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African Masculinities

Summary and Keywords

As a system of identity, African masculinity is much more than a cluster of norms, values, and behavioral patterns expressing explicit and implicit expectations of how men should act and represent themselves to others. It also refers to more than how African male bodies, subjectivities, and experiences are constituted in specific historical, cultural, and social contexts. African masculinities, as historical subjects embodying distinctive socially constructed gender and sexual identities, have been both male and female. By occupying a masculine sociopolitical position, embodying masculine social traits, and performing cultural deeds socially construed and symbolized as masculine, African men and women have constituted masculinity. Across various African societies and times, there have been multiple and conflicting notions of masculinities, promoted by local and foreign institutions, and there have been ceaseless contestations and synergies among the various forms of hegemonic, subordinate, and subversive African masculinities. Men and women have frequently brought their own agendas to bear on the political utility of particular notions of masculinity. Through such performances of masculinity, Africans have constantly negotiated the institutional power dynamics of gender relations. So, the question is not whether Africans worked with gender binaries, because they did. As anthropologist John Wood puts it, African indigenous logic of gender becomes evident in the juxtaposition, symbolic reversals, and interrelation of opposites. Rather, one should ask, why and how did African societies generate a fluid gender system in which biological sex did not always correspond to gender, such that anatomically male and female persons could normatively occupy socially constructed masculine and feminine roles and vice versa? And how did African mutually constitutive gender and sexuality constructions shape African societies?

Keywords: masculinities, manhood, boyhood, emasculation, gender, feminist, queer theory, sexualities, same-sex desire, big man, female husband, female king

African Masculinities: The Evolution of a Field

The scholarship on African male and female masculinities developed from a confluence of factors, including anthropological ethnographies of African individuals’ engagements with dynamic social structures, revisionist Africanist feminism, a turn to the social history of ordinary individuals who mediated local understandings of macro historical processes, and a conscious effort to understand the diverse power mechanisms, privileges, sociology (social relationships and cultural norms) and sociopolitical positionalities of African individuals. Emphasizing a multidisciplinary methodology, African masculinity studies seeks to understand gendered sociopolitical differentiation, historicize the constitution and contestation of patriarchy and heteronormativity, and demonstrate how competing gender norms came to define the modern identities of African peoples. Thus, there is an emphasis on dynamic historical processes of African social identity formation, including kinship and lineage constitution, ethnic citizenship politics, state formation, slavery, colonialism, and religious conversion (to Islam and Christianity).

African gender history emerged from challenging the colonial racialized portrayals of African women as “beasts of burden,” to addressing processes and structures mediating women’s and men’s identities and relationships. It began as a political project to remedy a situation whereby male historical subjects and, later, male scholars, predominantly mediated modern understandings of the historical lives of African women.1 The initially West Africa-focused school of feminist revisionism2 established that African women were powerful and autonomous historical subjects, and that gender was separate from biological sex, was best understood in the light of other analytic categories such as age/seniority and wealth, and derived its meaning from geo-cultural and sociopolitical contexts. Broadly speaking, African feminist historiography privileged the “life histories” methodology in order to unearth the complex lives of elite and ordinary African women, whose invisibility in 20th-century European imperial archives was not tantamount to a lack of historical agency. Indeed, the feminist focus on African women’s agency, consciousness, and subjectivities sought to deconstruct the masculinist historical archive, and in so doing, steered African history toward a profound social history. It also led to the study of material spaces and symbols, as sites for the construction of identities, and contestations of power.3 Whereas the eminent historian Jan Vansina had dismissed personal recollections as unreliable, from the 1980s onward, social historians of 20th-century West Africa, interested in historical actors on the margins, increasingly focused on oral interviews and individual “life histories” in order to give “voice” to rural dwellers, migrant workers, and especially women.4 Corinne Kratz defines “life history” as “fuller accounts” that “span an entire life in some detail,” whereby individuals become “Living Histories through conversation.”5 Life histories differed from oral traditions, which with their focus on institutional histories, largely obscured women’s lives. As a subaltern literary tradition, life histories centered women’s words, and used archival sources and oral traditions for contextualization. This feminist experiment refined African historical methodologies by questioning and mitigating the unequal structural gender and capitalist power relations and positionalities inherent in African knowledge production.6

However, much of African feminist scholarship had come to deal with “gender,” but ignored men, such that while a great deal of attention was given to womanhood and motherhood, there was no equivalent discussion of manhood and fatherhood.7 Robert Morrell aptly captures the problem when he writes, “The dominance of men in the public record has obscured the fact that little is known about masculinity. Men have generally been treated in essentialist terms.”8 In recovering women’s voices, and restoring women to history, African feminist scholarship assumed a timeless patriarchy against which women rebelled, without historicizing both the evolution and devolution of women’s and men’s sociopolitical power as synchronous and mutually constitutive historical processes. Consequently, the feminist “gender” framework did not theorize African gender systems as constitutive of power relations among men and women, and between men and women. As a remedy, the feminist methodology was subsequently extended to the study of African masculinities. An early example is anthropologist Ifi Amadiume’s structuralist analysis of gendered power and agency among the Nnobi-Igbo of southeastern Nigeria. Amadiume argues that because the forms of social status available to men in patrilineal Igbo societies were greater than those available to women, women’s solidarity politics—through the formation of assemblies of daughters, and assemblies of wives, market associations, and use of political instruments such as strikes, boycotts, and force—functioned to leverage gender equality and ensured an enduring dual-sex political system, one in which each sex manage[d] its own affairs.9 By interrogating the historical meanings of “man” and “woman” as well as their gender roles and identities, Amadiume destabilizes the assumed hierarchical power relations between “men” and “women.” Igbo women used cultural practices of female “husbands” (where a woman marries a female wife) and female “sons” (where a daughter fulfills the social roles of a patrilineage son) to distinguish gender from biological sex, gain access to masculine spheres of socioeconomic reproduction (including being “fathers” and controlling the labor of others through polygyny), and to adapt to colonial marginalization.10 Not only was it the first robust study of African female masculinities, but the significance of the argument about gender fluidity in Amadiume’s work is heightened when contrasted with the prevailing literature, which posits the African male-dominated household and lineage as the primary theater for the domestication of male authority and oppression of women.11

Another anthropologist, John Wood, building upon the methodological innovations of the Manchester School (with its emphasis on village studies, coercive forces of rules and values, conflicts, and the dialectics of individual agency and social constraints) demonstrates how binary oppositions were central to the organization of gender and worldview among the camel-herding Gabra nomads of East Africa, where the most powerful group of men, the d’abella (ritual experts) were socially conceived as feminine. Gabra constructions of the male and female evince a fluid and complementary gender-duality of sociopolitical power. Gabra men speak of women as helpless and powerless, but in oral traditions, songs and private conversations, they describe women as formidable figures. Through thick descriptive life histories of Gabra men (what he calls a “descriptive triptych”), Wood demonstrates that Gabra-African masculinity did not always entail superior economic and political power, because the Gabra reverse the concepts of space, seniority, ethnicity, and gender to make sense of complex and ambiguous experience (including constant male migration from homes to cattle camps, and reliance on female-headed households for stability). The d’abella are gendered both male and female; they include ordinary and elite persons; they are feared, but feeble and old; they have the power to bless and to curse; and some are central, whereas others are marginal, to social reproduction.12 The Gabra are a living testament of Robert Connell’s observation that subordinate and hegemonic masculinities and femininities coexist and mutually constitute one another, and that masculinity is but a configuration of practice within an extensive system of gender relations.13

Even as the scholarship on African masculinities grappled with the fluid concept of gender, some scholars argued that gender is not African, has no local meaning within African societies, and is evidence of historical epistemological impositions of the West on Africa during colonial rule. Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí insists there are no “power relations” inherent in the “productive/reproductive” relations between African men (okunrin—“ana-male”) and women (obinrin—“ana-female”), and that the organizing principle of social identity in Yorubaland was age/seniority, not gender.14 Oyěwùmí's The Invention of Women provided the ideological foundation for Re-thinking Sexualities in Africa, which undertakes a postcolonial deconstruction of Western discourses of African gender relations in a bid to account for female agency.15 By contrast, Tola Olu Pearce argues that clear historical evidence of precolonial gender constructs exists in Yorubaland.16 Moreover, Eileen Boris, Helen Mugambi, and Takyiwaa Manuh argue that gender should be historicized in African contexts in spite of the concept’s Western provenance; and that although there may not be an African linguistic equivalent for the word “gender,” Africans have always appropriated gender since precolonial times in negotiating access to resources and power.17 These debates revealed that African gendered history must be situated with relevant analytic categories, to capture the diversity and dynamism of Africans’ historical experiences. Hence, African masculinity studies reckoned with the intersectional categories of age/seniority, youth/childhood, femininity, female power and authority, ethnicity and race, sexuality, and queerness. In so doing, it established itself as a field of African historical scholarship, providing diverse theoretical frameworks for understanding how Africans experienced historical changes and created social institutions.

African Masculinities in Pre-Twentieth-Century Historical Perspective

Martial and agrarian masculinities are prevalent in early African history. Among the Ohafia-Igbo of southeastern Nigeria in the seventeenth century, male individuals accomplished ufiem (hegemonic masculinity) when they went to war and returned with human head trophies. Headhunting had developed as a defense mechanism among various Bight of Biafra Cross River communities, jostling for territory on the eve of the Atlantic slave trade. Ufiem guaranteed a man’s ability to marry a wife, and marriage signaled the attainment of adult masculinity. Ufiem also ensured security of wealth and life. In practice, male individuals who had failed to cut off a head in battle were categorized as ujo (de-gendered and socially alienated beings). The ujo suffered enslavement, dispossession, inability to marry, and public ridicule. By achieving ufiem status therefore, male individuals could accumulate alienable wealth, the most prestigious form of this being yams (Dioscorea). Before the 18th-century consolidation of the Atlantic slave trade, the Igbo man’s wealth and social standing was to a great extent measured in the number of yams he possessed, because this represented the degree of his control over land and human labor. Ohafia-Igbo society celebrated men who produced 7500–10000 yam tubers per annum, and purchased prestigious “yam society titles” (igwa nnu), as a form of ogaranya (wealthy) masculinity. Because yam ownership was the privilege of warriors, and ufiem was an insurance against dispossession, martial and agrarian masculinities became mutually constitutive. Similarly, because hunting dangerous animals symbolized the combination of martial and agrarian prowess, big-game hunters performed a celebrated type of masculinity; their trophies and weapons, including guns, as well as positionality as community protectors, permitted them to operate outside dominant and normative social rules, and bolstered their privileged claims to high political office. Overall, warfare, yam cultivation, and hunting were gendered practices because it was women’s dominant role in subsistence production and distribution of food staples that released male labor for military pursuits, allowed men to cultivate yams as a niche cultural prestige crop, and led to the transformation of hunting into a highly masculinized pursuit.18

In south-central Africa, the Chikunda, once military slaves of the Portuguese—famed elephant hunters, accomplished canoe men, and fierce soldiers, who dominated the Zambezian-southern tier of the Indian Ocean trade, and whose establishment of powerful conquest states led to the proliferation of slave raiding, political instability, food insecurity, and “transfrontier communities”—show how the constructions of warrior-hunter cult masculinities defined ethnic sociopolitical differentiation. According to Allen and Barbara Isaacman, “Chikunda male identity was inexorably linked to the labor process, which structured the rhythm of daily lives,” and the common denominator of Chikunda male labor was the confrontation of danger, male bonding, masculinist specialist knowledge, and an ability to move beyond the spatial and cultural frontiers of their societies. It was upon these bases that Chikunda masculine reputation for bravery was built. The Chikunda’s ability to supply ivory and slaves underpinned the Portuguese Indian Ocean economy, such that global markets shaped Chikunda conceptions of masculinity in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the second half of the 19th century, the disintegration of the Portuguese plantation and trading colonies (prazo system), and the ensuing slave emancipation resulted in violence replacing commerce as the principal mode of acquisition and gendered sociopolitical differentiation. Chikunda merchant-warlords dominated the region’s caravan trade, and used new military states to propagate their hegemony. Combining physical repression and ties of dependency, Chikunda masculinities exercised power over others, male and female. According to the Isaacmans, the “assertion that ‘in Chikunda society men don’t farm’ [became] an unequivocal ideological expression of what the dominant male culture deemed important. Farming was the work of women, peasants, and locally owned slaves.” By effeminizing and devaluing agrarian and domestic production, Chikunda men demonstrated that they “regarded other masculine lifestyles associated with farming as both inadequate and inferior,” and “carved out and defended a new kind of malehood largely through reference to the cult of the warrior-hunter.” Chikunda elders, both men and women, stressed that “it was these masculine activities that were exalted as distinctly Chikunda.” As the “constitutive other,” Chikunda women’s sociopolitical positionality gave meaning to Chikunda masculinity. Male control over women and women’s actions figured prominently in the reproduction and transformation of Chikunda hegemonic masculinity and society. The Isaacmans conclude, “In the case of the Chikunda, masculinity was grounded in notions of bravery in warfare and hunting. To be a Chikunda . . . was to be ‘a powerful warrior and also a great hunter.’” These notions of hegemonic masculinity informed Chikunda sexuality constructs, which posited male “sexual prowess and sexual power over women” as fundamental to economic and physical survival.19

The masculinization of particular African political economies such as warfare and hunting in 18th and 19th centuries altered relations between men and women, seniors and juniors. In both Ohafia-Igbo and Ashanti societies, women played important roles in warfare and some female warriors became ritual men. Whereas Ohafia-Igbo dual-sex sociopolitical systems guaranteed women equitable sociopolitical privileges vis-à-vis men, warfare fostered a hierarchical and patriarchal moral economy in Ashanti, in which men’s sexual needs were recognized, but not those of women, and which encouraged elite men to accumulate women as a sign of wealth.20 In her study of the contemporaneous Batê of Guinea-Conakry, Emily Osborn similarly shows that Batê male elites constructed their hegemonic masculinity by consolidating their power over women in the 18th century. They adopted warfare as a mode of statecraft, which allowed them to add larger numbers of slaves to their households, increase their capacity to create wealth and power external to the household, narrow the political salience of women’s roles, and make the household a showcase of their military power.21 According to Meredith McKittrick, the introduction of “a gun culture linked to male power” in 19th-century Ovamboland “militarized masculinity” and resulted in the emergence of an elite male culture, one characterized by the incorporation of cross-Atlantic commodities such as guns and textiles into indigenous textures of gender construction, the ascendancy of junior men over senior men, the triumphalism of wealth over age and seniority, and the marginalization of women.22

