people simply harbor less racial prejudice. Although important differences marked the standpoints of travelers in Africa versus pseudoscientists and laypeople in England, the access to a wider array of empirical evidence is not the only reason that opinions varied so widely. Rather, what these examples make clear is that ideologies about racial and sexual alterity display the same basic characteristics as other ideologies do. They are internally inconsistent, they are constantly subject to struggle, and they reflect the structural locations of their adherents.
Most studies of Baartmann, following Gilman, have focused their attention on the role of science in establishing her sexual alterity (Fausto-Sterling 1995; Haraway 1989; McClintock 1995; Sharpley-Whiting 1999; Wiss 1994). However, because scholars have so readily accepted Gilman s claim that the mere sight of Baartmann produced a uniform and unvarying ideological response, few have noticed or been motivated to investigate the important differences between British and French representations of her. None have questioned Gilman s (1985, 235) assertion that Baartmann s genitalia and buttocks summarized her essence for the nineteenth-century observer. Thus, they have neither noticed nor analyzed Baartmann s relatively weak interpellation into British medical and scientific discourses as compared to French. However, as Fausto-Sterling (1995, 33) observed (but did not analyze), Although a theater attraction and the object of a legal dispute about slavery in England, it was only in Paris [emphasis added], before and after her death, that Baartmann entered into the scientific accounting of race and gender.
A second key question that goes unremarked and unanalyzed is how and why Baartmann came to reside in Paris. Despite the importance of this move, most scholars, following Gilman s lead, do not take up the issue at all (McClintock 1995; Schiebinger 1993; Wiss 1994). Strother (1999, 33), for example, simply stated that Baartmann moved to Paris in 1814. Likewise, Fausto-Sterling (1995, 29) took note of it only to comment that after 1814, she somehow ended up in Paris. However, Baartmann didn t simply move to or end up in Paris. Writing to the Morning Chronicle , Baartmann s original captor, Henrik Cezar, explained that he quickly sold her to an Englishman because his mode of proceeding at the place of public entertainment seems to have given offense to the Public (October 23, 1810). According to Baartmann s own testimony, she was subsequently abandoned in Paris by another Englishman and thus came to be the property of a showman of wild animals.
We might ask why a commodity of such value to the English, both commercially and ideologically, passed through so many hands before she had to be taken out of the country and abandoned. Why didn t British theaters of anatomy, schools of medicine, or museums jump at the chance to examine and display this bit of curiosity from their newest imperial outpost? Science was critical for rescripting conquest as both a necessary and essentially humanitarian act. Why, then, didn t British science make greater use of Baartmann s alterity?
It is important to note that at the time of Baartmann s exhibition in London, medical science was no less developed or commercialized than in France. There were many large medical hospitals and theaters of anatomy wherein the nongentlemanly members of the British scientific community earned their livelihoods. A large portion of these scholars combined medical practice with teaching as a form of economic support. Furthermore, the popularity of medical and anatomical lectures among the lay community was even more pronounced in Britain than it was in France. French scientists were employed by secular public institutions and wrote mainly for other scientists. In London, however, the line between science and show business was easily and often traversed. As Hays (1983, 106) explained, Lectures on biological subjects could draw on another London resource in addition to the talent of the medical community. They could exploit London s position as the center of entertainment, spectacle, and display.
The fact that Baartmann failed to arouse commensurate amounts of scientific interest in England and France illustrates my earlier point that social relations, rather than biological essences, are critical for determining what individuals see when they look at one another. I maintain that Baartmann represented far more in the European imagination than a collection of body parts. Indeed, closer examination of the furor that ensued in the wake of her exhibition demonstrates that what she represented varied (as ideologies are wont to do) according to the social and political commitments of the interested social actors. Baartmann s exhibition provoked varying and contradictory responses. These responses can be better understood if they are analyzed as part and parcel of larger debates about liberty, property, and economic relations, rather than seeing them as simple manifestations of the universal human fascination with embodied difference.
Despite the popularity of contemporary claims that Baartmann was seen only in terms of her buttocks (Wiss 1994, 31), a substantial portion of the British public actually saw her as representing much more. When many people looked at Baartmann, they saw not only racial and sexual alterity but also a personification of current debates about the right to liberty versus the right to property. For many, Baartmann s captivity encapsulated the conflict between individual freedom and the interests of capital.
The contemporary debates about slavery provided the context to the Baartmann controversy, and it is within their parameters that it must be understood. Many individuals who opposed slavery on humanitarian grounds, nevertheless, were reluctant to infringe on the property rights of slaveholders. Reformers also balked at ideas of personhood that had the potential to complicate the relationship between capital and free labor. There was a wish to attack slavery but not to infringe upon legally acquired property rights or to question long-term indenture or even service for life (Malik 1996, 64). Thus, Lindfors (1985, 138) incorrectly characterizes the legal battle that occurred about Baartmann s exhibition as a classic confrontation between heated humanitarianism and commerce, between the abolitionist conscience and the entrepreneurial ideal, between love and money. There is a clear connection between the legal furor over the exhibition and how the British envisioned incorporating the Cape into the British Empire.
