Tradition of Same Gender Marriage in Igboland, Nigeria

igbo weddingby Leo Igwe

Black homophobes often invoke “African” culture to buttress their arguments against gay rights, including the right to marry. But, according to the author, a native of southern Nigeria, the Igbo culture has long nurtured same-sex couples consisting of "woman-husband" and "woman-wife." The practice is entirely indigenous. “This marriage practice pre-dates Christianity and the so- called western culture which most people today blame for all the moral and cultural wrongs in Africa.

Tradition of Same Gender Marriage in Igboland, Nigeria
by Leo Igwe

This article originally appeared in the Nigeria Tribune.

“We should not rush to deny this, or pretend it does not exist or just sweep it under the carpet.”

One of the contentious issues in the debate over homosexuality and same sex marriage is whether a marriage between persons of the same gender is totally alien to African culture and tradition. Those opposing same sex marriage have continued to argue that same gender union is foreign to Africa. On the contrary, I have tried to draw their attention to the fact that there is a strain of the same gender marriage in African tradition, particularly in Igboland. And that we should not rush to deny this, or pretend it does not exist or just sweep it under the carpet in the quest to establish that same gender marriage is alien to the African continent, and must be banned.

I hail from Mbaise in Imo State in Southern Nigeria. Traditionally, in my community, marriage is taken to be a union between a man and a woman as the case may be. But there are circumstances where a marriage between a woman and a woman is permissible.

In a situation where a woman has no son or no child, if the husband dies, it is culturally allowed for her to marry a wife. And in this case, she becomes the husband. Like in every case of marriage, this woman goes out, inquires and gets a wife of her choice. She pays her dowry and fulfills other traditional rites as it is done when a man is marrying a woman.

“Like in every case of marriage, this woman goes out, inquires and gets a wife of her choice.”

After that, the woman brings her "wife" home and they start living together as "husband" and "wife." Nobody frowns at it. To have children, both the "woman-husband" and "woman-wife" will agree to allow a man from the same village or neighboring town to sleep with the wife.

The children born by the wife bear the family name of the woman-husband, not that of the man responsible for the pregnancy. I want to add here that the men who sleep with such wives in most cases are married men. And normally it is regarded as immoral, in fact it is a taboo for a married man to sleep with or "father" children from another woman. But in this case an act normally taken to be immoral is allowed.

This is a situation where people are permitted to break taboos and deviate from traditions. This marriage practice pre-dates Christianity and the so- called western culture which most people today blame for all the moral and cultural wrongs in Africa. The same gender marriage is still practiced till date. In other words, there are some families today in Igboland where women are both husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.

There are some homes where woman-husbands are living happily with their woman-wives, though there are not many such families or marriages. Such unconventional marriages and families are in the minority. The fact is that they exist. The fact is that they are part of the local tradition and culture. They are not imports from the West. And this has in no way undermined social cohesion, public order and morality or family values.

“There are some families today in Igboland where women are both husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.”

Some people have tried to argue that this is not really a case of gender marriage because a man comes in to impregnate the wife. But, traditionally, it is the case and it is known as such. It is a case where a woman marries a woman.
The man who impregnates the wife does not come into the picture at all. He has no family responsibility. His duty is only to supply sperm. The family is responsible for the woman-husband and wife.

Some say that same gender unions destroy family values and undermine the upbringing of children. It should be emphasized that children in this case are brought up in an environment where both "parents" are females. And they grow up to be normal children. Some say because child bearing is involved, then it is not same gender marriage. But my response is this: whether for procreation or for pleasure, it is same gender marriage. And it is the couples, not the state that decides whether to marry for procreation and or for pleasure or for any other purpose they deem fit.

Unfortunately, most Nigerians think that same gender marriage is antithetical to procreation. It is not. In fact same gender unions as in this case enrich family values. There have been instances where a partner in a same gender relationship wants children, and goes ahead to have them.

Because of the secrecy, privacy and hypocrisy that go with sexual expression, no one can really say if these female partners have or do not have sex with each other. But like all couples they live together and run their families. But today, things are changing.

“Same gender unions as in this case enrich family values.”

Individuals are becoming more open, more assertive and expressive with their sexual and marriage choices, desires, orientations and identities. The sexual and marriage dynamics are changing rapidly. And Africans must make the necessary social, cultural and legal adjustments in response to - and to accommodate - these changes.

