AZANDE, ZANDE (ZAIRE, SUDAN, CONGO) (2,-,2+,3+,2-,2-;7,7;B?) (EHRAF


IndexAfricaZaire Zande

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“Intercourse takes place before the girl’s first menstruation, because the Azande believe that early intercourse accelerates the beginning of puberty” (Czekanowski, 1924). Infant betrothal is the rule (Seligman, 1932:p511-2)[1]. “After circumcision a boy is recognised as a person old enough to have sexual intercourse […]” (Baxter and Butt, 1953:p74)[2]; this, however, occurs at an age variable from early postnatally to age 18. “Zande children were taught that, properly, sexual intercourse should take place only between married couples, but extra-marital intercourse was not regarded as an offence if indulged in discreetly” (B&B, p71). Communications on behaviour are sparse. “In Africa, according to information communicated by Professor Evans-Pritchard[3], quite young children among the Azande or Nuer begin to play at house-keeping and marriage, and it is then that they receive their first lesson in social morality, the adults interfering to impress upon them that these games must not be played between brothers and sisters” (Seligman, 1932:p213)[4].  Thus, “[c]hildren are not taught that sexual indulgence is wrong, but that its only legitimate place is within marriage” (Seligman and Seligman, 1932:p514).


“As children grow up into boys and girls they will never miss a dance. To both sexes it is a means of display which becomes intensified at puberty. The dance is one of those cultural milieux in which sexual display takes place and selection is encouraged. The sexual situations of the dance are not very obvious to the observer. Boys and girls come to the dance to flirt, and flirtation often leads to sexual connexion, but society insists that neither the one nor the other shall be indulged in blatantly. At the same time society permits these sexual incidents so long as they occur with discretion and moderate concealment. A boy who openly approached a girl would be reprimanded and abused, but if he catches her attention whilst she is dancing with her friends, gives her a little nudge perhaps, and when he sees that his advances are reciprocated says mu je gude (come on kid!) no one will interfere. They go quietly into the bush or into a neighbouring hut and have intercourse (Evans-Pritchard, 1928:p457-8)[5]”.


According to an oral history (Evans-Pritchard) there was copulatory “play”. Thus, “[…] small boys for their part- one will take hold of another to press on him in boys’ play, but this is what he has seen his father doing, his father copulating with his mother – so he goes after little girls whom he knows to try to copulate with them. So when a little boy mounts a little girl the grown-ups just laugh, just laugh quietly and then pretend to be angry, saying to him ‘eh child, from whom did you get that idea? Who told you to do that sort of thing in front of people. It is just a child’s behavior”.


According to Enry (1971:p11-2; 1977:p339-41)[6], no formal sex education is given to either child or adolescent. “At nine or ten, he will help in the crops, collect firewood, and generally change from a child into a boy. He will no longer be sleeping with his parents, but in a little hut built apart, either by himself or with his brothers if he has any, but never with his sisters, for to do so would be considered very shameful, as in Zande eyes to sleep in a house with a woman is tantamount to lying with her” (Larken, 1926-7])[7].


Evans-Pritchard’s[8] account of Azande ejacularche:


“Azande say that in the early stages of male puberty the seminal fluid (nzira) does not contain souls of children (mbisimo gude) and it is only when a boy blossoms into manhood that his semen becomes fertile. That the souls of children are connected by a simple inference with the presence of spermatozoa in the seminal fluid is shown by the statement that the fluid becomes fertile when it ceases to have the appearance of water and becomes thick and slimy like the yolk of an egg […]. Semen is thought to cause a boy’s first ejaculation by collecting at the root of the penis and forcing its way out. This first ejaculation of semen is somewhat painful since the semen `burns like fire' but afterwards the boy ejaculates without difficulty though for a long time his seminal fluid is like water. A boy of about 12-14 years of age is said to have orgasms without emissions; from about 14 to 16 his emissions are ‘merely like urine’ and contain no mbisimo gude; at about 17 years of age they contain mbisimo gude[9].  A man considers himself capable of procreating children so long as he is able to ejaculate sperm” (1932). “The first time a boy gets an erection with sperm in clearing a way in his penis it may trouble him while it makes a way. When it happens and he for the first time ejaculates sperm it is hot for him like fire. After that he begins to ejaculate coolly. The first sperm just comes like water for a long time, for about three months, then real sperm begins to come […]” (1974).