Dorothy Hodgson shows that martial and agrarian masculinities were reinvented among the Maasai in the late 19th and 20th centuries, in order to fit the Maasai into the colonial economy and nation state, and also preserve the image of a mythic Maasai “noble savage.” Maasai masculinity, built around the stereotyped ideal of the warrior-pastoralist male unaffected by colonial modernity, was a contrast to the preexisting ilmurran competitive and boastful masculinity of young circumcised men, and individualistic and accumulative elders. Maasai masculinity also contrasted with ormeek masculinity—the social identity of the Maasai man, who had received a Western education, been baptized into the organized religion of Christianity, was clothed in the “modern fashion” with pants and T-shirt, and was usually connected to those working with or for the colonial/nationalist government. The complex and contradictory currents of modernism helped to redefine Maasai notions of masculinity, while undercutting the position of women in defining and reinforcing dominant masculinities.23 In a subsequent study, George Meiu argues that young Samburu men in Kenya, who since the 1980s have seasonally migrated to coastal tourist resorts, performed a bodily paradigm of the “Maasai warrior” in a context of female sexual travel, by developing relationships with white female tourists, and accumulating material wealth. Their identity as “Mombasa morans” distinguished them from their peers.”24

Extant scholarship on what has been termed “Big Man Masculinity” provides an illuminating chronology of the dynamic historical manifestations of African masculinities, with an emphasis on wealth-based sociopolitical differentiation. According to historian Sean Stillwell, lineage/kinship formation and the emergence of “Big Men,” were the two successive formative stages in the evolution of African slavery, especially in non-centralized societies. Kinship units emerged as distinctive corporate groups among early African communities negotiating land-use rights. Lineages integrated native and newcomer through real or fictive kinship ties, enabling the expansion of labor. The quest to accumulate wealth in the form of people increased conflicts over power and resources, promoting “early political centralization in the form of big men,” who “aimed to control more people and resources than anyone else did.”25 The development of Big Men increased the number of captives available. Once captives were turned into slaves, powerful men had access to the largest numbers of them. Martin Klein affirms Stillwell’s argument when he writes, “The acquisition of slaves in early societies was one way either big men or descent groups increased their numbers and thus, their power.”26 As Joseph Miller has shown, the acquisition of wealth in the form of people informed African participation in the Atlantic trade, because Big Men, in their positionalities as lineage chiefs and political rulers, acquired more dependents and followers through their access to new trade goods from the Atlantic.27

The political ascendancy of African Big Men became instrumental to the abandonment of bilateral kinship (the coexistence of patrilineal and matrilineal heritage) and the promotion, instead, of unilineal forms of descent (the prevalence of either patrilineal or matrilineal heritage) in order to provide clearer lines of inheritance and succession. As hegemonic masculinities, Big Men in African matrilineal societies exploited matrilineal kinship systems by ensuring that slaves and their descendants belonged only to the matrilineage of a “father” or slave owner, because slave-wives and children had no other kinship networks on which to rely. Similarly, the reproduction of patrilineages partly depended on Big Men acquiring wives or slave-wives, and producing children and dependents. Because slaves were outsiders, moved into new surroundings where they were alone and vulnerable, slavery permitted the attachment to corporate groups of people who could make none of the claims of free members. As junior members of kin groups, with fewer rights, slaves enabled Big Men to expand their rights and claims over others in new ways.28 Between 1600 and 1800, the Atlantic “slave trade made African big men that much bigger.”29 Big Man masculinity became pivotal to the transition from low-density forms of slavery (kinship expansion, use of slaves as additional domestic labor units, and securing access to productive resources) to high-density forms of slavery (use of slaves in commercialized productive roles, especially creation of slave-dominated agricultural estates). Most African societies practiced low-density slavery, until the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade and the rise of legitimate trade led to the emergence of high-density slavery, by transforming domestic slavery into a central institution of export-commodity production during the 19th century.

In 19th-century West Africa, slavery and incorporation continued to be understood through idioms and practices of kinship, and the operative language of power was still grounded in kinship benefits and inequalities. However, broader political, social, and economic changes, tied to the expansion of commercialized agriculture and international trade, growing Muslim and Christian religious influences, and European imperialism also increasingly shaped slavery and abolition/reincorporation. The Big Men of this era came in different forms, including: marabouts that “colonized spirit-lands” and led the peanut revolution in the Gambia; the slave-owning merchant queens and merchant princes of Biafran coastal states; large-scale slave owners that mediated abolition in southeastern Ghana; Fulani aristocrats of the Sokoto caliphate; Saro evangelists and “Male Breadwinners” in Yorubaland; “Presbyterian masculinities” of the Gold Coast; colonial male and female warrant chiefs (and female king) in Igboland; and male migrant laborers and wage earners.30 In all of these cases, male and female “Big Man” masculinities consolidated their power, through the masculinization of specific African political economies (means of production and distribution). Largely empowering men, and marginalizing women, these sociopolitical changes enabled males (ex-slaves included) to gain political and economic privileges through gender-distinctive social-mobility practices.31

Case studies from the Bight of Biafra region illustrate the gendered character of the historical manifestations of Big Man masculinity in the 19th century. Skilled male slaves on the Biafran coast such as Udensi Ekea, who was a dibia (spirit medium and healer) were often able to gain manumission from masters. The transition from slavery to freedom was a complex process of negotiating social reintegration. Ex-slaves could remain in their former master’s household and renegotiate the terms of their social relations, or move away and lose the social capital of a benevolent patron. In either case, the danger of re-enslavement was constant.32 Some ex-slaves, like Ekea, decided to return to their homelands. Exploiting his skills as a dibia, as well as his multilingualism and knowledge of the region’s trading networks, Ekea amassed wealth through the British textile and palm-produce trade, established extensive yam and palm plantations, married multiple wives, and accumulated numerous slaves and dependents in his Ohafia natal community. In so doing, he distinguished himself as ogaranya—an individual, often male, whose wealth and patronage to dependents guaranteed social respectability, and who capitalized on his wealth to usurp the political power of both male and female traditional authority holders. As a form of masculinity, ogaranya was revolutionary, because it signaled the preponderant 19th-century social ascendancy of erstwhile subaltern subjects—male slaves—into dominant positions of sociopolitical power—over both formerly superior men and women.

Indeed, slave-owning had constituted ogaranya performance, because it was a mark of social and economic advancement, and an outward expression of wealth and position that enabled ogaranya individuals to manipulate social mores, enslave debtors, and strong-arm political opponents through their membership in judicial secret societies. Prevailing notions of ogaranya masculinity defined slavery in the Bight of Biafra, which pivoted on dynamic uses of marginalized persons as sexual, labor, and political units. Ekea symbolized the normative male-dominated system of slave ownership in the Bight of Biafra, in which women’s unfreedom became central to male ascendancy. A few regional examples are illustrative. Historian John Oriji chronicles the life of Ananaba of Obegu, who exploited the labors of his 200-plus wives, in addition to those of slaves, to become the “king of Ngwa,” one of the most powerful Biafran mini-states, in 1895.33 Historian Ugo Nwokeji likewise proffers the story of a mid-19th-century Arondizuogu merchant-warrior, Okoro Udozuka, who also relied upon female captivity (ike nwami) to reproduce his lineage and society at large. Udozuka exploited his matrilineage home in the Nri-Awka region to acquire slaves, and his patrilineage home in Arondizuogu to dispose of these slaves. “Besides his numerous children by an army of wives, Udozuka was able through the institution of slavery to build a miniature empire for himself. His subjects numbered more than 200 and contributed so much to the increased population of Ndiakunwata.” Through his dependents, Udozuka forged new trade links in the region. The measure of his affluence, and of that of many Aro men, came to be based on the number of slaves, wives, and dependents they had, as well as the success of their dependents in trade and in the acquisition of people.34 Arguably, Udozuka performed ogaranya masculinity. Numerous Aro men retained enslaved women rather than export them, because the value of palm oil had exceeded that of slaves. Because women’s centrality to the labor-intensive production of palm oil reinforced the local demand on women’s labor, many Aro men turned to polygyny and the acquisition of slave-wives. Men acquired women “not because of the abundance of women, but because men needed women’s labor and reproductive resources.”35 In other words, through the commoditization of wombs, brawn, and agrarian knowledge, ogaranya individuals built up their power.

By the 19th century, ogaranya had become so masculinized that a few elite women (mostly wives of leading male authority holders and credit brokers) who exploited the system of kin-dependency and kinship slavery to secure credit facilities from coastal middlemen, acquire women slaves as itinerant merchant-agents, and deploy the labor of large numbers of slaves to rank among the wealthiest and most powerful people in their communities, were socially celebrated as ogaranya masculinities. Naomi of Oguta and Omu Okwei of Ossomari are frequently cited examples. The former married a rich slave dealer, joined her husband in selling slaves, and after 1840, switched to the palm-produce trade. Her retinue of slave girls constituted the cornerstone of her retail business empire. Like her male ogaranya contemporaries, Naomi established a large compound as the head of a kin group, surrounded by the homes of her female slaves, and sons and their wives. Like the wealthy men of Oguta, Naomi sat on a wooden chair in her house, “sipping neat whisky as men did.”36 Omu Okwei, the wealthiest and most powerful female merchant on the Lower Niger involved in legitimate commerce capitalized on her royal heritage to marry a prominent brass trader and later king of Nembe, Joseph Alagoa, which enhanced her business connections with European firms. In 1895, Okwei remarried and settled at Onitsha with her second husband Peter Opene of Aboh, and became an agent of the Niger Trading Company—one of the major firms that purchased palm produce and marketed imported goods. Against the background of regional abolition, Okwei acquired girls, mostly “adopted” children, brought them up and gave them out as mistresses to influential African and European businessmen, in order to secure trading monopolies. Her mistresses were expected to come back to her household when the traders left Nigeria. Any children the women begot during their association with the traders reverted to Okwei as property. With her slave-clientage/palm-produce retail wealth, Okwei invested in moneylending, real estate, and transportation, and by 1935, she had been crowned the Omu (Queen Mother) of Ossomari.37 Such Igbo women who acquired wealth in slaves and performed ogaranya were perceived as masculine. Much like Ekea, Ananaba, and Udozuka, Naomi and Okwei exploited the ogaranya habitus of slavery masculinity, to perform superior sociopolitical authority in their communities. However, these female ogaranya were rare exceptions by the mid-19th century. Although it was possible for a male ex-slave like Ekea to attain ogaranya status through the masculine dibia guild, such rapid social mobility was virtually impossible for female ex-slaves until the 20th century, when as historian Nwando Achebe shows, somebody like ex-female slave Ahebi Ugbabe could exploit colonial collaboration to become a lone warrant chief and king.38

Elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, powerful female slave owners were not necessarily celebrated as female masculinities. The regions of Senegal, Dahomey, Gold Coast, and Benguela show an earlier history of African women being large-scale slave owners, well before the 19th century, when such women became commonplace in the Bight of Biafra. The kpojitos (queen mothers) of Dahomey, donas of Benguela, cassare wives of the Gold Coast, and signares of Saint Louis and Goree (as well as their descendant metis), were African female slave owners, who exploited their access to coastal trading networks, and their positionality as royalty and Euro-African cultural intermediaries, to amass large numbers of male and female slaves, who worked as plantation laborers, traders, porters, domestics, and prostitutes in the 17th and 18th centuries. These women used slavery to consolidate their power and prestige by assembling a large number of dependents in their households. Their slavery-based wealth accumulation fostered hegemonic femininities, and mitigated the prevalence of patriarchy in their distinct communities. In the Gold Coast, Senegal, and Benguela, these female slave owners further shaped Euro-African creole cultures. Notably, for these female slave owners, the end of the Atlantic slave trade meant a decline in their power, because slaveholding had increased their social statuses, expanded their personal networks with European and African elites, generated surplus wealth for them, and was virtually the only means by which they could gain command of male labor for economic activities such as trade.39 Such large-scale slave ownership by women did not occur in the Bight of Biafra until the 19th century. Rather, for the Biafran region especially, Atlantic slavery enabled men to monopolize slave production and distribution. The lesson is that African women’s attainment of superior economic and political power did not always constitute masculinity, and women’s performances of masculinity did not always generate a crisis of African femininity or devolution of female power and authority.