Leo Igwe is the executive secretary of the Nigerian Humanist Movement.  The Nigerian Humanist Movement is an association of non-religious people who seek a rational, constructive approach to human affairs. It offers a positive alternative to all religious and dogmatic creeds. It acts to uphold and defend the human rights of humanists and of the general public. It supports via legislation any other democratic and constitutional means to improve social conditions. It supports the widest conception of education and enlightenment for the better understanding and enjoyment of human life.




Great Article!

This is very interesting. The sooner Africans and Blacks of the diaspora shake off the colonizer's religions (including Islam), traditions, and taboos, the faster we can all heal. This religious mumbo-jumbo of marriage being between a woman and a man needs to end and the institution of marriage itself needs to be discussed in-depth. Black nationalists and the Black Christian right need to renounce their homophobic hateful ways and rhetoric and become the inclusive entity they proclaim to be or they will be the hypcritical subculture doomed to fail.


You said we Pan Africanist and Christains need to renounce our homophobic ways just to make you comfortable?I suppose you think if you got rid of Christianity and Islam homophobia as you say will disapear?You are silly homosexuality is not natural and no culture embraces it liar.This so called tradition in the Igbo culture is a taboo or a sub culture.Many Africans still practice genetailia mutilation is that okay also because it was done in Africa?Human sacrifice is still practiced among some primitive cultures should we embrace that too?Please get an education.

Re: Great Article

You want to run Islam out of Africa because you know under Islam unnatural practices like homosexuality will never be tolerated or acepted. Islam condemns the practice of homosexuality, so Islam represents a mighty fortress against the world wide LGBT agenda/movement.

Same gender marriage in Africa!

Pan-African greetings to everyone at BAR, as always, I eagerly look forward to every Wednesday's edition.  It truly brightens and inspires my week.
A very special thank you for this article.  I've also been reading a bit on this topic.  Your piece underscores just how much we so-called Pan-Africanists may not really know about Africa and our "traditional" culture.  Thanks again and keep up the good, courageous work!  

What's the purpose of this

What's the purpose of this article and why should we care?

Please Retract this Article ASAP

I found the original article on the website of the Nigerian Tribune ( and it is presented  differently than your edition; I think it tells quite a different story.  Also, your photo of two young women at a marriage is very inappropriate and should not be used to reinforce the story without proof of linkage.  No such photo is associated with the Tribune article and the visual appears contrary.

Further, in the Tribune original the pejorative term "homophobe" does not appear and thus reflects the injection of foreign ideology when directed against Africans.

There have been a number of competent researchers who have pursued this topic of so-called "homosexuality" in traditional African civilization, including myself.  The only incidences of queer behavior we can find all come as a consequence of the devastating impact of invasions from Arabs, Euros and western religion.

On May 27, 2009, the LA Times, in covering the defeat of an attempt to repeal Proposition 8 which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, the queer lobby openly stated that they were going to spend million$ on African American and Latino advocates to advance their agenda.  They are spending this money freely and are by no means a poverty burdened lobby.  I pray that my small contributions to BAR are not competing against the likes of the David Geffen Foundation, one of the earliest LGBT supporters of candidate Barack Obama the week of his announcement.  This lobby money is contrary to Black Truth and African cultural integrity.

part of cultural integrity has to be standing up for family


We believe the author is who he says he is, namely a Nigerian human rights activist, and we printed the article just as we received it from one of the author's colleagues, with the addition of that first paragraph.  Customarily, the first paragraph preceding the author and title are our editorial introduction to the piece, for which we are responsible, not the author.  We are journalists, not anthropologists, and don't claim to be scholarly authorities on African or any other culture. We do know there is scholarship which maintains that non-heterosexuality is present in just about every human culture, and that there are folks in most cultures who deny this, claiming that it came from somewhere outside.
Glen and I are old enough to recall Huey Newton schooling us, in effect, and using today's terminology, that the liberation of lesbians, gays and transgendered persons is not separable from our own. Speaking for myself, I've been aware of being around gay people since maybe the second grade, and they don't seem any more or less contaminated by European and other influences than the rest of us. To me, and I guess for Glen, they just seem like family, and if you don't stand up for family you don't stand for much of anything.
We have no idea who the people in the picture are, and what their sexual identities are. It's just a picture. If somebody with the rights to it requests that we take it down, we'll do that. We get no money from any of the foundations you've named, and don't even know who they are.
To retract the article would imply that we have done something wrong by publishing it. We believe it's a reasonable and worthy contribution to the discussion around these issues. The discussion is of course much bigger than BAR.  It's taking place in barbaer shops and beauty parlors and kitchen tables and lunchrooms and workplaces and in print and on the air everywhere.  Since we are such a small portion of this universe we feel no obligation to include all of it in our limited space.  We pick a side, take a stand and try to be clear and respectful to everybody including those we disagree with.
Again, our personal, professional and political experience tells us that lesbians, gays and transgendered people are
  1. all around us, in our workplaces, our voluntary associations, our neighborhoods and families
  2. that this is a normal state of affairs
  3. that they are as normal, or not, as the rest of us, and
  4. they're family, entitled to our love, respect and the right to be themselves, whatever that means.