It is important to note that the society that sued Henrik Cezar, Baartmann s captor, on her behalf was called The African Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior of Africa and sought to play a leading role in opening a new phase in the exploitation of the continent. It was to this end that subscriptions were paid that were then used to subsidize sending travelers and explorers to Africa. Thus, the pertinent contest was never between love and money. Humanitarianism, as expressed in the actions of the African Association, served the interests of the landed and mercantile elite. These men were concerned with securing the global expansion of capitalist relations of production. Commercially minded men recognized the importance of Africa as a place where tropical products such as tea, coffee, tobacco, sugar, and rice, desired by the growing middle-class market, might successfully be grown at less cost. They also saw Africa as a potential market for British manufactures.
High hopes were held out that the Cape Colony could be transformed to meet the objectives of both the merchant and landed elites. However, this transformation was contingent on a proletarianization of the indigenous labor force. This proletarianization required that slavery, the existing system of labor relations, be overturned in favor of a capitalist legal order wherein the Khoikhoi would be legally free but more completely open to subjugation as laborers in the developing frontier economy (Keegan 1996). As John Philip (1828, 365), director of the London Missionary society, explained, By raising all the Hottentots of the colony . . . a new and extensive market would be created for British goods. We say nothing of the increased consumption of British manufactures . . . or the increase of our exports which would necessarily arise from the additional stimulus which would be given to the industry of the Hottentots by the increase of their artificial wants.
Thus, it was no accident that the goals of progressively minded landed elites, the mercantile and commercial classes, and humanitarians coalesced so readily in the goals of the African Association. Despite the many points of disagreement between merchants, missionaries, and explorers about how it would be accomplished, most agreed that the Khoikhoi would eventually be proletarianized and made to understand the value (and responsibility) of self-commodification. Humanitarianism readily and easily embraced the cause of economic liberalization, particularly in the areas of productive and commercial relations. The rhetoric of antislavery (which provided a critical backdrop to the opposition to Baartmann s forced captivity) merged (almost) seamlessly with that of imperial expansion.
The discussions concerning the Khoikhoi at the Cape thus paralleled the legal furor over Baartmann s exhibition. The question of the ownership of labor power took center stage in both. The immediate concern of the African Association (which sued Baartman s captor, Henrik Cezar, on her behalf) was to ascertain whether she owned her own labor. As Macauley stated in the affidavit filed on her behalf, his purpose was to determine whether [Baartmann] was made a public spectacle with her own free will and consent or whether she was compelled to exhibit herself (quoted in Strother 1999, 43). Those opposed to Baartmann s exhibition debated less about whether her confinement represented a moral blight than about whether she was owned by someone else, and hence subject to forced exhibition, or if she belonged to herself, and thus was acting freely. For example, the Morning Chronicle (October 12, 1810) argued, The air of the British Constitution is too pure to permit slavery in the very heart of the metropolis, for I am sure you will easily discriminate between those beings who are sufficiently degraded to shew [sic] themselves for their own immediate profit where they act from their own free will and this poor slave.
Thus, in a number of ways, the Baartmann exhibition encapsulated in miniature the debates that were occurring about the labor more generally. Henrik Cezar, her brutal Dutch master, represented the old economic order at the Cape, based on enslavement, forced captivity, and despotism. The African Association represented the coming of a new colonial order based on a voluntary commodification of the self and a willing capitulation to the dominant logic of capital.
I have explored the widely divergent actions and reactions of the African Association, British travelers, missionaries, and the British viewing public at such length to demonstrate that when Europeans looked at Sarah Baartmann, it was not that they saw only her buttocks. Although her body represented sexual alterity, that was not all it represented. Some observers looked at her and her captivity and saw a particular system of productive relations they wanted to overthrow. Others saw a new area of the world ripe for exploitation and a new way to exploit it. And still others looked and saw the aesthetic antithesis of themselves. Most probably, many saw a combination of these and more. Although the members of the African Association, no less than Cuvier, Cezar, and the hordes of British and French citizens who came to gawk at Baartmann s most intimate parts, no doubt took notice of her difference and believed in some notion of white supremacy, it is a mistake to take their actions as expressions of a single, transhistorical, and unidimensional ideology. If that were the case, it would be impossible to explain why Baartmann s alterity led one group of social actors to fetishize her exhibition and another to call for its immediate cessation.
Baartmann s exhibition also makes clear that white supremacy was never the simple expression of color prejudices. Each group of social actors, whether its particular interest was in looking at Baartmann, dissecting her, or sending her home, had its particular brand of racialist ideology, which was reflected in its political program. These political programs, in tum, reflected the social positions of their advocates. Thus, the only way French scientists (or any other group of social actors, for that matter) could have imposed their exact understanding of Baartmann, black women, and black sexuality on any other group would have been if they could have transformed the lives and social relations of the relevant actors into exact replicas of their own.