Modern African Masculinities: Abolition, Imperialism, and Postcolonialism

Late-19th and early-20th-century Big Man masculinity emphasized performative wealth as a symbol of social ascendancy, simultaneously reflecting the reconciliation of African domestication of capitalist individualism with a tenacious premodern social welfarist masculine respectability. Modern Big Men evinced self-aggrandizing material success and patriarchal dominance, but in order to gain social legitimacy, they had to give back to their communities. The anthropologist Victor Uchendu writes that the “Big Man” was an individual who commanded prestige, respect and obedience, because he “help[ed] others to get up.”40 As European colonial conquest limited traditional warfare and abolished slaving as a means of masculine respectability, and largely enlisted male ex-slaves within imperial armies, African men increasingly embraced commercialized agriculture and regional trade, thereby displacing women as major agrarian producers and traders. In Ghana, Akan men turned to fishing and cocoa production, as well as trading in kola nuts, imported fabrics, and glass beads. In demonstration of their wealth, Akan Big Men erected large cement buildings, supported a vast number of dependents, and popularized a trade in female pawns (a pawn is an individual held as collateral against a debt).41 By transforming slaves into dependent kin, Akan Big Men reconciled the political imperatives of abolition with the economic imperatives of expanding legitimate commerce. The role of this gendered adaptation to the abolition of slavery in exposing young women to displacement and other vulnerabilities is exemplified in Trevor Getz and Liz Clarke’s graphic history, ABINA and the Important Men.42 Whereas the post-abolition sociopolitical structures of Big Man masculinity expanded female slavery in West Africa, it represented freedom and social ascendancy for male slaves, who were often the first to embrace imperial collaboration, Christian conversion, and Western education. In the Bight of Biafra, male slaves like Kalu Ezelu Uwaoma exploited colonial gendered emancipation, Western education, and Christian modernity, as well as local configurations of ogaranya to rise from slave to slaver, warrant chief, Presbyterian elder, autobiographer, and British knight over the period from 1865 to 1940. In attempting to avoid re-enslavement and attain social reintegration, Uwaoma ingeniously positioned himself in the indigenous world of his Igbo people by taking titles, acquiring boy-slaves and slave-wives, and marrying polygamously, and at the same time, within the world of the intruding British colonials and Scottish missionaries.43

Although male men dominated the mediation of abolition by transforming slaves into new forms of kin dependencies,44 African women also participated in this form of “Big Man” masculinity. In so doing, they reconciled dominant ideals of masculinity and femininity while performing the dissident sexuality of “female husbands”; they mitigated the European colonial bolstering of African patriarchy while reinforcing the modern perception of wealth as masculine. Igbo men emerged as breadwinners and politically dominant in southeastern Nigeria between 1900 and 1920 due to the effects of Western education, colonial wage labor, and Christian leadership. Styled as court clerks, warrant chiefs, interpreters, teachers, and accountants, male ogaranya masculinities performed their social power by usurping the judicial prerogatives of traditional political authorities. They acquired a large number of human dependents through slavery and elite polygyny, erected modern houses, and adorned themselves with expensive European goods. This nascent male privilege was in contrast with the immediate precolonial dual-sex system in which women had enjoyed political and economic autonomy.45 To overcome their marginalization from colonial wage labor and Western education, both of which became the dominant resources of social mobility in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women known as oke-nwami (masculine woman/embodying female masculinity, woman-possessor/female husband)46 in the Bight of Biafra embraced the slave trade, palm-produce trade, spirit mediumship, and elite polygyny. In so doing, they introduced new slavery and kin-dependency practices in the post-abolition era.47

Unlike the “good Christian wives” trained by European missionaries in Victorian domesticity, confined to monogamous unions, and constricted by missionary patriarchal institutions, oke-nwami enacted gender- and sexually transgressive social mobility. Madam Chief Otuwe Agwu (c. 1885–1976) was the first daughter of her parents, and as such, in line to become matriarch of her Ohafia matrilineage. She had married a husband around 1905, but did not have a child. This meant that upon her death, there would be nobody to raise an ududu (ancestor pot) monument in her honor, which would enshrine her as a matrilineage matriarch. It was to remedy this that Agwu married a wife from Umuahia patrilineal Igbo society around 1930. Because “Agwu paid the bride-price, thereby fulfilling the customary obligations to make the woman a wife, all the children that woman begot belonged to her and her matrilineage.”48 Because Agwu and her husband belonged to different matrilineages, Agwu’s wife, as well as her children, belonged to Agwu and Agwu’s matrilineage. Amadiume writes that the patrilineal Nnobi-Igbo practice of oke-nwami was a mechanism through which women acquired wealth (human and material) and formal political authority.49 According to Nwando Achebe, for the singular Igbo woman-king Ahebi Ugbabe, the adoption, kidnapping, and marriage of men’s wives in colonial northern Igboland was part of a complex process of constructing a powerful and mythical image, and controlling women who provided sexual services to male visitors in her court.50 Both scholars pinpoint superordinate power as central to the gender and sexuality politics of oke-nwami. Because oke-nwami performed superordinate power by appropriating other women’s bodies, indigenous Ohafia women critically described wives of oke-nwami as “slaves of the matrilineage.” Such wives were not in fact slaves, and rather enjoyed privileged status as nwannediya (husband’s sister). “Slaves of the matrilineage” alludes to the greater expense of marrying a wife from patrilineal Igbo societies, and the utility of such wives in saving a dwindling matrilineage through the procreation of daughters.51 The Ohafia case is exceptional in the region. Simon Ottenberg observed in the case of neighboring Afikpo, which possessed a double-descent system, “There was no device of bringing an outside female into the descent group as a fictional relative to produce children for a dying matrilineage.”52

Madam Chief Otuwe Agwu effectively invaded masculine sociopolitical positions when she became a dibia (medicine “man”) who enabled barren women to become pregnant (acquiring a reputation as the “impregnator of women”), achieved ogaranya masculinity (by erecting modern story houses in Ohafia and Port Harcourt, and distributing Atlantic goods to dependents) and performed oke-nwami not because of a desire to “become a man,” but rather as a means to become a matrilineage matriarch and revered ancestor—the ultimate manifestation of Ohafia hegemonic femininity. She was not unlike Uzo Kamalu from Akanu Ohafia, who embodied a female ogaranya masculinity. Kamalu had two sons, but no daughter—a situation that threatened the continued existence of her Umueze matrilineage. Around 1890, Kamalu married two wives and purchased a female slave, who produced female descendants that sustained the Umueze matrilineage.53 Kamalu’s story shows that there was a local distinction between female wives and female slaves. It captures the centrality of daughters, as opposed to sons, to the perpetuation of matrilineages. It attests that oke-nwami were motivated to marry wives not just because they desired to perform masculinity. Reproducing daughters ensured their status as matriarchs, and guaranteed the continuation of their matrilineage. Thus, ogaranya was the consequence, not the inspiration, for women’s fluid gendering of social mobility practices. Hence, anthropologist John McCall writes that Ohafia possessed a latent system of potential alternatives that enabled women to perform femininity and masculinity simultaneously.54 Women like Agwu and Kamalu symbolized what John and Jean Comaroff called a “revolution of values and practices” in consumption, aesthetics, architecture, and domesticity. However, unlike the Comaroff’s “right-minded, right-bearing, propertied Twanas, untangled from the primitive webs of relations and recast into a modern personhood,” women like Agwu and Kamalu flourished in the messy interstice of traditional economies and modern materialism, without converting to Christianity.55

In “The Portrait of a Brave Woman,” McCall provides the subjective life history of another Ohafia woman, Nne Uko, who amassed wealth through farming, performed the masculinity of yam cultivation (igwa nnu), and further transformed herself into a man, by marrying two wives, constantly dressing as a man, joining exclusively male secret societies, participating with men in the war dance, and performing ogaranya masculinity, in the mid-20th century.56 Nne Uko is comparable to her predecessor Unyang Uka (c. 1865–1959), who “started behaving like a man” at an early age, by farming yams, and trading palm produce, coral beads and slaves on the coastal Opobo and in the Bende hinterland markets, and by constantly feasting her community. Like other male ogaranya, Unyang Uka built modern story houses in Ohafia and Port Harcourt. Unyang Uka is often contrasted with her brother Johnson Emehe, who became a Presbyterian minister around 1917. Unyang Uka married two successive male husbands, but also married multiple wives for herself, and her male matrikin. Men that did not have money to afford wives came to Unyang Uka and she gave them wives. The resulting children belonged to Unyang Uka and her Ibe-Obobi matrilineage. Many of the wives in question were female slaves, whom Unyang Uka distributed to male relatives. By using kinship to negotiate abolition and populate her matrilineage, Unyang Uka fulfilled hegemonic femininity. However, she also exploited her second male husband’s position as a Native Court Clerk to send many male debtors to prison, effectively deploying colonial hegemonic masculinity against Ohafia senior masculinities, whose lack of access to wealth constituted a severe vulnerability. Like colonial warrant chiefs, Unyang Uka traveled on a sedan chair accompanied by an entourage of male slaves. Because of her ogaranya performance, she was no longer considered a woman, but rather dressed like men who cut a head in battle. Both Nne Uko and Unyang Uka transformed themselves into men, not only by occupying male sociopolitical positions and fulfilling social expectations of masculinity, but also through the art of masculine bodily presentation and symbolic equation with male warriors.57

In West Africa, a process of wealth masculinization began with male-dominated slave production in the 18th century, crystalized in the mid-19th-century period of post-abolition slavery and emancipation, and was catalyzed by colonial encroachment and missionary evangelism. Therefore, the expression of rebellious female power and authority took the form of ogaranya masculinity. Women’s ogaranya performance became both an economic and political endeavor that constituted a rebellious social expression of power over men and women. However, oke-nwamis’ stylistic performance of ogaranya, by building modern houses, acquiring slaves, marrying wives, and adorning themselves in cross-Atlantic goods, reinforced the local perception of wealth as masculine. As such, ogaranya does not lend itself to a simple narrative of the marginalization and subsequent rebellion of African women under colonial rule, which the Igbo Women’s War typifies. Rather, women’s gendered social-mobility practices effectively expanded the institutional hegemony of ogaranya beyond colonial and missionary structures, to include postcolonial, anti-Christian, and illicit economic practices. Through ogaranya masculinity, Africans made the meanings of the categories “men” and “women” malleable.

The role of European imperialism in the transformative constitution of diverse modern African masculinities is the focus of Lisa Lindsay and Stephan Miescher’s Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa, which represents an early endeavor to expand the conception of African gender studies beyond women’s studies. The twelve contributors provide diverse perspectives on the constructions and performances of masculinities, within the contexts of the sociopolitical and cultural transformations of colonial and postcolonial Africa. Central to Men and Masculinities is Jonathan Glassman’s observation that African individuals frequently negotiated a tangled web of ideological filaments, each filament spun originally in a different time and place.58 Opposing Robert Connell’s concept of a single hegemonic masculinity, the contributors argue that African gender relations were constitutive of a patchwork of patriarchies, some imposed through colonialism, others locally derived. These masculinity conceptions, including those of warrior, senior, Big Man, Presbyterian, and waged-breadwinner masculinities, were linked to particular institutions and structures of power, and reveal both public and intimate practices, as well as transformations in gender relations.59 Whereas Carolyn Brown and Lisa Lindsay argue that African masculinities were “socially constructed” through dominant social and political institutions, Dorothy Hodgson and Luise White show that masculinities were “consciously constructed” by individual African men and women through subversive measures.60 However, Frederick Cooper and Carolyn Brown also show that masculinity constructions were not always a conscious endeavor, but were sometimes a consequence of European colonial intervention.61 For Brown especially, African masculinities were byproducts of colonial adaptations. Enugu male coal miners resisted England’s view of miners as “a race apart, outcasts, isolated and primitive,” in order to fulfill indigenous expectations of adult masculinity by working in the mines to earn wages for title-taking and the fulfillment of village obligations.62 Despite European imperial intervention, other social factors, including age, sex, religion, education, and wealth, continued to mediate African masculinity constructions.63 Both men and women contributed to particular constructions of masculinity.64

Men and Masculinities further challenges the dichotomy between public and domestic spheres, by arguing that men’s bodies, their domestic spaces, and their work and leisure places were sites for the construction and contestation of masculinity. Thus, White contends that Mau Mau men’s ideas of intimacy and domesticity were an integral part of their political struggles, and Meredith McKittrick shows that “fatherhood” was a politicized gendered practice.65 Lastly, the volume seeks to differentiate masculinity from manhood. Whereas manhood refers to indigenous notions explicitly related to men’s physiology, often recognized in terms of male adulthood, masculinity refers to a cluster of norms, values, and behavioral patterns expressing explicit and implicit expectations of how men should act and represent themselves to others; an ideal that not all males achieve, and that some women could fulfill.66 Thus, Nwando Achebe argues that the woman Ahebi Ugbabe embraced a highly masculinized form of colonial leadership, reinventing herself as “king” in a society that had no kings, and went as far as creating an Igbo ethnic ancestral masquerade in a futile effort to realize full manhood.67 Against the background of Men and Masculinities, in a subsequent study of gender politics and the evolution of female power and authority in Nsukka, northern Igboland (covering the period 1900–1960), Achebe reconciles the traditional trope of west African women’s sociopolitical mobility with the new history of female masculinities. Achebe examines the religious, economic, and political structures that enabled women to exercise power, emphasizing individual women’s use of traditional institutions to negotiate colonial marginalization. These women occupied diverse roles as “medicines” and goddesses, priestesses and prophetesses, farmers, traders, porters, and weavers, as well as a king. Their social-mobility practices sometimes meant that they occupied male sociopolitical positions, and their exercise of sociopolitical power both impacted men’s lives and shaped men’s gender identities.68

Achebe’s Farmers, Traders, Warriors, and Kings and Stephan Miescher’s Making Men in Ghana (2005) built upon Men and Masculinities. Miescher chronicles the constantly shifting subjectivities of eight Ghanaian “senior masculinities,” who reconciled complex British colonial and Christian missionary sociopolitical structures and notions of masculinities with local community expectations of manhood and gendered socialization. Miescher demonstrates that the structures of British colonial rule, including the police force, Christian missions, schools, wage labor, and new material culture, were sources of new forms of African masculinities, which competed with preexisting forms of martial, adult, and senior masculinities. The foregoing scholarship, in addition to Lisa Lindsay’s Working with Gender: Wage Labor and Social Change in Southwestern Nigeria (2003), which argues, “all sides of the colonial encounter were bringing gender to their notions of work,” established a new paradigm for African gender studies: that of reconciling African women and men’s lives to understand social change. However, with a 20th-century ethnographic baseline, the scholarship on modern African masculinities does not explain how the African patriarchal systems that colonialism consolidated were originally constituted.

