Boy-Wives and Female Husbands

Studies in African Homosexualities

Edited by Stephen O. Murray & Will Roscoe
Foreword by Marc Epprecht

Subjects: Lesbian / Gay Studies, Queer Studies, African Studies, Anthropology, Gender Studies
Series: SUNY Press Open Access
Paperback : 9781438484105, 374 pages, April 2021
Hardcover : 9781438484099, 374 pages, April 2021

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Table of contents

Figures and Tables

New Foreword
Marc Epprecht

The Genesis of Boy-Wives and Female Husbands
Stephen O. Murray

Preface: "All Very Confusing"

Africa and African Homosexualities: An Introduction

Part I: Horn of Africa, Sudan, and East Africa


"A Feeling within Me": Kamau, a 25-Year-Old Kikuyu
Stephen O. Murray

Occurrences of Contrary-Sex among the Negro Population of Zanzibar (1899)
M. Haberlandt, translated by Bradley Rose
Mashoga, Mabasha, and Magei: "Homosexuality" on the East African Coast
Deborah P. Amory

Part II: West Africa


A 1958 Visit to a Dakar Boy Brothel
Michael Davidson

Male Lesbians and Other Queer Notions in Hausa
Rudolf P. Gaudio

West African Homoeroticism: West African Men Who Have Sex with Men
Nii Ajen

Part III: Central Africa


Homosexuality among the Negroes of Cameroon and a Pangwe Tale (1921, 1911)
Günther Tessmann, translated by Bradley Rose

Ganga-Ya-Chibanda (1687)
Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi, translated by Will Roscoe

Same-Sex Life among a Few Negro Tribes of Angola (1923)
Kurt Falk, translated by Bradley Rose

Part IV: Southern Africa


Homosexuality among the Natives of Southwest Africa (1925–1926)
Kurt Falk, translated by Bradley Rose and Will Roscoe

"Good God Almighty, What's This!": Homosexual "Crime" in Early Colonial Zimbabwe
Marc Epprecht

"When a Woman Loves a Woman" in Lesotho: Love, Sex, and the (Western) Construction of Homophobia

Sexual Politics in Contemporary Southern Africa
Stephen O. Murray

Part V: Conclusions

Woman-Woman Marriage in Africa
Joseph M. Carrier and Stephen O. Murray

Diversity and Identity: The Challenge of African Homosexualities

Appendix 1: African Groups with Same-Sex Patterns

Appendix 2: Organizations of Homosexuality and Other

Social Structures in Sub-Saharan Africa
Stephen O. Murray


A significant contribution to anthropology, history, and gender studies that reveals the denials of homosexuality in traditional and contemporary African societies to be rooted in colonialist ideologies.


Among the many myths created about Africa, the claim that homosexuality and gender diversity are absent or incidental is one of the oldest and most enduring. Historians, anthropologists, and many contemporary Africans alike have denied or overlooked African same-sex patterns or claimed that such patterns were introduced by Europeans or Arabs. In fact, same-sex love and nonbinary genders were and are widespread in Africa. Boy-Wives and Female Husbands documents the presence of this diversity in some fifty societies in every region of the continent south of the Sahara. Essays by scholars from a variety of disciplines explore institutionalized marriages between women, same-sex relations between men and boys in colonial work settings, mixed gender roles in east and west Africa, and the emergence of LGBTQ activism in South Africa, which became the first nation in the world to constitutionally ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Also included are oral histories, folklore, and translations of early ethnographic reports by German and French observers. Boy-Wives and Female Husbands was the first serious study of same-sex sexuality and gender diversity in Africa, and this edition includes a new foreword by Marc Epprecht that underscores the significance of the book for a new generation of African scholars, as well as reflections on the book's genesis by the late Stephen O. Murray.

This book is freely available in an open access edition thanks to the generous support of the Murray Hong Family Trust. Access the book online at the SUNY Open Access Repository at

Stephen O. Murray (1950–2019) was an independent scholar who held a PhD in Sociology from the University of Toronto. Will Roscoe is an independent scholar, with a PhD in History of Consciousness from the University of California, Santa Cruz. They are the coeditors of Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History, and Literature.


"Will Roscoe's books have been a great inspiration to me, and a great education as well. Growing up queer in a conservative Christian household in the 1980s and '90s, I came to believe that my love was a sin, punishable by eternal fire. His book Queer Spirits: A Gay Men's Myth Book gave me my first clue as a teenager that my queerness could be beautiful—even spiritual. His book Changing Ones then helped me begin to understand the extent to which queer people of color have been excluded and erased from the 'official' histories we are all taught in school. More recently, in my work as a scholar of Black queer history, I have joyously returned to Boy-Wives and Female Husbands again and again. Each time I learn something new about our African queer ancestors, their lives, their loves, and their forgotten role in the many cosmologies of the mother continent. " — Channing Gerard Joseph, University of Southern California