Azande Boy-Wives and Princelings 


A now defunct homosexual boy-wife system was practised by unmarried Azande, as described by the Seligmans (1932:p506-7)[10]:


“Part of the male population between the ages of 20 and 35 was organized into vura, called aparanga for the unmarried and abakumba for the married. While the members of the vura were at court they lived in large houses outside the chief’s enclosures, and near them, in smaller isolated huts, lived the chiefs’ sons or near male relatives. The aparanga worked on the chiefs’ cultivation in time of peace, organized under leaders, in units ready for military service when required. Some of these young men brought with them boys. These boys were sometimes spoken of as women, and were even addressed as such: the seniors might in jest call a particular boy diare, “my wife”, and be addressed by him as “husband”. The young men paid spears for their boy “wives”, and the bond between the two was publicly acknowledged. The boys behaved as women in that they ate out of sight of their “husbands” and performed numerous minor duties for them, though they did not cook for them but fetched them cooked food. At night they slept beside them, and with these youths the elders satisfied their sexual desires. The custom was definitely recognized as a substitute for normal heterosexual union. Now that military service has been discontinued the practice is no longer necessary, nor does there exist any desire to continue it; it might be said that homosexuality is no longer fashionable, indeed homosexual practices between men seem non-existent at the present day, though when referring to the subject the Azande generally express no shame or disgust. It should, however, be noted that penetration was never practised”.


The custom was also described by Evans-Pritchard (1957, 1970, 1971)[11].Evans-Pritchard (1957:p379-80; 1971:p182, 183) also comments on Azande Princelings. “All Zande princes were (and still are) accompanied by a number of these small boys to attend them wherever they went. […] Azande do not regard it as at all improper, indeed as very sensible, for a man to sleep with boys when women are not available or are taboo, and, as we shall see later, in the past this was a regular practice at court. Some princes may even have preferred boys to women, when both were available. This is not a question I can enter into further here beyond saying I was told that some princes sleep with boys before consulting the poison oracle, women being then taboo, and also that they sometimes do so on other occasions, just because they like them”.


Further, “Many of the young warriors married boys, and a commander might have more than one boy-wife. […] The two slept together at nights, the husband satisfying his desires between the boy’s thighs (p199-200). Evans-Pritchard (1970:p170 [1992:p170]), although too late to observe the practice himself, notes that the word “boy” (kumba gunde) “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”.










Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1]Seligman, Ch. G. & Seligman, B. Z. (1932) The Azande. London: George Routledge & Sons / Pagan Tribes, op.cit.

[2] Baxter, P.T.W. & Butt, Au. (1953) The Azande, and Related Peoples of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and Belgian Congo. London: International African Institute. See also Lagae, C. R. (1926) Les Azande ou Niam-Niam. Bruxelles: Bibliothèque Congo

[3] [?]

[4] Seligman, C. G. (1932) Anthropological Perspective and Psychological Theory, J Royal Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 62:193-228

[5] Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1928) The dance, Africa 1:446-62

[6] Op.cit.

[7] Larken, P. M. ([1926-7]) An Account of the Zande. Khartoum: [s.n.], eHRAF. Reprinted from Sudan Notes & Records 9:1-55; 10:85-135. See p11

[8] Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1932) Heredity and gestation, as the Azande see them, [eHRAF]. Leipzig: C. L. Hirschfeld, p400-14, p401. Cf. Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1974) Man and Woman among the Azande. London: Faber & Faber, p19

[9] The Zande does not speak of people as of so many years of age. The ages given above are my estimates for actual persons designated as examples by my informants [orig. footnote]

[10] Op.cit.

[11] Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1957) The Zande Royal Court, Zaire [microform] Vol. 11. Bruxelles: Éditions Universitares, p361-389, 493-511, 687-713; Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1970) Sexual Inversion among the Azande, Am Anthropol 72:1428-34; Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1971) The Azande: History and Political Institutions. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Reprinted in Dynes, W. R. & Donaldson, S. (Eds., 1992) Ethnographic Studies of Homosexuality. New York: Garland, p168-74. See also Czekanowski, J. (1924) Research in the Nile-Congo Region. Leipzig: Klinkhardt und Biermann, p56; Murray (1998); Patron, Eu. J. (1995) Heart of Lavender: In Search of Gay Africa, Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review, Fall