Demythologizing African conceptions of human sexuality: A gateway to prevention and eradication of HIV and AIDS in Africa.

Prof. James N. Amanze, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Botswana, Private Bag 0022, Gaborone.

1. Introduction

It is common knowledge that sex and human sexuality in Africa is shrouded in myth. This makes the prevention and eradication of the HIV and AIDS pandemic very difficult. The mythological aspects of human sexuality in Africa is seen in the fact that it is not a subject for a frank and open discussion between parents and their children. When discussions on sex and human sexuality are held among adults, the language used is mythological. It is intended to hide the true meaning of what is being discussed. Such mythological language is difficult to decode unless one has been initiated at an initiation school. Since not everyone goes through an initiation schools in modern times, there is a vacuum in terms of understanding on sexual matters between the old and the new dispensation. In this paper it is argued that, as a result of the devastating effects of the HIV and AIDS pandemic, whose spread is mainly through sexual intercourse, there is an urgent need to decode the language people use when discussing issues of a sexual nature. This will help the youth to get a clear message on HIV and AIDS that can lead to behaviour change.

2. Theoretical framework: Bultmann’s theory of demythologization

In writing this paper, the author shall use Rudolf Bultmann’s theory of demythologisation, as he applied it to Biblical interpretation. In this study the term demythologisation will mean the elimination of euphemistic language in sexual discourse and its replacement with scientific language or “straight talk”, which can be understood by the modern generation of Africans. It is contended in this paper that the language used in everyday discussions by Africans on matters pertaining to sex and sexuality blurs the message to such an extent that it does not reach its intended recipients. This denies them the opportunity to make informed decisions pertaining to their sexual life, which can enable them to avoid falling prey of the dreaded consequences of the HIV and AIDS pandemic and enjoy good health. According to John Macquarrie, the method of demythologizing, as developed by Rudolf Bultmann, is not intended to eliminate the mythological statements found in the Bible but to interpret them. It is a method of hermeneutics.[1]

The primary purpose of demythologizing the Biblical message, we are told, is to unravel the message that is enshrouded in the myth in order to bring out the kerygma (message) hidden in the biblical text. Such a message (kerygma) can challenge the reader to make decisions pertaining to his/her own existence. The decision can be either to follow the way of Christ which leads to salvation or the way of reckless living which leads to perdition. In this paper we argue that, as regards the language of sex and sexuality in African cultures, the issue is not just a matter of providing new interpretation of the euphemism used in sexual language. We argue that such language should be eliminated altogether and that sex educators, particularly parents, should name the thing what it is. They should be able to call a spade a spade. It will be argued in this paper that preference should be given to the use of scientific language or direct translation of the biological names of the genitalia, sexual activity as well as their consequences. If the youth are faced with the naked truth pertaining to sex and human sexuality it will empower them to live a health life free of HIV and AIDS.

3. Sex and human sexuality: A definition

The New Penguin English Dictionary has defined sex as the condition of being either male or female into which organisms are divided on the basis of their reproductive role notably the type of gamete produced and sexuality as the condition of having a sexual nature of being either male or female and of experiencing sexual desires.[2] Sexuality refers to the reproductive mechanism as well as the basic biological drive that exists in all species and can encompass sexual intercourse and sexual contact in all its forms. The biological aspects of human sexuality deal with human reproduction and the physical means with which to carry it out.[3] The World Health Organisation (WHO) has provided us with a comprehensive definition of sexuality. It states that:

“Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the inter-action of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, religious and spiritual factors”.[4]

Before going further, it is important here to clarify the confusion that is sometime made between the word “sex” and “gender”. According to WHO, “sex”, on the one hand, refers to the biological characteristics that define men and women. For example, while women have a vagina and can menstruate, men have a penis and cannot menstruate. Again, while women have developed breasts which can lactate, men have not. Generally speaking, men have rather more massive bones than women. On the other hand, the word “gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society gives to its members which it considers appropriate for men and women. For examples, in some societies, men are allowed to drive cars while women are not as is the case in Saudi Arabia. In other societies it is a normal thing for men to do a lot of housework such as cooking, washing plates in the kitchen, while in other societies these activities are considered as the women’s domain.[5] It is important to note that at other times the term sexuality is used to refer to a person’s sexual orientation as a homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, transgendered, or other preferences.[6] Scholars on this subject have noted that sexuality in humans generates profound emotional and psychological responses and that sexuality plays a very important part in the development of human personality whether people are aware of it or not.[7]