Foul, Deception and Injection of Degenerate Ideology

Note that the original article is submitted to BAR from an "anonymous" contributer.  When I offer to submit a scholarly article in rebuttal, you refused my contribution despite our long association.
Therefore I must be one of those "Black homophobes [who] often invoke 'African' culture".  I'm quite offended at your insolence and suspect that it reflects your own isolation from other African organizations. My work has used the integrity of African culture to buttress many arguments that contrast degenerate and irrational cultural patterns that have been adopted by Africans throughout the diaspora, including abortion, the breakup of the family, feminism, political compromise to Planned Parenthood, and much more.
I will conduct my research into the origins of this article in the Nigerian Tribune, which I think is more about explaining an unusual family structure which fills in the gap in the child-friendly culture of West Africa whereby older women would bring a fertile woman into the family as co-wife, and NOT about Nigerians getting their freak on Western style.
I still think that the best outcome is to withdraw the article and stop projecting nonsensical jibberish like: "this is a normal state of affairs" and " that they are as normal, or not, as the rest of us".
In so far as your use of the inclusive term "us" in this statement, a wise brother once shared with me something that seems quite appropriate on this.  He said: "I never claims nothin' funky."

the writer is not anonymous -- it's a quirk of our software

Brother K, we haven't and we won't call you any names.  That ain't how we roll here, not in relation to people whose work we respect, even though there are matters we disagree on. 

The "submitted by anonymous" thing is an artifact of our Drupal software's business logic.  Unless we create a separate user account corresponding to an author's name, the piece says "submitted by anonymous".  To save time, we normally don't create such accounts for authors whose stuff we don't run on a regular basis.  The article was in fact submitted by a close colleague of the author, someone known to us.

Regarding a piece from you on the subject, we are open to discussion on it.  On the con side, we have a point of view that differs from yours, and do not want to create a mistaken impression on anybody's part about where we are.  Are you willing, for example, to carry viewpoints on your site and broadcasts that you take vigorous exception to?  Viewpoints like those expressed by this author?  Probably not, but that's what you're asking us to do.  And even if you did run such an item, it would not be without some careful thought about whether and how. 

We're no different. 

The question really, is how does the African American polity conduct a discussion like this?  Do we do it, as you seem to suggest, by banning one side entirely?  That doesn't seem like a discussion at all.  And if we print stuff from both sides, how do we make it clear where our own views are?  And if BAR was to print stuff we didn't agree with for the sake of "airing both sides," why should we be the only ones doing this?  Will you? 

Is this a conversation then, that would have to take place on multiple sites which answer each other?    Maybe the thing is for you to publish that scholarly article elsewhere, and maybe someone can be found to answer it, and we'll link to it and print the answer.  I don't know.  This is the first time we've thought about such a thing.

Like I said, carrying on even a discussion about a discussion on this would be hard work on all our parts.  But it's late right now.

You Are Invited to LIBRadio ASAP

I am sending an invitation to yourselves Bruce Dixon and Glen Ford, along with your yet-still "anonymous" submitter as well as the author Leo Igwe, as I will try to chase him down if you cannot locate him in Nigeria.
Quite simply, the integrity of African culture cannot be compromised by any of us selling out to Jews, gays, the Democratic Party, Planned Parenthood or to any other external group with a powerful lobby and a contradictory agenda.
So the invitation to yourselves is presented and immediate.  If need be, I'll address you all myself or bring in a panel of scholars who can challenge this from a Pan African perspective, including Nigerians of the Igbo tradition.  This can be settled once and for all.  I wish you had taken my sincere advice to withdraw your deceptive article and that misleading photo of two beautiful childbearage women which accompanied it.  Why didn't you use an anonymous photo of two white homos getting "civil unioned" to illustrate your point?
You deceived us and you now know that we are not happy.

We have deceived nobody.

