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A “Vortex of Identities”: Freemasonry, Witchcraft, and Postcolonial Homophobia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 July 2017

Abstract:

The recent moral panic in Cameroon about a supposed proliferation of “homosexuality” is related to a special image of “the” homosexual as un Grand who submits younger persons, eager to get a job, to anal penetration, and are thus corrupting the nation. This image stems from the popular conviction that the national elite is deeply involved in secret societies like Freemasonry or Rosicrucianism. The tendency to thus relate the supposed proliferation of homosexuality in the postcolony to colonial impositions is balanced by other lines in its genealogy—for instance, the notion of “wealth medicine,” which Günther Tessmann, the German ethnographer of the Fang, linked already in 1913 to same-sex intercourse. This complex knot of ideas and practices coming from different backgrounds can help us explore the urgent challenges that same-sex practices raise to African studies in general. The Cameroonian examples confuse current Western notions about heteronormativity, GLBTQI+ identities, and the relation between gender and sex. Taking everyday assemblages emerging from African contexts as our starting point can help not only to queer African studies, but also to Africanize queer studies. It can also help to overcome unproductive tendencies to oppose Western/colonial and local/ traditional elements. Present-day notions and practices of homosexuality and homophobia are products of long and tortuous histories at the interface of Africa and the West.

Résumé:

La panique morale récente au Cameroun au sujet d’une prétendue prolifération de “l’homosexualité” est liée à une image particulière de l’homosexuel comme un Grand qui soumet les jeunes, désireux d’obtenir un emploi, à la pénétration anale corrompant ainsi la nation. Cette représentation résulte de la conviction populaire que l’élite nationale est profondément impliquée dans des sociétés secrètes comme la franc-maçonnerie ou le rosicrucianisme. La tendance d’expliquer ainsi une supposée prolifération de l’homosexualité dans la postcolonie comme liée aux impositions coloniales est balancée par d’autres lignées dans sa généalogie, par exemple la notion des biang akuma, ou “médecine de la richesse,” que Günther Tessmann, l’ethnographe allemand des Fang, liait déjà en 1913 aux rapports entre conjoints de même sexe. Ce nouage complexe d’idées et de pratiques provenant des fonds différents peut aider à explorer les défis urgents que les pratiques homosexuelles posent aux études africaines en général. Les exemples camerounais confondent les notions occidentales actuelles concernant l’hétéronormativité, les identités LGBTQI+ et le rapport entre genre et sexualité. Prendre des assemblages quotidiennes émergeant des contextes africains comme point de départ peut servir non seulement à renforcer l’élément queer dans les études africaines, mais aussi à africaniser les études queer. Ceci peut également aider à surmonter la tendance improductive d’opposer des éléments occidentaux ou coloniaux versus d’autres vus comme locaux ou traditionnels. Les concepts et pratiques actuelles de l’homosexualité et de l’homophobie sont des produits des histoires longues et tortueuses sur l’interface de l’Afrique et de l’Ouest.

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Copyright © African Studies Association 2017 

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