Ludwin Molina has pointed out that human sexuality plays a very important role in everyone’s life regardless of whether one is young or old, man or woman, American or Japanese, black or white. It forms an integral part of what human beings are. It has been observed that next to sleeping and eating, human sexuality is one of the most important drives people deal with as human beings. One thing that all scholars agree is that human sexuality is different from the sexual behaviour of other animals, in that, it is governed by a variety and interplay of different factors. That is, while lower animals or species are driven only by a “force” to reproduce themselves and, therefore, partake in sexual behaviour, human beings are not sexually active just for the sake of reproduction. Rather, there are a variety of complex factors that lead people to have sexual relationships. These include cultural, political, legal, moral, theological, emotional and religious factors.[8]

According to Molina, human sexual behaviour encompasses the search for a partner or partners, interactions between individuals, physical, emotional intimacy, and sexual contact. Different sexual practices, however, are limited by laws in many places. For example, in some countries, mostly those where religion has a strong influence on social policy, marriage serves the purpose of encouraging people to only have sex within marriage. There are also sodomy laws that discourage same-sex sexual practices. In addition, there are laws that ban adults from committing sexual acts with anyone under the age of consent, performing sexual activities in public or engaging in sexual activities for money (prostitution). Breaking these laws may lead to severe punishment depending on the social location in which people find themselves.[9]

Paulina Makinwa-Adebusoye and Richmond Tiemoko in their paper entitled “Health sexuality in East, West, North and Southern Africa” have noted that when it comes to matters of sexuality, most African societies insist on procreation as the primary purpose of human sexuality. This has, consequently, given rise to patriarchy with its concomitant elaborate systems of sacred rituals of initiation to sex and the subordination of women to men. They have also argued that it is this emphasis and concern for the survival of society that has become the main reasons for imposing conditions and limits to individual expressions of sexual feelings. This has developed a culture of silence around sexuality issues that are seen as pertaining only to initiated adults.[10]

4. African conceptions of human sexuality

Human sexuality in Africa occupies the central part of human life above anything else. Since sexuality is the stream of human life, it is perceived by all Africans as the heartbeat of society. The issues of sex, sexuality and gender, in African societies are embedded in their stories of creation. It is taken for granted that all of these are part of God’s creation and not a social construction of reality. By and large, many African societies have myths which account to the earthly existence of human beings. Many of these stories are similar but not identical with the Biblical stories of creation. John Mbiti in African Traditional Religions and Philosophy has given us a wide array of creation myths collected from across Africa. They are found among the Abaluyia, Lozi, Mende, Akamba, Basutho, Shona, Maasai, Bannyoro, Shilluk, Ovimbundu, Luo, Ewe to name but a few. The first human beings are said to have come from various sources including, among others, clay, a hole or marsh in the ground, a tree, a vessel, a leg or knee, clouds, heaven, or another world out there. The common feature of such stories is that human beings appear on earth in pairs as male and female, as husband and wife right from the time of creation by divine providence. In most of these myths the husband was created first and then the wife. In other myths, however, man and woman or husband and wife appear at the same time very much like in the first biblical story of creation in Gen. 1:26 where it is stated that when God created human beings he created them male and female by divine command.[11]

Connected with the general myths of creation of the African people, there are also specific myths which account for the emergence of human sexuality. One of such myths is preserved among the Kaonde people of Zambia. According to their myth, at the beginning God created two people, Mulonga and Mwinambuzhi who were to become the first man and the first woman. When God created them they had not been differentiated into male and female. They also lacked other organs to relieve themselves. They, therefore, asked God for some help. God gave them some packets and ordered them to put them on their crotches before they went to bed. They did this and when they woke up the following morning they found that they were changed. Mulonga turned into a man while Mwinambuzhi turned into a woman. Then, suddenly, they desired each other and had sexual intercourse. However, they were afraid of this new thing. Thereupon they went to ask God whether this thing of knowing one another was good. God told them that they should not be afraid of knowing one another because this was the way in which the woman would conceive and bear children and fill the earth.[12]

The Shona of Zimbabwe too have a myth pertaining to sex and human sexuality. According to their myth, in the beginning Mwari created Mwedzi under a pool. Mwedzi complained to God that he wanted to go out of the pool with Massasi, who was a beautiful wife created by Mwari. Mwedzi and Massasi went under a cave. Mwedzi had a medicine horn. He grabbed it and rubbed its oil on his index finger. Mwedzi dipped his horn in Massasi and out came all vegetation and the rest of human beings. Massasi returned to the pool and Mwedzi complained to Mwari again. He was given a second wife called Murongo. They had fireworks in a cave and produced a number of daughters. Later Murongo ran away due to Mwedzi’s demands which were intolerable. Murongo became promiscuous and was bitten by a snake and was returned into the pool by his daughters.[13]