Unless the act of having an opinion different from yours is inherently "deceptive."  If we at BAR have "sold out" to any of the parties you name above, we are still waiting for the checks.  They haven't arrived.
We have already reached out to Mr. Leo I., and intend to accept your gracious invitation.  I will probably appear in Mr. Ford's stee along with Mr. I. or someone else who has some background on the set of issues being discussed.  We'll be in touch later this week.  Monday and Tuesday are our weekly deadline days.

Lazy Article, Phantom Author

The phantom author claims gay marriages are indigenous in Igboland this is inaccurate and the dogma debunked back in the 80s.
Detailed research on this issue was conducted by Ifi Amadiume in her book Male Daughters, Female Husbands.
The study involves the first hand account of the female marriages in that region and their social context.
The author refutes the falsehood that female marriages in Igboland are related to lesbianism but are to ensure that an elder wife who is widowed does not lose her status or property gained through marriage.
The elder wife would take the legal designation of her late husband in order to inherit his property, she would then "marry" a younger woman and find this woman a suitable man to marry within the clan.
BAR have published this article and have not revealed the source, so we are not able to verify any information.
The anonymous contribution is a "quirk of software" , along with the inclusion of a photograph which is unrelated to the article, is a pitiful excuse.
BARs defence of the gay rights agenda is so vague and general it has little practical use at all and will not improve the quality of life for the bulk of black people.
Gay marriage and adoption, lowering the age of consent and legalising cruising are issues of narrow personal expression based on the myth of the individual and will not feed, clothe or shelter anybody.
On issues of survival we do not need to seek consensus with every group before we deal with the fundamentals of life. Those amongst us who are more concerned with pie in the sky sexual diversity instead dealing with the basics should not be allowed to compromise the intergrity of the group.
BAR have published an article lacking in research, a misleading photo, when questioned the response has been weak and evasive.

Questionable interpretation

This article describes a cultural practice in which women without husbands or sons may establish a family unit and have a partnership that offers economic support and companionship through a clan affiliation. It DOES NOT describe relationships based on lesbianism. Instead, it's a practical solution to the problems encountered by women who find themselves alone and without the traditional support of a man, or unable to bear children. This is a relationship intended to reinforce kinship groups rather than to provide opportunities for gay marriage. Some of you readers need to educate yourselves about other cultures before you make assumptions based on current events in the US.

time to grow up

As Mr. Dixon points out, lgbt people are - and I would add, have always been - among us.  At various points in history and in various societies, they have also been convenient scapegoats during times of struggle.  I believe that this scpaegoating itself is degenerate and irrational.  I wonder if these people realize how much time and energy they waste indulging in what amounts to self-hatred.  Either you believe in unity or you don't.  Either you understand love as unconditional or you don't understand love at all.  You can kid yourself all you want, but I can guarantee that if you look into your own bloodlines, you will find people not exactly like yourself.  Didn't the nazis scapegoat and exterminate people based on such fear of difference? 

Why are Black people being villified

One of the first words out of some homosexuals mouths when Prop 8 passed in CA was "Nigger". So they are not so as accepting as some would have us to believe. We are not backward, homophobic, ignorant or none of the euphemisms that are thrown our way because we disagree. We all probably have homosexuals in our families, we don't hate them. But we do no have to embrace their lifestyle either. Some decry  teen pregnancy, a natural occuring event. Then turn around and embrace homosexuality an unnatural occurence.
The homosexual lifestyle is not supported by supported by religion or Anatomy. But yet just because we are/were oppressed we're supposed to embrace any cause even to the point of erasing our own Morals. I personally am not with that way of thinking. Some problems I have with the homosexual agenda is the fact this lifestyle will be taught to children as young as kindergarden. Why? Why do children have to learn about the homosexual lifestyle? Also the Hate Crimes legislation so Homosexuals get rights and Black ministers will loose their rights to Freedom of Speech. Because once homosexual Marriagebecomes legal at the Fedrel level, how can the minister preach certain passages that strictly disallow homosexuality?
Then there is "Gay is the New Black" I don't know about anyone else, but I don't remember the last time a "Gay" was shot fifty one times at a Wedding, they are not suffering double digit unemployment. Their neighborhoods aren't being Razed in fact they may be some of the beneficiaries of Gentrification in the Black communities across the Country! Just like Affirmative Action benefitted White women, any inroads made from the current push from human rights groups will mainly benefit homosexuals. Also Obama signed the UN's Gay Rights Declaration. Yet he didn't even attend, boycotted Durban ll Conference On Racisim. Plus he is against Reparations. How man Gays are for Repairations?
I researched some other information too. in particular Albert Kinsey who was a pedophille and used Children in sick sexual expierimentation to advance all manner of deviant sexual practices. Dr. Robert L. Spitzer who was largely responsible for the 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from the diagnostic manual has had to change his original opinion. Now he is being threatned by the Gay Lobby. Anytime a person questions instead of having a conversation they are called: bigot, homophob, intolerant anyone of the catch words used to silence any and all opposition. Why?

