(Boylove Documentary Sourcebook) - The Boy-Wives of the Azande People of the Southern Sudan

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Zande men with shields, harp (circa July–August 1879). Photograph by Richard Buchta. Southern Sudan Project, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, Oxford.

From "Sexual Inversion among the Azande" by E. E. Evans-Pritchard, in American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 72, No. 6 (December 1970).

Note 1: Evans-Pritchard did his fieldwork among the Azande between 1926 and 1930, in what is now South Sudan.[1][2]

Note 2: The following information relies on firsthand accounts given by people who witnessed the practice in question before it was discontinued.[3]

It is beyond question that male homosexuality, or rather a sexual relationship between young warriors and boys, was common in pre-European days among the Azande, and as Czekanowski (1924: 56), citing Junker (1892: 3–4), has pointed out, there is no reason to suppose that it was introduced by Arabs as some have thought. All Azande I have known well enough to discuss this matter have asserted also that female homosexuality (lesbianism) was practiced in polygamous homes in the past and still (1930) is sometimes. This paper brings together information about both practices and presents translations of a few texts on the subject taken down from Azande of the Sudan forty years ago.

Before European rule was imposed on the Azande there was a good deal of fighting between kingdoms (Evans-Pritchard 1957b, 1957c). Part of the adult male population of each kingdom was organized in military companies of abakunba ‘married men’ and aparanga ‘bachelors’; the same companies, besides their military functions, served at courts in various capacities and were called on for labor in the royal and princely cultivations (Evans-Pritchard 1957a). In this account we do not have to refer again to the companies of married men. It was the custom for members of bachelor companies, some of whom would always be living in barracks at court, to take boy-wives.


A youth of position in his company might have more than one boy (kumba gude). To these boys their warrior mates were badiya ngbanga ‘court lovers.’


I have pointedly used the terms “wife,” “husband,” and “marriage,” for, as the texts will make clear, the relationship was, for so long as it lasted, a legal union on the model of a normal marriage. The warrior paid bridewealth (some five spears or more) to the parents of his boy and performed services for them as he would have done had he married their daughter; if he proved to be a good son-in-law they might later replace the son by a daughter. Also, if another man had relations with his boy he could, I was told, sue him at court for adultery.

The boys were “women”: “Ade nga ami,” they would say, “we are women.” A boy was addressed by his lover as diare ‘my wife,’ and the boy addressed him as kumbami ‘my husband.’ The boys used to eat out of sight of the warriors in the same way as women do not eat in the presence of their husbands. The boys performed many of the smaller services a woman performs daily for her husband, such as gathering leaves for his ablutions, gathering leaves for his bed, drawing water and breaking off firewood for him, helping him in hoeing his father’s cultivations, bearing messages for him, and bringing him cooked provisions from his home to court to supplement those provided by the prince; but he did not cook porridge for him. With regard to these services it should be borne in mind that a young man at court had no mother or sisters to look after him there. Also, the boy-wife carried his husband’s shield when on a journey. It should be understood that he performed these services lest it might be thought that the relationship was entirely of a sexual nature; it will be appreciated that it had an educational side to it. With regard to the sexual side, at night the boy slept with his lover, who had intercourse with him between his thighs (Azande expressed disgust at the suggestion of anal penetration). The boys got what pleasure they could by friction of their organs on the husband’s belly or groin. However, even though there was this side to the relationship, it was clear from Zande accounts that there was also the comfort of a nightly sharing of the bed with a companion.

The word “boy” (kumba gude) must, it would appear, be interpreted liberally, for as far as I could judge from what I was told the lads might have been anywhere between about twelve and twenty years of age. When they ceased to be boys they joined the companies of warriors to which their at-one-time husbands belonged and took boys to wife on their own account; so the period of marriage was also one of apprenticeship.

Portrait of a Zande boy (circa 1927–1930). Photograph by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard. Southern Sudan Project, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, Oxford.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._E._Evans-Pritchard
  2. https://www.britannica.com/biography/E-E-Evans-Pritchard
  3. E. E. Evans-Pritchard, "Sexual Inversion among the Azande", in American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 72, No. 6 (December 1970), p. 1429.

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