Morrell and Ouzgane’s African Masculinities: Men in Africa from the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present aims to provide a comprehensive theory of African masculinities from pre- to postcolonial times. However, in its bid to recenter African men in gender studies, and challenge their misrepresentations as oppressors of women and victims of slavery, colonialism, and postcolonialism, it insists that to talk of masculinity as separate from maleness (as a social construct) is redundant. Focusing on southern Africa, the editors Morrell and Ouzgane argue that we ought not to distinguish between manhood and masculinity.69 This does not reflect the west African scholarship, which emphasizes the fluidity of African gender systems, where women constituted and performed masculinity. Moreover, Morrell argues the social constructionism of South African masculinities elsewhere.70 Also, the volume does not examine the dynamism of precolonial African masculinities, which informed later twentieth-century constructions and performances. Situated more within the field of critical men’s studies than history, African Masculinities analyzes how boys were traditionally socialized to become men in African societies, why men behave the way they do in order to be perceived as masculine, and the impact of colonial racism on African masculine identities. As Morrell and Ouzgane put it, the book examines “how African masculinities, African male bodies, subjectivities, and experiences are constituted in specific historical, cultural, and social contexts.”71

With an emphasis on interpretations (discourses), representations (symbolization), constructions, and contestations of African masculinities, the contributors to African Masculinities illuminate the diverse ways in which African masculinities have been constituted in the modern period. Wilson Jacob and Frank Salamone analyze subversive masculinities. Salomone applies the language of gender to queer practices in Hausa society, Northern Nigeria, and argues that the yan dauda (men who talk and behave like women and have sex with each other) reinforce and challenge Hausa notions of dominant male heterosexuality and femininity, through public displays of homoeroticism.72 In his analysis of the two-volume memoir of Ibrahim Fawzi, which provides an Arab perspective on 19th-century Egyptian autocracy, the Madhist revolt in Sudan, and the violent consolidation of British imperialism in northeast Africa, Jacob demonstrates that new ways of performing colonial masculinity and national identity emerged in the context of Egyptian–Sudanese state relations, before British rule.73 Writing from a postcolonial perspective, Arthur Saint-Aubin, Beti Ellerson, Lindsay Clowes, Meredith Goldsmith, Kathryn Holland, and Sally Hayward examine the political representations and interpretations of African masculinities and male sexuality in Western scientific and medical discourses, LGBTQ films, the South African Drum magazine, and fictional narratives.74 Collectively, they capture Paula Ebron’s argument for the centrality of performance in the social constitution of gender identities, carried out through a stylized repetition of acts.75 Whereas Glen Elder and Robert Morrell argue that the policies of postcolonial South African government conditioned constructions of masculinity and sexuality, Margrethe Silberschmidt, Deevia Bhana, and Rob Pattman contend that gender inequalities in political and economic power shaped masculinity constructions in East and South Africa. They argue that in East and South Africa, socioeconomic inequalities between men and women resulting from urbanization, state modernist liberalization processes, and structural adjustment programs, produced masculinities (husbands and schoolboys) who expressed violence against women in the postcolonial period.76

Catherine Campbell similarly shows that apartheid and capitalism eroded African men’s breadwinner masculinity and patriarchal authority within the South African working-class townships. This “crisis of masculinity” led South African working-class men to embrace violence against family members as an avenue with which to reconstitute their marginalized masculinity, because “socially sanctioned power over women and young men in the family was often the only arena in which they were able to exercise any dominance.”77 Likewise, Peter Delius and Clive Glaser argue that European conquest, colonization, and industrialization, and African urbanization and male migration destroyed traditional intergenerational and peer-group monitoring of acceptable youthful sexual exploration in South Africa. As a result, young male migrants to the cities embraced gang membership as a platform of sexual socialization and means of achieving adult masculinity, in the process cultivating an “exaggerated assertion of manhood” through violence, sexual coercion, and ambitious control over women.78 This theme is also found in Changing Men in Southern Africa, which argues that because the minority middle-class white settlers dominated the social reproduction of South Africa’s understandings of masculinity, the majority black working-class internalized masculinity through violence.79

However, beyond the image of a reluctant inhibition of African male violence, in her study of “Wolof Women, Economic Liberalization, and the Crisis of Masculinity in Rural Senegal,” Donna Perry shows that when Wolof men lost the patriarchal authority they had previously held from their control of lucrative cash crops, as a result of economic liberalization micro-loan programs that enabled women to become independent breadwinners through petty trading, they did not resort to violence, abuse, or alcoholism. Rather, Wolof men found “solace and support in the figure of the marabout, or Muslim leader.”80 They engaged their wives in “micro” arguments, complained about the marketplace, and idealized agriculture as a holy institution of bodily discipline, but they did not actively attempt to restrict the new economic opportunities that empowered women, because their livelihoods depended upon them. Thus, economic liberalization altered notions of work and household responsibilities for Wolof men and women, and resulted in recurrent discursive negotiation of patriarchy and masculinity.

Liz Walker and Graeme Reid subsequently devoted a volume to the African “crisis of masculinity,” examining how the radical reorganization of gender relations, which ushered South Africa rapidly from being a male-dominated patriarchal society to a new social order based on equality between men and women, engendered emasculation and inaugurated new configurations of masculinity. They show that men’s responses ranged from violent, ruthless, and reactionary, to embracing, revealing a contradictory ambivalence characterized by a devotion to preexisting norms, and a desire for modernist and cosmopolitan masculine respectability.81 Other scholars such as Jo Helle-Velle and Julie Livingston argue that although colonial migrant labor may have undermined rural gerontocratic masculinities, they created new norms of breadwinner masculinity. Male migrant labor to South African mines transformed Botswana societies in the 19th and 20th centuries. Colonial labor policies and European medical structures led to an increasing preference for young and able-bodied Tswana men as employees, thereby marginalizing elderly men, men with disabilities, and all women, and excluding them from social notions of respectability, economic, and political power. In effect, labor migration changed local understandings of masculinity and femininity. Young able-bodied men could acquire madi (money), seduce women, and reconfigure rural conceptions of hegemonic masculinity, but the mines also generated multiple new forms of disability that defined emergent masculinities. The transformations wrought by colonialism, independence, industrialization, and “development” effected changes in bodily life and perceptions of health, illness, and disability, and in so doing, transformed gender relations and identities.82

The political economies that generated a “crisis of masculinity” conditioned fatherhood as a beleaguered form of African masculinity. Understandings of fatherhood and the social role of fathers changed over time, depending on varying factors of material resources, political climate, and popular social discourse. Fatherhood is not a biological given, but rather socially constructed, contested, and understood based on shifting ideas of masculinity. Thus, in apartheid South Africa, unemployment, poverty, migrant labor, and debility generated “dislocated social structures” that undermined the ability of some African men to fulfill fatherhood, and confronted their children with economic and social deprivation, resulting in redefinitions of paternalism. Whereas some of the social constructions of African fatherhood through the media emphasized macho roles, and rendered invisible emotive relations, others romanticized fatherhood, thereby castigating predominant family structures headed by mothers. Similarly, South African family laws required fathers to provide economic support to their family but undermined their emotional access to their children, through migrant labor.83

Some scholars demonstrate that African men negotiated the emasculating terrain of colonialism through leisure practices. Leisure provided an arena for the negotiation of social identity. In its juxtaposition with work, both free and coercive, leisure involved both non-obligatory activities and practices that involved the fulfillment of gendered social obligations. Because leisure practices were largely voluntary, they provide a reliable index of African gendered agency in social change. Moreover, the creation of leisure practices generated cultural notions of masculine and feminine spheres of play, and shaped masculine identities.84 Hence, Peter Alegi argues that the emphasis which the Xhosa sport of stick-fighting placed on “physical prowess, masculine identity, theatrical performance, and martial competition” was fundamental to “the striving for status, the assertion of identity, the maintenance of power in one form or another, and the indoctrination of youth into the culture of their elders.”85 Black South Africans used these precolonial norms of leisure to vernacularize the British-originated sport of football (soccer), in order to forge civic bonds and relations across racial and ethnic lines in South Africa, within an emasculating sociopolitical context of apartheid racial segregation, increasing urbanization, and industrial expansion. Football facilitated the circulation of modern ideas of men’s fashion, music, dance, and newspaper and magazine culture across South Africa, and opened up the segregated Bantustans (Black homelands) to current social fashions from Europe and the United States. Introduced to Port Elizabeth and to Cape Town, South Africa in the 1860s, football took hold in the 1890s through the development and expansion of mission schools, railway lines, and colonial military outposts. By the 1920s, the sport began spreading from urban to rural areas, carried back by returning migrant mine workers. Thus, it linked the rural homestead, the mine, and the city into one indissoluble space. But more importantly, it was a major element of African urbanization. Its rhythm, flow, democratic accessibility, and low cost put it at the heart of African popular culture in the twentieth century and enabled Africans to infuse it with vernacular cultures such as music and dance, nicknaming, and religious divinity. The Native Land Act of 1913 and the mechanization of white farms pushed more Africans out of rural reserves into Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town, in their quest for cash to pay for taxes, marriage, and new commodities. Between the 1920s and 1940s, Africans suddenly outnumbered whites in the cities of South Africa. Football enabled these new African migrants to the cities to forge collective identities and networks, build alternative institutions, and enjoy temporary relief from the hardships of institutional racism, police pass checks, and low-paying mine work. Football matches between Indians, Africans, and “Coloureds” [mixed race] became popular. Crowds of men, women, and youths—ranging from domestic servants, factory workers, miners, and lumpen elements to the unemployed, traders, clerks, messengers, teachers, and students—made up the fans that participated in the sporting rituals of urban popular culture. Matches were followed with music, dancing, and beer drinking. These urban dramas became sites for the performances and redefinitions of nouveau African masculinities. After African youth had defined football as a site of subaltern dissident masculinity performance, African elites embraced popular football to organize anti-colonial and anti-apartheid nationalist struggles, and sanction masculine forms of nationalist identities in the postcolonial era.86

From a related perspective, social historian Laura Fair argues that against the background of the British abolition of slavery in the Swahili coastal society of Zanzibar, gender-distinctive sartorial practices underpinned the social articulation and expression of urbanization in the 19th and early 20th centuries. By imposing multi-ethnic and dialectically shifting local aesthetics of taste, and sexual and gender propriety upon shifting sartorial performances of Islamic and Swahili urbanity, newly emancipated African men and women employed gender-distinctive ways of dressing (although informally and rebelliously articulated, they shaped formal and dominant cultures) to articulate masculinity and femininity. Most pertinent to our conversation, Fair demonstrates that hinterland East African men of the modern Kenyan mainland, in a bid to assert a privileged coastal “Swahili” masculinity, overcome economic dependency upon former Swahili masters/patrons, and transcend British juridical impotency to enforce abolition, embraced an admixture of European and Arab sartorial aesthetics expressing cosmopolitanism, urbanism, and freedom. In the process of gaining social legitimacy through sex/gender-normative dressing, they blurred the distinctions between Arab and African ethnicities. Urban Afro-Swahili men of the 20th century used clothing to denote modern masculinity. Within three years of abolition, the Swahili kanzu, which covered an ordinary free man from neck to ankle and wrist, thereby distinguishing him from the barefoot and bare-chested mshamba (countrified, servile, and rural) men, which cost the equivalent of three days’ wages, had become the most common form of male clothing on the coast, accompanied by the kofia (embroidered cap) or tarbush (red fez cap). Through conspicuous consumption, able-bodied youth undermined the privilege of gerontocrats to control young men’s labor and income.87

Another approach to the emergence of modern African masculinities emphasizes the pluralization and expansion of gender-constitutive spaces, as a result of European imperialism. Chenjerai Shire charts this process through the discursive and spatial constructions of masculinities in Zimbabwe. According to Shire, Zimbabwean boys learn different masculinities by moving through various gendered spaces and experiencing the diverse linguistic constructions and idealization of “Shona” manhood. “Shona” masculinity is fragmented into linguistic constructions within specific gendered social spaces. In the precolonial dare (male meeting place), diverse traditional masculinities were constituted through the mastery of proverbs and metaphors such as the Si-Ndebele techniques of oral debates, sexual prowess, and proper manners and ways of showing respect. Following colonialism, the city became a space of new masculinities, which favored roaming, wage earning, and the assimilation of British norms of masculine respectability and Western popular culture. Zimbabwean boys learned masculinities in “outside” spaces, where childhood games with sexual undertones developed ideas of manliness and understandings of the body, and subsequently, in “inside” spaces such as the bedroom, where female praise of male prowess or policing of action reinforced masculine norms. By structuring femininity through the exclusion of certain forms of masculine objects and behavior, and teaching boys about contraception and sex, women constructed and reinforced notions of masculinities.88

Other scholars represent the emergence of modern African masculinities within the context of European colonial mediation of the transition from boyhood to manhood. Paul Ocobock’s An Uncertain Age: The Politics of Manhood in Kenya argues that boys and young men used the colonial encounter to enjoy youthfulness, make themselves masculine, and eventually earn a sense of maturity. Whereas customary initiation ceremonies had been instrumental to youth maturation to respectable adulthood in rural Kenya, colonialism generated a “crisis of youth” by creating patterns of child migration and child labor, which in turn produced juvenile delinquency and youth deviancy; these trends were combated with corporal punishment and juvenile reformatories that only encouraged semi-skilled young men to leave their rural homes, seek out higher wages, and circumvent the authority of elder kin and the state. In its encounter with African youth, the British colonial government became gendered: it evolved into a paternalistic “elder state,” asserting “gerontocratic” responsibility to recapture and reform the youth, most of whom were compelled by overcrowding on land, underemployment, tax demands, and lack of money and resources for education to join the Land and Freedom Army (Mau Mau) rebellion. The elder state’s detention camps, which sought to make Kenyan youth into “mature men and disciplined disciples of empire,” afforded them “an alternative, state-sponsored rite of passage—a strange marriage of Gikuyu cultural life, colonial policy and carceral contingency.” Such reformation enabled young men to earn money, marry wives, and attain adult masculinity. The postcolonial state has similarly tried to mobilize age and youth as an instrument of statecraft.89

Lastly, modern African masculinities have been discursively produced. Urban, working-class, mobile, educated and elite members of South African society constructed hetero-patriarchal ideals of masculinity by narrating and debating true love and fantasizing about the African “modern girl” in the Bantu World magazine during the 1930s.90 By the 1960s, South African men and women constituted wage-earning masculinity as a norm by exchanging sexually explicit narratives of emotive relationships in the Drum magazine.91 Zanzibari youths consumed and debated Hindi discourses of heteronormative love through urban cinema during the 1950s and 1960s.92 Africans have also employed the medium of fiction and film to interrogate and construct diverse masculinities. Whereas popular fiction constituted aggressive and sexualized notions of African masculinity in the era of Kenyan decolonization, embodied a crisis of Kenyan masculinities generated by British colonial brutality, and repositioned Kenya from a “motherland” to a “fatherland,” it became important to the social articulation of white-settler patriarchal masculinity in South Africa. Similarly, through film and fiction, Africans have debated homosexuality, socially defining norms of masculinity in the process.93 Through their critical portrayals of masculinities in films, male African filmmakers have “overwhelmingly fashioned a feminist African cinema” that has shaped ideals of masculinities.94 Thus, academic research and writing on African masculinities has also contributed to the project of identifying, mapping, naming, and bringing into being forms of African masculinities, and in many cases, providing local African communities with a new language for expressing masculinity.