Conclusion: Whose Bodies Matter
Artist/scholar Jean Young (1997, 699) wrote that Sarah Baartmann has been reobjectified and recommodified. Yvette Abrahams (1997, 46), a South African scholar, also argues that the genital encounter is not over. It may be seen in much recent scholarship on Sara Bartmann. The question must be asked why this woman has been made to function in contemporary academic debates as the preeminent example of racial and sexual alterity. This question becomes even more compelling when we consider that Sarah Baartmann was one of thousands of people exhibited and transformed into medical spectacles during the course of the nineteenth century (Altick 1978; Corbey 1993; Lindfors 1999). Examples abound of women with excessive hair (who were primarily of European and Latin American ancestry) that were exhibited in circuses and freak shows. These women were not only believed to be the missing links between the human and animal worlds but also hermaphrodite hybrids, caught between the male and female worlds (Bogdan 1988; Thomson 1997). However, none of these women (nor the category of excessively hairy women more generally) have been made to stand as icons of racial or sexual difference.
We might also return to the example of the Irish. Londa Schiebinger (1993, 156) maintains that male skulls remained the central icon of racial difference until craniometry was replaced by intelligence testing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nancy Stepan (1990, 43) has also argued that the systematic study and measurement of male skulls was especially significant for the science of human difference and similarity. We might also add that nineteenth-century ethnologists speculated about the biological basis for the effeminancy of the Celtic male. As Curtis (1968, 61) explained, There was a curiously persistent and revealing label attached to the Irish, namely their characterization as a feminine race of people. This theme of Celtic femininity appears repeatedly. Yet, to my knowledge, the Irish male skull has never had the dubious distinction of being the central nineteenth-century image for racial and sexual difference between the European and the black. The fact that Irish male skulls have not been thus characterized reflects less about the available historical evidence than about scholars abilities to free themselves from contemporary understandings about what, historically, has constituted a black experience. For if we compare the amount of ink spilled, the volume of studies done, and the number of corpses examined, it becomes apparent that Irish male skulls were of far more interest, and caused far more speculation about the nature of racial and gender differences, than steatopygious African backsides ever did. 3
Some critics of postfoundationalist theories, like postmodernism and poststructuralism, have argued that they simply appropriate the experience of Otherness to enhance the discourse (hooks 1994, 424). The lacunae and lapses that mark much of the contemporary feminist scholarship on Baartmann make us pause and ask, Is this simply another case of what Margaret Homans (1994) identified as the tendency for feminist theory to make black women function as grounds of embodiment in the context of theoretical abstractions? Although some might argue that this is the case, this argument fails to consider the diverse strands within feminist theory and the long and intensely varied tradition of feminist thought and praxis. It also discounts the contributions of the many feminists of color that employ postmodernism and poststructuralism in their work (Carby 1999; hooks 1994; Spillers 1987).
Sarah Baartmann s curious and problematic theoretical odyssey cannot simply be explained as stemming from a lack of theoretical fit between postfoundationalist theory and the historical experiences of African and African American women. Rather, the ways in which she has been constructed as a theoretical object highlight the inherent dangers in the deployment of any theory without due attention to historical specificity. In particular, Baartmann s curious theoretical odyssey points to the problems that occur when race and gender are universalized and, thus, reified; or, in other words, when commonsense understandings of these categories as they exist in the United States are elevated to the status of social scientific concepts (Loveman 1999, 894).
Baartmann s curious theoretical odyssey also points to the dangers of analyzing the construction and perception of human difference as primarily a product of inner psychological drives. Gilman s pronouncements about Baartmann (and the theoretical industry that emerged therefrom) would not have been possible had her exhibition not been largely abstracted from its political and historical context. It was this theoretical abstraction (coupled with a healthy amount of psychological determinism) that made it easier for scholars to momentarily forget that blackness, as an ideological construction, could not possibly have inspired a singular and uniform response. Privileging psychological dispositions over social relations also allowed scholars to give Baartmann s corporeal alterity the power to produce history while momentarily forgetting this alterity was, at the same time, an historical product. Thus, in the final analysis, the theoretical lapses of contemporary social scientists, rather than the actions of nineteenth-century pseudoscientists, are the ones that threaten to finally succeed in transforming the Hottentot Venus into the central nineteenth-century icon for racial and sexual difference between the European and the black.
1 . Sarah Baartmann is also sometimes referred to as Saartji Bartman or Baartman.
2 . The Khoikhoi are also sometimes referred to as Khoisan and Khoi.
3 . By Fausto-Sterling s (1995) estimate, there were a mere seven articles published between 1816 and 1836 (including Cuvier and de Blainville s dissection reports on Baartmann) on the subject of Khoikhoi women and steatopygia. There is not a single book-length monograph. Compare this with the hundreds of monographs and articles, published both in Britain and the United States, that used craniology to establish the racial inferiority and Negroid ancestry of the Irish Celt. These articles appeared in journals such as the Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland and The Anthropological Review .
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