Men of the Ovambo tribe (circa 1906–1918). Photograph by Walther Dobbertin. Walther Dobbertin Collection, Bundesarchiv, Koblenz.
From "Same-Sex Life among a Few Negro Tribes of Angola" ("Gleichgeschlechtliches Leben bei einigen Negerstamme Angolas", 1923) by Kurt Falk, translated by Bradley Rose, in Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands: Studies in African Homosexualities, edited by Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe (New York: Palgrave, 2001), first published in 1998 by Palgrave. Footnote omitted.
I have found homosexual intercourse from Orange [South Africa] northward up to the Congo. Natives have indicated to me that it is generally widespread among South African natives.
When it comes to the same-sex life of the Wawihé, dwellers of the high plateau of Benguelia, one can clearly distinguish between same-sex life on a bisexual basis from that due to homosexuality. Homosexuals, called omututa, who actively or passively practice podicatio [anal intercourse] are sneered at and punished, so they hide themselves. Okulinga omututa is the verb form. On the other hand digitatio, that is, mutual masturbation, is widely practiced by heterosexuals as well as by homosexuals. The pertinent word is okulikoweka and designates male-male as well as female-female intercourse.
The most frequent same-sex technique, however, is that of coitus inter femora [intracrural intercourse]. The practice is called otjizenja; the verb is okulinga otjizenja. The same terms designate coitus inter femora practiced by the man on the woman. Okulinga otjizenja is performed lying breast to breast, either simultaneously or one after the other. Ohuhoweka, solitary masturbatory, is looked at extremely disdainfully. The sleeping together of two persons, regardless of sex, without sexual activity is described as okuzukata.
Same-sex activity is today practiced mostly by the younger generation: by boys from seven until eighteen years and by girls of the same age. However, adult males also gratify themselves in these ways, either with boys or with peers, whenever they are separated for a long time from their wives, without being condemned because of it. But it is to be noted that while the act is permitted, speaking about it is considered disgusting.
If one asks a young boy if he practices same-sex intercourse, he denies it at first. If one says to a native that, after all, others have done it as well, the typical answer is: “Yes, the others do it, but not I.” Only when one is more familiar with him does he admit that he has homosexual intercourse, naming also his eponji, or lover— this term probably serves to distinguish him from the mukuetu, the comrade or nonsexual friend.
Usually, both aponji (plural of eponji) remain together a long time and jealously guard that neither commits “infidelities.” If one asks a young boy which intercourse he prefers, that with a boyfriend or that with a girlfriend, the usual answer is: “either is equally good and beautiful!”
But while here same-sex activity, although practiced by all, takes place in secret (at night on a common sleeping mat or in the day in the deserted bush), the basic picture changes when one comes to the Gangellas [possibly the Ovagandjera, an Ambo group], in the area east of the Wawihé. Katumua k’ame means literally, “My girl,” but is also applied to the lover and is regarded as a public designation. The eponji of the Wawihé is called among the Ovigangellas m’uzonj’ame and has a similar meaning as katumua.
Katumua, like m’uzonj’ame, are usually acquired in the following manner. A young, unmarried, circumcised male, around eighteen years old, sees a boy of about twelve years that pleases him. He goes to the father and asks if he could receive the boy for a katumua. In return for a present— a cow, a piece of cloth, or about 40.50$00 [siel— the father agrees, and the boy draws his older friend into his hut. They are now recognized as being in that “relation.” If the older one later marries this changes nothing in his relation to his katumua; he merely sleeps alternately with his wife and his boyfriend, until finally the boyfriend, growing up, wants to marry. Then the older one brings the younger one back to his father and pays the agreed price. The younger now, for his part, takes a boyfriend, while the older looks for a new katumua. So it comes to be that almost every man without exception, whether single or married, has his lover.
Whereas podicatio is regarded disdainfully by the Wawihé, the podicator even being punished with beatings, here the podicator, called m’ndumbi, as well as podication prompts only a slight smirk and is not at all punishable.
The term otjizenja, coitus inter femora, which is equivalent to m’ahanda among the Ovigangellas, is also applied to coitus inter femora by the man on the woman. The term kuzunda refers to a manner of mutual masturbation in which the glans are rubbed against each other. Solitary masturbation is so unfamiliar among them that not a single word exists for it; in any case, I can offer no example of one.
Boys at a swimming hole in Luanda, Luanda Province, Angola.