African Masculinities: African Sexualities and the Limits of Queer Theory

As the examples of Gabra d’abella, Igbo female husbands, and Hausa yan daudu attest, queer theory can be useful in the study of African masculinities, which is inseparable from a robust understanding of African sexualities. However, the methodological challenge of studying African sexualities is recognizing the limitations of Western theories and language in unearthing the intimate lives of African individuals. Both Re-thinking Sexualities and African Sexualities: A Reader identify this imperative, emphasizing that the diversity of sexuality and its relationship to gender, race, ethnicity, colonialism, tourism, and biomedical science requires a fluid analytic language, reflexive excavation, and historical contextualization, beyond tropes of difference and dysfunction.95 For example, Stephanie Newell studies the life history of the British John Moray Stuart-Young (1881–1939), an individual with multiple “queer” identities: a homosexual (twice married to women), forger, “spirit rapper,” novelist, poet, and palm-oil trader in Onitsha, southeastern Nigeria during British colonial rule. Stuart-Young escaped the homophobic environment of late 19th-century England for “Igbo cultural openness,” which provided “a more expansive ‘geography of desire,’” and better accommodated his queer subjectivities. Although Igbo gender flexibility was simultaneously normative and queer, Stuart-Young’s positionality as a white colonialist male making sexual advances toward young African boys at once violated acceptable notions of sexuality (pedophilia) and accentuated the unequal power relations inherent in sexual relations between the colonizer and the colonized.96 Thus, the meanings of “queer” for the Igbo gender system and Stuart-Young’s subjectivities were at variance.

Although it challenges the idea that gender is part of an essential self, and helps to illuminate the socially constructed nature of gender and sexual identities, the normative–deviant and “mismatch” motif of queer theory ignores the social and institutional conditions and multiple subjectivities of African individuals, and represents an imposition of Western categories of analysis on Africans, masking an elitist privilege to name, define, and fix “the other.”97 In their study of female same-sex practices in Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, and Swaziland, Ruth Morgan and Saskia Wieringa argue that queer theory is misleading and does not capture the diversity of African women engaged in same-sex practices, including some who identify as masculine and have several partners; some who desire marriage with a man and children, and others that do not; some who seek more rights in a Western gay-liberation fashion, and others who prefer the discretions of indigenous African cultural institutions like spirit mediumship. However, in its mission to prove that homosexuality is not “un-African,” the volume proffers categorical generalizations about the “nature” of indigenous African institutions. Thus, African matriarchal cultures are more tolerant of homosexuality and woman-to-woman sexual relationships, in contrast to homophobic patriarchal African societies. Moreover, Morgan and Wieringa privilege contrived categories such as “butch–femme” over indigenous concepts.98

By contrast, documentary film directors Philip Brooks and Laurent Bocahut portray “African homosexuals,” who are self-naming and defining Ivory Coast understandings of sexual identities such as that of a male (woubi) who chooses to play the role of “wife” in a relationship with another man; a bisexual man (yossi), often married to a woman, who accepts the role of a woubi’s husband; a lesbian (toussou bakari); and a controus (homophobe). Because the cultural metalanguage of these African homosexualities is that of heteronormative gender roles, the documentary Woubi Cheri privileges African categories of gender and sexuality, in which individuals expressing diverse forms of same-sex desire simultaneously reinforce and deconstruct heterosexual and patriarchal gender ideologies, making it difficult to claim that some African sociopolitical structures are more “naturally” disposed to homoeroticism than others.99 Indeed, Woubi Cheri contextualizes African female husbands. Several scholars criticize Amadiume’s dismissal of homoeroticism in Igbo practices of female husbands, and her insistence that the practice emphasized lineage expansion and sociopolitical power.100 But the critics erroneously assume the primacy of “lesbian physical sex” over what Michel Foucault has aptly characterized as the “everyday bit of theatre” which defines the “polymorphous techniques of power” that produce “manifold sexualities.”101 The relationship between African sociopolitical structures and African gender and sexuality constructs can partly be understood through David Halperin’s concept of a sociosexual system—the theory that sexual-object choices were determined not by typology of anatomical sexes (male vs. female), but rather by the social articulations of power (superordinate vs. subordinate).102 In both patrilineal and matrilineal African societies, husbands (male and female) married wives (male and female) within the logic of preexisting cultural institutions of family, lineage, and reproductive gender roles, which positioned a husband’s sexuality as superordinate to a wife’s subordinate sexuality, because it was through the former that the latter legitimated social incorporation. In choosing male sperm donors for their wives, female husbands were effectively asserting their superordinate sexuality over other bodies, male and female. From this perspective, their “adult masculinity” as husbands defined their sexuality. Thus, a narrow focus on whether female husbands had lesbian relationships with their wives at once imposes a Western and modern ideology of sexuality that violates indigenous knowledge systems.

As Rudolph Gaudio demonstrates in Allah Made Us, the intersectionality of heterosexual and homosexual ideologies in the political economy of desire in the Muslim Hausa society of Kano reveals a spectrum of sex-gender nonconformists (“sexual outlaws”), the multiple sociosexual identities and subjective discourse of whom a “queer” theory is incapable of articulating. The Kano yan daudu are biological males who have sex with males; often marry women and father children; use male pronouns in public but don women’s dress and use female pronouns in private; function as pimps liaising in sexual encounters between female prostitutes and male clients; engage in “women’s work” such as cooking and selling food in stalls; prominently participate in subaltern sexual, gender, and religious nonconformist theaters of wasa (“frivolous, vulgar, or morally suspect” public plays) and bori (traditional religious spirit-possession communities); and undertake the hajj to increase their Arabic and religious fluency, deploying their knowledge of elite Muslim sexual hypocrisy to justify the divine predetermination of their sexual and gender identities. In old age, their unmasculine verbal exuberance is muted, and they increasingly assume the role of senior patrons to younger yan daudu. Retaining a public identity of heteronormative masculinity allows the yan daudu to express a homosexual identity in private. The yan daudu coexist with conventionally masculine males doing socially masculine work, who have sex with other males, and socially identify as “homos” and “men who do the deed” (masu harka). Thus, the diverse homosocial environment of Kano defies a binary conceptualization of homogenous heterosexuality, and its antithetical homosexual “other.” Moreover, yan daudu achieved a mutual accommodation with Islam, flourishing under the religion’s hetero-patriarchal ideologies of conjugal hegemonic masculinity. Indeed, the conservative local government encouraged yan daudu by clamping down on female prostitution, enabling the yan daudu to buy up the restaurants of Kano businesswomen, who had come to represent social-sexual deviance.103

The embeddedness of same-sex desire and diverse forms of homosexuality within African heteronormative gender and sexual systems is also prominent in South Africa. According to Dunbar Moodie, Vivienne Ndatshe, and British Sibuyi, men became “wives” in South African gold mines, thereby exercising a subordinate form of masculinity, in order to secure wages and achieve hegemonic masculinity within their natal families outside of the mines. They argue that “the homosexuality which so crudely reinforced the seniority system on the mines thus also served in more subtle ways to protect the seniority system back home.”104 Younger men who were socially considered boys would act as “wives” to senior men within the mines, providing sexual satisfaction as well as domestic services, much as women would. By behaving like women, boy wives exercised subordinate masculinity, receiving gifts and money from their senior spouses, which they in turn used to pay their bride price and marry female wives, acquire cattle, and in effect, achieve adult masculinity. Reflecting Halperin’s concept of a sociosexual system, Moodie, Ndatshe, and Sibuyi conclude that these “relationships [were] much more of a prerogative of those with power than a random outcome of ‘natural necessity.’”105 Men with authority in the mines utilized their sexuality to reinforce their power through mine marriages, because such marriages provided them stability, comfort, and patriarchal control.106

The “tantalizing” quest to prove that homoeroticism existed in Africa before European imperialism oversimplifies the structural complexities of African gender and sexuality constructs, just as the assumption that African patriarchy was totalitarian and essentially heteronormative hinders a historicization of how African gender identities and sexualities have been mutually constitutive. In Boy-Wives and Female Husbands, Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe argue that the concept of sexual preference did not exist in precolonial Africa, whereas “diverse patterns of same-sex sexuality” existed.107 Some of the volume’s contributors rely significantly upon early-20th-century colonial ethnographic reports, without critically evaluating the prejudicial perspectives of European “observations.” For instance, where religious priests dressed as women, European ethnographers assumed “homosexuality,” and what Europeans documented as “foul” or “unnatural” sins, the editors interpreted as “homosexuality.”108 For example, in his ethnography of the “Negroes of Cameroon,” Tessman (translated by Bradley Rose) examines the religious and cultural understandings of sexualities in various age-grade institutional practices. He argues that the “Negro superstitions” evident in cross-dressing generated an inevitable moral breakdown that allowed the development of homosexuality.109 By contrast, Achebe’s Farmers, Traders, Warriors and Kings shows that the dual-sex nature of African sociopolitical systems in both the human and spiritual constituencies meant that the quest for societal gender balance often generated priests subordinated to goddesses or female deities (and who thus dressed in an effeminate way), and priestesses subordinated to gods or male deities (who thus dressed in a masculine way). Thus, it is difficult to make sense of African “diverse patterns of same-sex sexuality[ies]” without considering how normative gender practices (including notions of masculinity) shaped sexuality practices.

Moreover, these editors’ stance is contrary to contributor Nii Ajen’s assertion that when Africans reject sexual labels, they are in effect proclaiming that they do not fit within Western concepts.110 When Stephen Murray interviewed a young African named Kamau, he stated, “I am not actively gay because there is no issue like ‘gay.’” When asked if he knew gay people existed Kamau asserted, “No, I didn’t know that there were gay people. The whole thing about gayness came to me when I was in London.”111 The imposition of the categories “gay” and “homosexual” in analyzing Kamau’s sexuality ignores Kamau’s subjectivities. Echoing the generalized definition of southern African priests, diviners, and spirit-possessed prophets (isangoma, kimbanda, esengei, mwaami, eshenga, ikihindu, ikimaze, and inkosi ygbatfazi) as “homosexuals” and “hermaphrodites,” transatlantic scholars too, have perpetuated a narrow understanding of African gender and sexuality expressions. Lorand Matory argues that the “cross-dressing” Brazilian ades (Candomblé priests) are seen as “passive homosexuals” or bichas, and that this constitutes evidence of traditional Yoruba homosexuality.112 Two contributors to Boy-Wives and Female Husbands, Rudolph Gaudio and Kendall, exhibit an exceptional sensitivity to the importance of indigenous conceptualizations of sexuality. Gaudio found a local discourse suggesting the existence of same-sex sexuality in Northern Nigeria, and negotiated Hausa understandings of homosexual practices, which did not see these as incompatible with heterosexuality, but were understood them in terms of “gender and sexuality.”113 According to Kendall, “woman-to-woman love” existed in Lesotho but had no name, and there was no concept of being “lesbian.”114 These scholars reveal that sexualities and gender identities interdigitated in Africa.

Indeed, ideas about masculinity have been critical to the constructions of African sexualities, and vice versa. According to Isak Niehaus, concepts of hegemonic masculinity and masculine sexuality shaped local responses to political events such as the Bantu Education, and hegemonic masculine sexuality was a prominent factor in South Africa’s liberation struggle, finding prominent expression through male control over women and their bodies.115

Applying Halperin’s view of sexuality as a cultural production “representing the appropriation of the human body and of its physiological capacities by an ideological discourse,” to what Edward Said has defined as Orientalism—the imagination and construction of the “Orient” as deviant/aberrant, lustful and sexually available, easily penetrable, and in need of mission civilisatrice—underscores how imperial notions of hegemonic conquest masculinity constituted African gender and sexualities. Although Said’s Orientalism privileges a “conspicuously heterosexual interpretative framework” and ignores widely documented issues of colonial sexuality, especially the queer affects of lust, intimacy, and desires among the dominant colonial personnel and their subjects, “homoerotic orientalism” occupies a central place in revisions of Said’s original conceptualization. These studies emphasize that the signification of “oriental others” as queer, exotic, mystified, fragile, and effeminate, through arts, visual paintings, photographic materials, postcards, and colonial portfolios which emphasize wilderness, eroticization, and genital fantasy, shows how “Europeans’ obsession with taxonomy” underpinned the propagation of colonial power in North Africa.116 In her posthumous Medicine and Morality in Egypt: Gender and Sexuality in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, Sherry Sayed Gadelrab demonstrates that Egyptian domestication of forms of Western scientific knowledge, infused with Orientalist, racist, sexist, and homophobic prejudice, facilitated the advancement of cultural and religious arguments for Egyptian women’s inferiority to men, and as such, men’s sociocultural hegemony. Through the work of translation, medieval Muslim scholars circulated ancient Greek conceptions of the sexed and gendered body, which supported heteropatriarchy, but accommodated non-normative expressions of gender and sexuality so long as they did not threaten heterosexual marriage and family honor. Through the establishment of Western medical schools in Egypt, as well as European economic and political control, Western ideologies of gender and sexuality generated a rigid and modernist puritanical morality. In response to Orientalist criticism of Egyptian (especially women’s) morality, Egyptian leaders deployed fatwas that simultaneously enforced Western scientific sexual and gender norms and longed for an Islamic past in which sex was a God-given occasion for joy and pleasure. Amidst concomitant economic modernization, freed slaves and peasant women displaced by commercial agriculture moved to the cities to engage in prostitution, eliciting further state censure and regulation of gender and sexual morality. Thus, Gadelrab shows that African encounters with European colonialism generated norms of hegemonic masculinity through sexuality.117

By comparison, in South Africa, white colonial male elite shaped African gender and sexuality discourses, because European missionaries and legal and medical authorities, embodying a “proper white-settler sexuality” reinforced a hetero-patriarchal ideology that Africa was devoid of homosexuality before it experienced European imperial corruption, even in the face of a queer microculture that had begun to develop in southern African urban centers.118 As was the case in West Africa, colonial institutions such as hostels, prisons, and boarding schools, as well as Western conservative attire, contributed to a changing hegemonic masculinity in southern Africa, and promoted new ways of signifying manhood through wage labor, sports, gangs, and socioeconomic achievement. These masculine ideals in turn fostered an idea of the norms of heterosexual “female fertility [and] male virility” as quintessential to “African identity” and nationalism. African elite males in Zimbabwe embraced misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic masculine norms in their rebellion against decades of emasculating white-settler imperialism.119 In his study of dominant “sexist and racist discourses around identity and politics in Southern Africa,” Marc Epprecht indeed shows that “sexuality is a key component of gender relations.”120