Let's connect

I am interested in your research and would like to dialogue with you on the subject of the rise of the Homosexual movement and the decline of the "black Conscious movement".
It's  interesting that I came across this post, as I am in the process of blogging a piece on this incriminating word homophobia and others that are used to stigmatize African people.
If you are able link up with me through my e-mail here or at

Misleading and distortion of context

The premise of this essay suggests that this practice in Igboland is a sexual union when it is not. It is a means by which a wealthy or socially prominent and childless woman can have children as a matter of law even when they do not come from her own womb. The union is legal and social, not a sexual union.
It is more akin to a case where in the United States a European couple may implant a fertilized egg (from the couple's sperm and egg) in the womb of another woman, who will bear the child and then surrender it to the couple, the biological parents. In this case, the couple are renting a womb as a means to conceive a child or children of their own because this cannot be done through the wife's womb.
This business of women as "husband" and "wife" in Igboland is more comparable to this scenario, except in this case the female "husband" is acquiring the legal descendants through the womb of a woman, her "wife." The "wife's" children are conceived through a man who is the "wife's" sexual partner. Legally, though, in this marriage arrangement, the children belong to the female "husband", not the biological father.
That is why I repeat that this is a legal, juridical arrangement in Igbo society, not a sexual partnership between two women. It is contracted for the purpose of providing legal descendants to a childless woman who can afford to do this and who cannot conceive children from her own womb.
The fact that the marriage contract is for children should say something about the nature of this union. The quest for posterity drives this arrangement. This cannot be overlooked. 
To contend that this is a sexual relationship is simply not correct. It has to be examined in the cultural, social, and juridical context in which it originates. It is wrong to mislead people on this subject. This is not an example of homosexuality as it is understood in the European culture and practice.
You, the author, are preying on the prevailing ignorance of most people in the United States concerning African culture. It's not right.
Don't abuse African culture to make a political point or to serve a political agenda. Rather, find something in African culture that is genuinely homosexual and discuss, examine, and explore it. But do not distort African culture for political ends.
For those who are interested in a more accurate and scholarly discussion on this topic, I suggest Ifi Amadiume's work (she is female and Igbo), including Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in African Society; Re-Inventing Africa: Matriarchy, Religion and Culture; Matriarchy, Religion and Culture in African Studies: Essays in Historical and Comparative Gender Studies; Afrikan Matriarchal Foundations: The Igbo Case; Daughters of the Goddess, Daughters of Imperialism: African Women Struggle for Culture, Power and Democracy.
I also recommend looking at a female Yoruba Nigerian scholar's work on this question of gender and the woman in Africa. Oyeronke Oyewumi's work is titled The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses. You may also be interested in her edited volume titled African Gender Studies: A Reader.
For Brother Keidi: If you have not already discussed this on LIB, I recommend bringing these two scholars on to discuss this issue and all related issues quite thoroughly.

Some remarks by Amadiume on the question

“There are already some indications that Black lesbians are using such prejudiced [European feminist] interpretations of African situations to justify their choices of sexual alternatives which have roots and meaning in the West. Black lesbians are, for example, looking into African women’s relationships and interpreting some as lesbian (Carmen et al. 1984). What prejudices and assumptions are they imposing on African material? How advantageous is it for lesbians to interpret woman-to-woman marriages as lesbian (see Lorde 1984). Such an interpretation of, for example, the cases cited in this book would be totally inapplicable, shocking and offensive to Nnobi women, since the strong bonds and support between them do not imply lesbian sexual practices. In our search for power, or more positive models and images of powerful women, there is a limit as to how far facts can be bent or our own wishes and fantasies imposed.” -- Ifi Amadiume, Preface to Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in African Society (Zed Books, 1987), 7.

Those opposing same sex

Those opposing same sex marriage have continued to argue that same gender union is foreign to Africa. On the contrary, same gender marriage in African tradition, particularly in Igboland, and that we should not rush to deny this, or pretend it does not exist or just sweep it under the carpet in the quest to establish that same gender marriage is alien to the African continent.