Articulating the limits of existing scholarship on African sexualities, Epprecht has observed elsewhere that historians have focused their research on men and male sex behavior, leaving women, regardless of their sexualities, in the background. As a result, a robust historicization of African sexualities is yet to materialize.121 Moreover, the main sources on the history of same-sex sexuality in Africa are “overwhelmingly androcentric” and thus “severely limit” the ability to historicize female same-sex activity.122 Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa, represents an early effort to remedy this gap by showing that there is no essential gay and lesbian identity in Africa, because same-sex desire has meant different things to different peoples at different times. It has been shaped by configurations of kinship and community, and diverse identities including class, gender, religion (traditional, Christian, Muslim, Jewish), those associated with geography (urban vs. rural), and with race and ethnicity (black, Arab, colored, white, Indian); and it has been defined in a dialectical relationship to heterosexual and patriarchal norms and practices.123 With its 20th-century gay/lesbian organizational focus however, Defiant Desires focuses more on the lives of white South African “gay” people, and less on the organizational histories of communities of black female same-sex sexualities. Consequently, some interventionist artistic and literary works have emerged, addressing the personal and political meanings of African “queer” sexualities.124

A number of scholars would subsequently examine the transformations of gender relations and sexual norms in modern African societies by examining African women’s erotic and conjugal practices, as well as Euro-African elite discourses on women’s heterosexual respectability. These scholars demonstrate how the intersection of African female sexualities and European imperial discourses reconstituted African gender and sexual systems according to masculinist and heteronormative ideals. In When Sex Threatened the State, Saheed Aderinto argues that debates about regulating sexual morality and prostitution, which were mediated by race, age, gender, and class, came to define British colonialism and the Nigerian elite’s decolonization rhetoric in the city of Lagos. The masculinist colonial state confronted prostitution as a menace to the health of its personnel; marginalized elite Nigerian women by excluding them from the infrastructure involved in remediating prostitution; pathologized African sexuality from a racialized viewpoint; and enlisted elite Nigerian men (police, soldiers, and nationalists) in articulating a vision of sexual propriety that bolstered the respectability of a masculinist modern state.125 In Conjugal Rights, Rachel Jean-Baptiste argues that in the French west African territory of Libreville, Gabon, African women evolved a transactional sexual economy that challenged monogamous marriages and enabled them to assert economic power. The French sought to mitigate women’s sexuality by changing marital and divorce laws, regulating extramarital and interracial sex, bolstering “traditional” patriarchal juridical authority, and implementing urban racial segregation. However, contradictions between French practices and policies indirectly encouraged a sexual economy of prostitution. As the movement of women’s and men’s bodies and expressions of Eros shaped urban life, a new colonial heterosexuality became definitive to modern African masculinities and femininities.126 Both Jean-Baptiste and Aderinto build upon Luise White’s seminal analysis of African women’s use of sex work to negotiate complex patriarchies, subvert marginalizing colonial policies, create real-estate economies, reproduce rural and emergent urban African masculinities, and contribute to the urbanization of Nairobi under British colonialism.127

African Masculinity and African Social History in Historiographical Perspective

From a historiographical perspective, African masculinity studies represents a later stage in the development of African social history revisionist methodologies, because of its focus on how ordinary male and female individuals embodied day-to-day experiences of dynamic African sociopolitical systems. The historical manifestations of African masculinities have been a product of the sociopolitical structures of a given society. This explains the intra- and interregional differences in the historical scholarship on the subject. Whereas the scholarship on west African masculinities have emphasized the fluidity of African gender constructs and their roles in generating dynamic dual-sex or gender-complementary sociopolitical systems that mediated masculinities, studies of northern and southern African masculinities emphasize more the effects of colonial racism on African masculine identities, as well as the intersectionality of sexualities and masculinities. The east African scholarship captures the fluidity of precolonial African gender systems, and chronicles the emergence of violent anti-colonial masculinities.

Further Reading

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Everyman’s Library, 1992.Find this resource:

    Achebe, Nwando. The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

      Amadiume, Ifi. Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society. London: Zed Books, 1989.Find this resource:

        Arnfred, Signe, ed. Re-thinking Sexualities in Africa. Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute, 2004.Find this resource:

          Cole, Jennifer, and L. Thomas, eds. Love in Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.Find this resource:

            Cornwall, Andrea, ed. Readings in Gender in Africa. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

              Cornwall, Andrea, and Nancy Lindisfane, eds. Dislocating Masculinity: Comparative Ethnographies. New York: Routledge, 1994.Find this resource:

                Epprecht, Marc. Hungochani: The History of a Dissident Sexuality in Southern Africa. London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

                  Epprecht, Marc. Heterosexual Africa? The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS. Athens: Ohio State University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

                    Gaudio, Rudolph P. Allah Made Us: Sexual Outlaws in an Islamic African City. West Sussex, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.Find this resource:

                      Lindsay, Lisa A., and Stephan F. Miescher, eds. Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003.Find this resource:

                        Mbah, Ndubueze L. Emergent Masculinities: Gendered Power and Social Change in the Biafran Atlantic Age, Athens: Ohio University Press, 2019.Find this resource:

                          Miescher, Stephan F. Making Men in Ghana. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

                            Morgan, Ruth, and Saskia Wieringa, eds. Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men, and Ancestral Wives: Female Same-Sex Practices in Africa. Auckland Park, South Africa: Jacana Media, 2007.Find this resource:

                              Morgan, Ruth, Charl Marais, and Joy R. Wellbeloved, eds. Trans: Transgender Life Stories from South Africa. Auckland Park, South Africa: Fanele, 2009.Find this resource:

                                Morell, Robert, ed. Changing Men in Southern Africa. Zed Books, 2001.Find this resource:

                                  Morell, Robert, and Lahoucine Ouzgane, eds. African Masculinities: Men in Africa from the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.Find this resource:

                                    Murray, Stephen O., and Will Roscoe, eds. Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies in African Homosexualities. New York: Palgrave Publishers, 1998.Find this resource:

                                      Ocobock, Paul. An Uncertain Age: The Politics of Manhood in Kenya. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2017.Find this resource:

                                        Ouzgane, Lahoucine, ed. Men in African Film and Fiction. Suffolk, UK: Boydell & Brewer, 2011.Find this resource:

                                          Oyono, Ferdinand. Houseboy. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2012.Find this resource:

                                            Quayson, Ato. Fathers and Daughters: An Anthology of Exploration. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008.Find this resource:

                                              Tamale, Sylvia. African Sexualities: A Reader. Cape Town, Dakar, Nairobi, and Oxford: Pambazuka Press/Fahamu Books, 2011.Find this resource:

                                                Twaddle, Michael. Kakungulu and the Creation of Uganda, 1868–1928. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1993.Find this resource:

                                                  Veit-Wild, Flora, and Dirk Naguschewski, eds. Body, Sexuality, and Gender: Versions and Subversions in African Literatures 1. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Editions Rodopi B.V., 2005.Find this resource:

                                                    Waetjen, Thembisa. Workers and Warriors: Masculinity and the Struggle for Nation in South Africa. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.Find this resource:

                                                      Wood, John C. When Men Are Women: Manhood among Gabra Nomads of East Africa. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.Find this resource:

                                                        Notes:

                                                        (1.) Josephine Beoku-Betts, “Western Perceptions of African Women in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries,” in Readings in Gender in Africa, ed. Andrea Cornwall (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2005), 20–24.

                                                        (2.) Andrea Cornwall, ed., Readings in Gender in Africa (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2005), 1, sums this up the best when she writes, “The literature on (gender in) West Africa tells, for the main, an entirely different story. Some of the foundational images of women’s power and autonomy in Africa derive from this region. And it is West African research that has given rise to the most potent critiques of Western assumptions.”

                                                        (3.) For major examples, see Gracia Clark, Onions Are My Husband: Survival and Accumulation by West African Market Women (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994); Edna Bay, Wives of the Leopard: Gender, Politics, and Culture in the Kingdom of Dahomey (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998); Barbara Cooper, Marriage in Maradi: Gender and Culture in a Hausa Society in Niger, 1900–1989 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1997); and Nwando Achebe, Farmers, Traders, Warriors and Kings: Female Power and Authority in Northern Igboland, 1900–1960 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2005).

                                                        (4.) Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition as History (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 8–10.

                                                        (5.) Corinne Kratz, “Conversations and Lives,” in African Words, African Voices: Critical Practices in Oral History, ed. White, Miescher, and Cohen, 127.

                                                        (6.) Kirk Hoppe, “Whose Life Is it Anyway?: Issues of Representation in Life Narrative Texts of African Women,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 26, no. 3 (1993): 623–634; H. Gengenbach. “Truth-Telling and the Politics of Women’s Life History Research in Africa: A Reply to Kirk Hoppe,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 27, no. 3 (1994): 618–619; L. A. Tilley, “People’s History and Social Science History,” Social Science History 7, no. 4 (1983): 457–474; Personal Narratives Group, ed., Interpreting Women’s Lives: Feminist Theory and Personal Narratives (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), 14; Nwando Achebe, “Nwando Achebe—Daughter, Wife, and Guest—A Researcher at the Crossroads,” Journal of Women’s History 14, no. 3 (Autumn 2002): 14–22; Berida Ndambuki and Claire C. Robertson. “We Only Come Here to Struggle”: Stories from Berida’s Life (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2000), xi–xxxi; and Susan Geiger, “What’s So Feminist about Women’s Oral History,” Journal of Women’s History 2, no. 1 (Spring, 1990): 169–181.

                                                        (8.) Robert Morrell, “Of Boys and Men: Masculinity and Gender in Southern Africa,” Journal of Southern African Studies 24, no. 4 (1998): 605 [605–630].

                                                        (9.) Judith van Allen, “Sitting on a Man: Colonialism and the Lost Political Institutions of Igbo Women,” Canadian Journal of African Studies 6, no. 2 (1972):165–181; Ifi Amadiume, Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society (London: Zed Books, 1989), 15–28; and Kamene Okonjo, “The Dual Sex Political System in Operation: Igbo Women and Community Politics in Midwestern Nigeria,” in Women in Africa, ed. Nancy Hafkin and Edna Bay (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1976), 45.

                                                        (10.) Amadiume, Male Daughters, Female Husbands, 42–49.

                                                        (11.) See Robin Horton, “From Fishing Village to City-State: A Social History of New Calabar,” in Man in Africa, ed. Mary Douglass and Phyllis Kaberry (London, 1969), 37–58; Kadja Ekholm, “External Exchange and the Transformation of Central African Social Systems,” in The Evolution of Social Systems, ed. J. Friedman and M. J. Rowland (London, U.K.: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd, 1978), 229–254; Ivor Wilks, “Land, Labour, Capital and the Forest Kingdom of Asante: A Model of Early Change,” in Friedman and Rowland, eds., The Evolution of Social Systems, 487–534; Jane Guyer, “Household and Community in African Studies,” African Studies Review 24, nos. 2/3 (1981): 87–137; Jeff Guy, “Gender Oppression in Southern Africa’s Precapitalist Societies,” in Women and Gender in Southern Africa to 1945, ed. Cherryl Walker (Claremont, South Africa: David Philip Publishers, 1990), 33–47; Elizabeth Schmidt, Peasants, Traders and Wives: Shona Women in the History of Zimbabwe, 1870–1939 (Portsmouth, NH, 1992); Nakanyinke Musisi, “Women, ‘Elite Polygyny,’ and Buganda State Formation,” Signs 16, no. 4 (1991): 757–786; T. C. McCaskie, “State and Society, Marriage and Adultery: Some Considerations Towards a Social History of Pre-colonial Asante,” Journal of African History 22 (1981): 477–494; Simi Afonja, “Changing Modes of Production and the Sexual Division of Labor Among the Yoruba,” Signs 7, no. 2 (1981): 299–313; Simi Afonja, “Land Control: A Critical Factor in Yoruba Gender Stratification,” in Women and Class in Africa, ed. Claire Robertson and Iris Berger (New York, 1986), 78–91; Edward A. Alpers, “State, Merchant Capital and Gender Relations in Southern Mozambique to the End of the 19th Century: Some Tentative Hypotheses,” African Economic History 13 (1984): 23–55; Edward A. Alpers, “Ordinary Household Chores: Ritual and Power in a 19th Century Swahili Women’s Spirit Possession Cult,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 17, no. 4 (1984): 677–702; and Elizabeth Eldredge, “Women in Production: The Economic Role of Women in Nineteenth Century Lesotho, Signs 16, no. 4 (1991): 707–731.

                                                        (13.) Robert Cornell, Masculinities (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 84.

                                                        (14.) Oyeronke Oyewunmi, The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 22, 50–55, 83. Oyewunmi’s criticism of Western biological determinism, “body-reasoning” and “bio-logic interpretation” of the social world, which subordinates the female anatomy to the male, is instructive. However, Oyewunmi does not examine the sociopolitical dynamic of male–female relations in precolonial Yorubaland, nor account for the very historical processes through which the Yoruba engaged with gender under colonial rule, as described by Lindsay and Cornwall. This implies that the Yoruba were docile bodies on whom the colonial masters imposed gender hierarchies.

                                                        (16.) Tola Olu Pearce, “Dispelling the Myth of Pre-colonial Gender Equality in Yoruba Culture,” Canadian Journal of African Studies 48, no. 2 (2014): 315–331.

                                                        (17.) Eileen Boris, “Gender After Africa!” in Africa After Gender, ed. C. Cole, T. Manuh, and S. Miescher (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2007), 191–192; Helen Mugambi, “The ‘Post-Gender’ Question in African Studies,” in Africa After Gender, ed. C. Cole, T. Manuh, and S. Miescher, 285–302; Takyiwaa Manuh, “Doing Gender Work in Ghana,” in Africa After Gender, ed. C. Cole, T. Manuh, and S. Miescher, 125–149. Mugambi contends that this reality of two tropes of gender defeats any attempt to think of an Africa without gender. Boris shows that West Africans have transformed women and gender studies by expanding the repertoire for intersectional analysis beyond gender, race, class, and nation. Paulla Ebron also argues that “gender” in West Africa is a performance of “difference,” and as such, both the “selfconscious” and “unself-conscious” aspects of gender performance should be equally studied, so that “gender becomes a way into understanding other forms of social distinction.” See Paulla Ebron, “Constituting Subjects through Performative Acts,” in Africa After Gender, ed. C. Cole, T. Manuh, and S. Miescher, 171–189.

                                                        (18.) Ndubueze L. Mbah, “Emergent Masculinities: The Gendered Struggle for Power in Southeastern Nigeria, 1850–1920” (PhD dissertation, Michigan State University, 2013), 352–381; Emea O. Arua, “Yam Ceremonies and the Values of Ohafia Culture,” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 51, no. 2 (1981): 694–705; and Philip O. Nsugbe, Ohaffia: A Matrilineal Ibo People (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), 69. For a comparative view, see Victor Turner, Schism and Continuity in an African Society: A Study of Ndembu Village Life (London: Manchester University Press, 1957), 230–243.

                                                        (19.) Allen F. Isaacman and Barbara S. Isaacman, Slavery and Beyond: The Making of Men and Chikunda Ethnic Identities in the Unstable World of South-Central Africa, 1750–1920 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2004), 1–31.

                                                        (21.) Emily Lynn Osborn, Our New Husbands Are Here: Households, Gender, and Politics in a West African State from the Slave Trade to Colonial Rule (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2011), 49–112.

                                                        (22.) Meredith McKittrick, “Forsaking their Fathers? Colonialism, Christianity, and Coming of Age in Ovamboland, Northern Namibia,” in Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa, ed. Lindsay and Miescher, 33–47.

                                                        (23.) Dorothy L. Hodgson, “‘Once Intrepid Warriors’: Modernity and the Production of Maasai Masculinities,” Ethnology 38, no. 2 (Spring, 1999): 121–150.

                                                        (24.) George Paul Meiu, “‘Mombasa Morans’: Embodiment, Sexual Morality, and Samburu Men in Kenya,” Canadian Journal of African Studies 43, no. 1 (2011): 105–128.

                                                        (25.) Sean Stillwell, Slavery and Slaving in African History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 64.

                                                        (26.) Martin Klein, “Slavery and the Early State in Africa,” Social Evolution & History 8, no. 1 (2009): 171–172.

                                                        (27.) Joseph Miller, Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730–1830 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 47–48.

                                                        (28.) Stillwell, Slavery and Slaving in African History, 67; Joseph C. Miller, “Domiciled and Dominated: Slaving as a History of Women,” in Women and Slavery: The Modern Atlantic, vol. II, ed. Gwyn Campbell, Suzanne Miers, and Joseph Miller (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2008), 287–288; Moses Finley, “Slavery,” in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, ed. David L. Sills (New York, 1968), 307–313. Elsewhere, in the case of Sokoto royal slavery, Stillwell argues that African slaves were not always socially isolated and kinless outsiders, but rather were able to construct family networks and take advantage of court politics to contest the terms of their subjugation, gain access, and redefine the political and social system of the dominant aristocratic culture. See Sean Stillwell, Paradoxes of Power: The Kano “Mamluks” and Male Royal Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate, 1804–1903 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2004).

                                                        (29.) Stillwell, Slavery and Slaving in African History, 49.

                                                        (30.) See Assan Sarr, Islam, Power, and Dependency in the Gambia River Basin: The Politics of Land Control, 1790–1940 (Rochester, NY: The University of Rochester Press, 2016); Felicia Ekejiuba, “Omu Okwei, the Merchant Queen of Ossomari: A Biographical Sketch,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 3, no. 4 (1967): 633–646; Sandra E. Greene, Slave Owners of West Africa: Decision Making in the Age of Abolition (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2017); J. D. Y. Peel, Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2003); Lisa A. Lindsay, Working With Gender: Wage Labor and Social Change in Southwestern Nigeria (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003); Lisa A. Lindsay, “Money, Marriage, and Masculinity on the Colonial Nigerian Railway,” in Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa, ed. Lindsay and Miescher 138–155; Miescher, “The Making of Presbyterian Teachers: Masculinities and Programs of Education in Colonial Ghana,” in Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa, ed. Lindsay and Miescher, 89–108; A. E. Afigbo, The Warrant Chiefs (London: Oxford University Press, 1972); and Nwando Achebe, The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2011).

                                                        (31.) Stillwell, Slavery and Slaving in African History, 53, 55.

                                                        (32.) Richard Roberts and Suzanne Miers, “Introduction,” in The End of Slavery in Africa, ed. R. Roberts and S. Miers (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 33–38.

                                                        (33.) John Oriji, Political Organization in Nigeria Since the Late Stone Age: A History of the Igbo People (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), 142–145.

                                                        (34.) Ugo U. Nwokeji, The Slave Trade and Culture in the Bight of Biafra: An African Society in the Atlantic World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 73, 94.

                                                        (35.) Nwokeji, Slave Trade, 173–174.

                                                        (36.) Gloria Chukwu, Igbo Women and Economic Transformation in Southeastern Nigeria, 1900–1960 (New York: Routledge, 2005), 181–182.

                                                        (37.) Ekejiuba, “Omu Okwei,” 633–646.

                                                        (38.) Achebe, The Female King of Colonial Nigeria.

                                                        (39.) Bonafice I. Obichere, “Women and Slavery in the Kingdom of Dahomey,” Revue française d’histoire d’outre-mer 65, no. 238 (1978): 5–20; Edna G. Bay, Wives of the Leopard: Gender, Politics, and Culture in the Kingdom of Dahomey (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998), 5–27, 72–88, 315; George E. Brooks, Jr., “The Signares of Saint-Louis and Gorée: Women Entrepreneurs in Eighteenth-Century Senegal,” in Women in Africa: Studies in Social and Economic Change, ed. Nancy J. Hafkin and Edna G. Bay (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976), 19–44; Hilary Jones, The Métis of Senegal: Urban Life and Politics in French West Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), 11–14, 34–50; Adam Jones, “Female Slave-Owners on the Gold Coast: Just a Matter of Money?” in Slave Cultures and the Cultures of Slavery, ed. Stephan Palmié (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1995), 100–110; Kwabena Adu-Boahen, “A Worthwhile Possession: A Reading of Women’s Valuation of Slaveholding in the 1875 Gold Coast Ladies’ Anti-Abolition Petition,” Itinerario 33, no. 3 (November 2009): 95–112; Pernille Ipsen, Daughters of the Trade: Atlantic Slavers and Interracial Marriage on the Gold Coast (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 7–31, 235; and Mariana Candido, An African Slaving Port and the Atlantic World: Benguela and Its Hinterland (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 129–137.

                                                        (40.) Victor Uchendu, The Igbo of Southeastern Nigeria (New York: Holt, 1965), 14.

                                                        (41.) Miescher, Making Men in Ghana, 8–13. For the dynamic meanings of pawnship in West Africa, see Paul E. Lovejoy and David Richardson, ‘Trust, Pawnship, and Atlantic History: The Institutional Foundations of the Old Calabar Slave Trade, The American Historical Review 104, no. 2 (1999): 332–355.

                                                        (42.) Trevor R. Getz and Liz Clarke, ABINA and the Important Men: A Graphic History, Second Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).

                                                        (43.) Ndubueze L. Mbah, “Performing Ogaranya: Kalu Ezelu Uwaoma, Male Slavery, and Freedom Politics in Southeastern Nigeria, c. 1860–1940,” Journal of West African History 3, no. 1 (2017): 27–54.

                                                        (44.) For a recent exploration of this see Sandra E. Greene, Slave Owners of West Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017).

                                                        (45.) Afigbo, “Women,” 35–36; Chuku, “Petty Traders,” 1–22; and Achebe, Farmers, 110–154.

                                                        (46.) Oke-nwami means “masculine woman” and “female husband.” “Oke” translates into male and “nwami” means woman. Secondly, the verb “ike,” “to possess,” is personalized as “oke” which means “possessor,” hence “possessor of woman” or female husband. Recall that the practice of male warriors taking women captive as productive and reproductive resources was known as ike nwami. Thus, in the early 20th century, women who achieved ogaranya status exploited that practice by acquiring wives; hence, they became known as oke-nwami = woman possessors.

                                                        (47.) Ndubueze L. Mbah, “Female Masculinities, Dissident Sexuality, and the Material Politics of Gender in Early Twentieth-Century Igboland,” Journal of Women’s History 29, no. 4 (2017): 35–60.

                                                        (48.) Mbah, “Female Masculinities, Dissident Sexuality,” 46.

                                                        (49.) Amadiume, Male Daughters, 123–132.

                                                        (50.) Achebe, The Female King, 209–211.

                                                        (51.) Mbah, “Female Masculinities, Dissident Sexuality,” 46.

                                                        (52.) Simon Ottenberg, Double Descent in an African Society: The Afikpo Village-Group (Seattle: The University of Washington Press, 1968), 141.

                                                        (53.) Mbah, “Female Masculinities, Dissident Sexuality,” 47.

                                                        (54.) John McCall, “Portrait of a Brave Woman,” American Anthropologist 98, no. 1 (1996): 130–134.

                                                        (55.) J. Comaroff and J. Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution: The Dialectics of Modernity on a South African Frontier, Vol. II (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 48, 236–239, 408.

                                                        (56.) McCall, “Portrait of a Brave Woman,” 127–136.

                                                        (57.) Mbah, “Female Masculinities, Dissident Sexuality,” 48–51.

                                                        (58.) Jonathan Glassman, “The Bondsman’s New Clothes: The Contradictory Consciousness of Slave Resistance on the Swahili Coast,” The Journal of African History 32, no. 2 (1991): 280, 288 [277–312]; and Glassman, “The Bondsman’s New Clothes,” 280, 288.

                                                        (59.) Lisa A. Lindsay and Stephan F. Miescher, “Introduction,” in Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa, ed. Lindsay and Miescher (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003), 3, 13.

                                                        (60.) Caroline Brown, “A ‘Man’ in the Village Is a ‘Boy’ in the Workplace: Colonial Racism, Worker Militancy, and Igbo Notions of Masculinity in the Nigerian Coal Industry, 1930–1945,” in Men and Masculinities, ed. Lindsay and Miescher, 156–174; Lindsay, “Money, Marriage, and Masculinity,” 138–155; Dorothy Hodgson, “Being Maasai Men: Modernity and the Production of Maasai Masculinities,” in Men and Masculinities, ed. Lindsay and Miescher, 211–299; Luise White, “Matrimony and Rebellion: Masculinity in Mau Mau,” in Men and Masculinities, ed. Lindsay and Miescher, 177–191.

                                                        (61.) Frederick Cooper, “Industrial Man Goes to Africa,” in Men and Masculinities, ed. Lindsay and Miescher, 128–136.

                                                        (62.) Brown, “A ‘Man’ in the Village Is a ‘Boy’ in the Workplace,” 159, 162.

                                                        (63.) G. Mann, “Old Soldiers, Young Men: Masculinity, Islam, and Military Veterans in Late 1950s Soudan Francais (Mali),” in Men and Masculinities, ed. Lindsay and Miescher, 69–86; P. Obeng, “Gendered Nationalism: Forms of Masculinity in Modern Asante of Ghana,” in Men and Masculinities, ed. Lindsay and Miescher, 192–208.

                                                        (64.) Andrea Cornwall, “To Be a Man Is More than a Day’s Work: Shifting Ideals of Masculinity in Ado-Odo, Southwestern Nigeria,” in Men and Masculinities, ed. Lindsay and Miescher, 230–248.

                                                        (65.) Luise White, “Afterword,” in Men and Masculinities, ed. Lindsay and Miescher, 177–189; Meredith McKittrick, “Forsaking their Fathers? Colonialism, Christianity, and Coming of Age in Ovamboland, Northern Namibia,” in Men and Masculinities, ed. Lindsay and Miescher, 33–47. Also, see Luise White, “Separating the Men from the Boys: Constructions of Gender, Sexuality, and Terrorism in Central Kenya, 1939–1959,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 23, no. 1 (1990): 1–25. White argues that “it was the nature of gender, and the proper division of labor by sex that followed from gender relations” that was contested during colonialism in Kenya. Colonialists and Mau Mau sought to define gender roles, marriage structures, and household work in the cities, forests, and detention centers, because each side saw this gendering work as a means to win the war.

                                                        (66.) Lindsay and Miescher, “Introduction,” in Men and Masculinities, ed. Lindsay and Miescher, 4–5.

                                                        (67.) Nwando Achebe, “And She Became a Man”: King Ahebi Ugbabe in the History of Enugu-Ezike, Northern Igboland, 1880–1948,” in Men and Masculinities, ed. Lindsay and Miescher, 52–68. Achebe further elaborates Ahebi’s successive gender transformations in her monograph, The Female King.

                                                        (68.) Achebe, Farmers, Traders, Warriors and Kings, 53–224.

                                                        (69.) Morell and Ouzgane, eds., African Masculinities, 4.

                                                        (70.) For the social construction school, see Morrell, “Of Boys and Men,” 605–630; Robert Morrell, From Boys to Gentlemen: Settler Masculinity in Colonial Natal, 1880–1920 (Pretoria, South Africa: Unisa Press, 2001); Andrea Cornwall and Nancy Lindisfanne, eds., Dislocating Masculinities: Comparative Ethnographies (London: Routledge, 1994), 5; Luise White, “Separating the Men from the Boys: Constructions of Gender, Sexuality, and Terrorism in Central Kenya, 1939–1959,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 23, no. 1 (1990): 1–25; Maria-Barbara Watson-Franke, “Masculinity and the ‘Matrilineal Puzzle,’” Anthropos Bd. 87, H. 4./6. (1992): 475–488; John Colman Wood, When Men Are Women: Manhood among Gabra Nomads of East Africa (Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999); Dorothy L. Hodgson, “‘Once Intrepid Warriors’: Modernity and the Production of Maasai Masculinities,” Ethnology 38, no. 2 (Spring, 1999): 121–150; and Thembisa Waetjen, Workers and Warriors: Masculinity and the Struggle for Nation in South Africa (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004).

                                                        (71.) Morell and Ouzgane, eds., African Masculinities, 8.

                                                        (72.) Frank A. Salamone, “Hausa Concepts of Masculinity and the ‘Yan Dauda,” in African Masculinities, ed. Morell and Ouzgane, 75–86.

                                                        (73.) Wilson Jacob, “The Masculine Subject of Colonialism: The Egyptian Loss of the Sudan,” in African Masculinities, ed. Morell and Ouzgane, 153–170.

                                                        (74.) Arthur F. Saint-Aubin, “A Grammar of Black Masculinity: A Body of Science,” in African Masculinities, ed. Morell and Ouzgane, 23–42; Beti Ellerson, “Visualizing Homosexualities in Africa—Dakan: An Interview with Filmmaker Mohamed Camara,” in African Masculinities, ed. Morell and Ouzgane, 61–74; Lindsay Clowes, “To Be a Man: Changing Constructions of Manhood in Drum Magazine, 1951–1965,” in African Masculinities, ed. Morell and Ouzgane, 89–108; Meredith Goldsmith, “Of Masks, Mimicry, Misogyny, and Miscegenation: Forging Black South African Masculinity in Bloke Modisane’s Blame me on History,” in African Masculinities, ed. Morell and Ouzgane, 109–120; Kathryn Holland, “The Troubled Masculinities in Tsitsi Dangaremgba’s Nervous Conditions,” in African Masculinities, ed. Morell and Ouzgane, 121–136; Sally Hayward, “(Dis)Enabling Masculinities: The Word and the Body, Class Politics, and Male Sexuality in El Saadawi’s God Dies by the Nile,” in African Masculinities, ed. Morell and Ouzgane, 137–152.

                                                        (75.) Paula Ebron, “Constituting Subjects through Performative Acts,” in Africa After Gender, ed. C. Cole, T. Manuh, and S. Miescher (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2007), 171–189.

                                                        (76.) Glen S. Elder, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Cape Town, South Africa, as a ‘Gay Destination,’” in African Masculinities, ed. Morell and Ouzgane, 43–60; Robert Morrell, “Men, Movements, and Gender Transformation in South Africa,” in African Masculinities, ed. Morell and Ouzgane, 271–288; Margrethe Silberschmidt, “Poverty, Male Disempowerment, and Male Sexuality: Rethinking Men and Masculinities in Rural and Urban east Africa,” in African Masculinities, ed. Morell and Ouzgane, 189–204; Deevia Bhana, “Violence and the Gendered Negotiation of Masculinity Among Young Black School Boys in South Africa,” in African Masculinities, ed. Morell and Ouzgane, 205–220; and Rob Pattman, “Ugandanas,’ ‘Cats’ and Others: Constructing Student Masculinities at the University of Botswana,” in African Masculinities, ed. Morell and Ouzgane, 221–236.

                                                        (77.) Catherine Campbell, “Learning to Kill? Masculinity, the Family and Violence in Natal,” Journal of Southern African Studies 18, no. 3 (1992): 618.

                                                        (78.) Peter Delius and Clive Glaser, “Sexual Socialisation in South Africa: a Historical Perspective,” AIDS in Context: Special Issue of African Studies 61, no. 1 (2002): 27–54.

                                                        (79.) Robert Morrell, ed., Changing Men in Southern Africa (London: Zed Books, 2001).

                                                        (80.) Donna L. Perry, “Wolof Women, Economic Liberalization, and the Crisis of Masculinity in Rural Senegal,” Ethnology 44, no. 3 (Summer, 2005): 210–211.

                                                        (81.) Liz Walker, “Men Behaving Differently: South African Men Since 1994,” Culture, Health & Sexuality 7, no. 3 (2005): 225–238; and Graeme Reid and Liz Walker, Men Behaving Differently: South African Men Since 1994 (Cape Town: Double Story, 2005).

                                                        (82.) Julie Livingston, Debility and the Moral Imagination in Botswana (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2005); Jo Helle-Valle, “Understanding Sexuality in Africa: Diversity and Contextualized Dividuality,” in Re-thinking Sexualities in Africa, ed. Signe Arnfred (Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute, 2004), 195–210.

                                                        (83.) Linda Richter and Robert Morrell, eds., Baba? Men and Fatherhood in South Africa (Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2006); and Ato Quayson, Fathers and Daughters: An Anthology of Exploration (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008).

                                                        (84.) Phyllis Martin, Leisure and Society in Colonial Brazzaville (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 2, 7, 52–53, 96–99; Laura Fair, Pastimes and Politics: Culture, Community and Identity in Post-Abolition Urban Zanzibar, 1890–1945 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2001), 3–4, 9–10, 14–15, 64–109, 169–270; Peter Alegi, Laduma! Soccer, Politics and Society in South Africa (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2004), 42–47, 62–63, 87–110; Hortense Powdermaker, Copper Town: Changing Africa, The Human Situation on the Rhodesian Copperbelt (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), xiv, 14, 167; and Clyde J. Mitchell, The Kalela Dance: Aspects of Social Relationships among Urban Africans in Northern Rhodesia (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1956), 12, 18–22, 31–34.

                                                        (85.) Alegi, Laduma!, 7.

                                                        (86.) Peter Alegi, “African Soccer’s Global Story,” in Global Africa: Into the Twenty-First Century, ed. Dorothy L. Hodgson and Judith A. Byfield (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017), 210–220.

                                                        (87.) Fair, Pastimes and Politics.

                                                        (88.) Chenjerai Shire, “‘Men Don’t GGo to the Moon’: Language, Space and Masculinities in Zimbabwe,” in Dislocating Masculinities: Comparative Ethnographies, ed. Andrea Cornwall and Nancy Lindisfarne (London: Routledge, 1994), 147–158.

                                                        (91.) Kenda Mutongi, “‘Dear Dolly’s’ Advice: Representations of Youth, Courtship, and Sexualities in Africa, 1960–1980,” in Love in Africa, ed. Cole and Thomas, 83–108.

                                                        (92.) Laura Fair, “Making Love in the Indian Ocean: Hindi Films, Zanzibari Audiences, and the Construction of Romance in the 1950s and 1960s,” in Love in Africa, ed. Cole and Thomas, 58–82.

                                                        (94.) Lindiwe Dovey, “Review of Men in African Film and Fiction,” English in Africa 38, no. 3 (2011): 147–152.

                                                        (96.) Stephanie Newell, The Forger’s Tale: The Search for Odeziaku (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006), 12–14, 76–78, 87. Stuart-Young was marginalized, silenced, and disavowed by the British colonial society and by historians of the British Empire. Stuart-Young suffered a trauma of fatherly abuse in England, which influenced his sexual molestation of boys in Onitsha.

                                                        (97.) Adam I. Green, “Remembering Foucault: Queer Theory & Disciplinary Power,” Sexualities 13, no. 3 (2010): 316–337; Ian Barnard, “Queer Race,” Social Semiotics 9, no. 2 (1999): 199–211; and bell hooks, “Theory as Liberatory Practice,” Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 4 (1991): 1.

                                                        (98.) R. Morgan and S. Wieringa, eds., Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men and Ancestral Wives: Female Same-Sex Practices in Africa (Johannesburg, South Africa: Jacana Media, 2007), 11, 25–51, 123–196. A more subjective articulation of the identities of Africans who feel “that there isn’t a match between [their] body and [their] gender” is captured in R. Morgan, Charl Marais, and Joy R. Wellbeloved, eds., Trans: Transgender Life Stories from South Africa (Johannesburg, South Africa: Fanele-Jacana Media, 2009), 9.

                                                        (99.) Philip Brooks and Laurent Bocahut, Woubi Cheri (California Newsreel, 1998).

                                                        (100.) See Marc Epprecht, Heterosexual Africa? The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS (Athens: Ohio State University Press, 2008), 40–51, 165; Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe, eds., Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies in African Homosexualities (New York: Palgrave Publishers, 1998), 262–265, 307. Epprecht argues that a number of European and African researchers have tried to cover up instances of African homosexuality. Murray and Roscoe argue that what constitutes “sexual” in a woman-to-woman marriage is subjective. But who determines this subjectivity of nonliving and nonliterate historical subjects? Gaudio characterizes Amadiume as “indignant, dismissive, and homophobic” in her “rejection of the suggestion that lesbianism might characterize any Igbo woman-woman marriages.”

                                                        (101.) Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction (New York: Vintage Books, 1978), 11–47.

                                                        (102.) David Halperin, “Is There a History of Sexuality?”, in The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, ed. Henry Abelove, Michele Barale, and David Halperin (London: Routledge, 1993), 420.

                                                        (103.) Rudolph Pell Gaudio, Allah Made Us: Sexual Outlaws in an Islamic African City (West Sussex, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). For more on bori and the role of religion in the constitution of African gender identities, see Adeline Masquelier, Prayer Has Spoiled Everything: Possession, Power, and Identity in an Islamic Town of Niger (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001); and Barbara M. Cooper, Evangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2006).

                                                        (104.) Dunbar T. Moodie, Vivienne Ndatshe and British Sibuyi, “Migrancy and Male Sexuality on the South African Gold Mines,” Journal of Southern African Studies 14, no. 2 (1988): 249.

                                                        (105.) Moodie, Ndatshe, and Sibuyi, “Migrancy and Male Sexuality,” 236.

                                                        (106.) Also see Dunbar T. Moodie and Vivienne Ndatshe, Going for Gold: Men’s Lives on the Mines (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

                                                        (107.) Murray and Roscoe, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands, xv, 105. The editors argue that Africans manifested “generational,” “egalitarian,” and “situational” homosexualities.

                                                        (108.) Murray and Roscoe, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands, 99.

                                                        (109.) Murray and Roscoe, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands, 149–161; and Ruth Morgan, “‘So It Is African Although They Were Hiding it’: Same-sex Sangomas and the Indigenous Oral Archive,” Comma: International Journal on Archives 1, no. 1 (2003): 75–82.

                                                        (110.) Nii Ajen, “West African Homoeroticism: West African Men Who Have Sex with Men,” in Boy-Wives and Female Husbands, ed. Murray and Roscoe, 138.

                                                        (111.) Stephen O. Murray, “‘A Feeling Within Me’: Kamau, A Twenty-Five-Year-Old Kikuyu,” in Boy-Wives and Female Husbands, ed. Murray and Roscoe, 43.

                                                        (112.) Lorand J. Matory, Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomble (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 206–212.

                                                        (113.) Rudolph P. Gaudio, “Male Lesbians and Other Queer Notions in Hausa,” in Boy-Wives and Female Husbands, ed. Murray and Roscoe, 115–128.

                                                        (114.) Kendall, “‘When a Woman Loves a Woman’ in Lesotho: Love, Sex, and the (Western) Construction of Homophobia,” in Boy-Wives and Female Husbands, ed. Murray and Roscoe, 223–242. However, Gaudio and Kendall do not historicize how same-sex and fluid-gender-based sexualities evolved.

                                                        (115.) Isak Niehaus, “Towards a Dubious Liberation: Masculinity, Sexuality, and Power in South African Lowveld Schools, 1953–1999,” Journal of Southern African Studies 26, no. 3 (2000): 387–407.

                                                        (116.) Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979); Joseph A. Boone, “Vacation Cruises; Or, the Homoerotics of Orientalism,” PMLA 110, no. 1 (1995): 89–107; Robert Aldrich, Colonialism and Homosexuality (New York and London: Routledge, 2003), 7; Jane Burbank, The Homoerotics of Orientalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014); Karina Eileraas, “Reframing the Colonial Gaze: Photography, Ownership, and Feminist Resistance,” MLN 118, no. 4 (2003): 807–840; Dana S. Hale, Races on Display, French Representations of Colonized Peoples, 1886–1940 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008); Ann McClintock, Imperial Leather, Race, Gender And Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (New York & London: Routledge, 1995); Jarrod Hayes, Queer Nations: Marginal Sexualities in the Maghreb (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000); Joan W. Scott, The Politics of the Veil (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007); and David Killingray and Andrew Roberts, “An Outline History of Photography in Africa to ca. 1940,” History in Africa 16 (1989): 197–208.

                                                        (117.) Sherry Sayed Gadelrab, Medicine and Morality in Egypt: Gender and Sexuality in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (London: I. B. Tauris, 2016).

                                                        (119.) Epprecht, Hungochani, 161–183. Epprecht distinguishes transphobia—premodern African “fear of the public transgression of sexual norms”—from homophobia—modern European intolerance of public and private transgressions of sexual norms, characterized by a violent and derogatory language that later translated to oppressive laws and regulations.

                                                        (120.) Epprecht, Hungochani, 11, 23.

                                                        (121.) Marc Epprecht, Unspoken Facts: A History of Homosexualities in Africa (Harare: Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, 2008).

                                                        (122.) Epprecht, Hungonchani, 21.

                                                        (123.) Mark Gevisser, and Edwin Cameron, eds., Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa (New York: Routledge, 1995), 3–16.

                                                        (124.) See Ashley Currier, Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minneapolis Press, 2012); Matthew Krouse, and Kim Berman, The Invisible Ghetto: Lesbian and Gay Writing from South Africa (Johannesburg: COSAW, 1993); Henriette Gunkel, “Through the Postcolonial Eyes: Images of Gender and Female Sexuality in Contemporary South Africa,” Journal of Lesbian Studies 13, no. 1 (2009): 77–87; Amanda Lock Swarr, “Paradoxes of Butchness: Lesbian Masculinities and Sexual Violence in Contemporary South Africa,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 37, no. 4 (2012): 961–986; Nomusa M. Makhubu, “Violence and the Cultural Logics of Pain: Representations of Sexuality in the Work of Nicholas Hlobo and Zanele Muholi,” Critical Arts 26, no. 4 (2012): 504–524; Xavier Livermon, “Queer(y)ing Freedom: Black Queer Visibilities in Postapartheid South Africa,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 18, nos. 2–3 (2012): 297–323; Álvaro Luís Lima, “Screw the Nation!: Queer Nationalism and Representations of Power in Contemporary South African Art,” African Arts 45, no. 4 (2012): 46–57; Desiree Lewis, “Against the Grain: Black Women and Sexuality,” Agenda 19, no. 63 (2005): 11–24; Mark Gevisser, “Mandela’s Stepchildren: Homosexual Identity in Post-Apartheid South Africa,” in Different Rainbows, ed. Peter Drucker (London: Gay Men’s Press, 2000), 111–136; Human Rights Watch, “We’ll Show You You’re a Woman”: Violence and Discrimination against Black Lesbians and Transgender Men in South Africa (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2011); Elissa Curtis, “Faces and Phases: Portraits from South Africa’s Lesbian Community,” The New Yorker, May 21, 2012; Alleyn Diesel, Reclaiming The L-Word: Sappho’s Daughters Out in Africa (Athlone, South Africa: Modjaji Books, 2011); Busi Kheswat and Zethu Matebeni, Breaking Out of the Box: Stories of Black South African Lesbians, Personal Stories in a Political Landscape (Cape Town: Out in Africa, 2011); Barbara Hammer, Out in South Africa (New York: NTSC Color Broadcast System, 1994); and Zanele Muholi, and Peter Goldsmids, Difficult Love (Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, 2011).

                                                        (125.) Saheed Aderinto, When Sex Threatened the State: Illicit Sexuality, Nationalism, and Politics in Colonial Nigeria, 1900–1958 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015).

                                                        (126.) Rachel Jean-Baptiste, Conjugal Rights: Marriage, Sexuality, and Urban Life in Colonial Libreville, Gabon (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2014).

                                                        (127.) Luise White, The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).