A quick glance at the above myths one sees, at once the, how the African story teller has encoded the sexual language used in the stories. Using anthropological glasses, one sees that there are a number of terms used in the stories that have deep meaning. From an anthropological perspective, we know that the terms such as the “pool” and “water” mean femininity. They represent women, womanhood and female genitalia in general. They are symbols of life for it is through them that life comes into existence. The horn and the finger in the story represent manhood, the male genitalia- the penis- which is often dipped into the female sex organ –the vagina-for reproduction or for pleasure. The terms “fireworks” and “knowing” mean sexual intercourse. All of these are encoded in the stories and they make sense only to the initiated and this is where the problem of sexual language requiring demythologizing begins.

5. The mysticism of African sexuality

It appears that the bulk of studies that have been carried out in much of sub-Saharan Africa have revealed that human sexuality in Africa is enshrouded with great secrecy and hedged in with taboos that carry serious consequences if broken. To talk openly about sex among people of different ages and in public is not easy. For example, Michugu Kiiru, in a paper titledDelaying gratification as a beautiful choice” has observed that among the Kikuyu people in Kenya there are taboos that regulate words that must not be discussed in public in regard to human sexuality. He notes that “regarded as obscene, the words, as well as the subjects, more often than not centre on or revolve around human genitals, sexual desire, or sexual acts. Forbidding their indiscriminate use, the taboos seek to make sex, on which the reproduction of society depends, sacrosanct”.[14]

The secrecy surrounding human sexuality in Africa has also been underscored by Scholastica Nganda in her paper titled “Sex education: Do our teens need it?” in which she has indicated that traditionally among the Akamba people of Kenya, sexual activity was performed in the house, at night when it was dark, when the animals and the children were fast asleep, preferably under some cover. In Africa, she notes, sexual matters are discussed in public only when there is a problem. Even then, they are discussed in figurative language and among equals in age.[15] Bene E. Madunugu in his paper entitled “Empowering youth through sexuality Education: The challenges and opportunities” has intimated that the purpose of surrounding human sexuality with secrecy is to enhance male domination and the subjugation of women. Madunugu puts it succinctly thus:

“One of the most efficient ways that patriarchy uses sexuality as a tool to create and sustain gender hierarchy in African societies is by enshrouding it in secrecy and taboos. Denial of the use of the term sexuality is part of patriarchal power and socio-cultural norms reinforced by religious beliefs and injunctions to suppress, in particular, girls and women from the free expression of their sexuality. This is why we still see forms of repression in practices such as virginity testing for girls, female genital mutilation, widowhood rites and wife inheritance, all still practised in African communities. Thus, policies around human sexuality rest on the desire to control female sexuality rather than from an understanding of the ‘naturalness’ of human sexuality”.[16]

Eno E. Ikpe, in a paper purported to give a historical dimension of human sexuality in Nigeria has revealed that the culture of silence surrounding matters pertaining to sex are archetypical of the majority of Nigerian society. According to Ikpe, in most Nigerian communities the rules of the game has been to consign sexuality to the realm of marriage. Sexuality has been full of silence and discretions whereby sexual discussions between parents and children have not been possible. Sexual discussions have been, in most instances, closed in languages which are not explicit to the uninitiated. Ikpe, reflecting on matters of human sexuality in traditional societies in Nigeria in the past documents as follows:

“It was a taboo to discuss sexual matters in front of children until they were ready for their passage to adulthood. Although children recognised differences between the genders, they were not supposed to know what the usefulness of such differences was for; except with regard to the allocation of household roles. They were aware that women brought forth babies but how that actually came about was kept a secret”.[17]

Ikpe has noted that in the past young children came to know about their sexual side through self-discovery. Some pre-adolescent youths engaged in sexual exploration of self which the Ibibio people of Nigeria refer to as ukap. This is a process of body exploration including the exploration of the genitals with the fingers. Sometimes this took place between girls, between boys and between boys and girls. Recent research, however, shows that when children were caught in this act were given thorough beating.[18]

Mumbi Chamera, in her paper entitled “Opening a can of worms: A debate on female sexuality in the lecture theatre” reports that her students in the lecture theatre told her that it is not conventional for people in their communities in Kenya to identify the private part of the female body the- vagina- by its “name” because it is considered an insult and that it generates a sense of shame. From Chamera’s study one gets the impression that the sense of shame is the main reason why there is an avoidance approach in naming both male and female sex organs by their actual names. Consequently, this has led people to use euphemistic terms to refer to both male and female genitalia. For example, Machera has noted that among the Kikuyu names used to describe the male genitalia are characteristic of the shape of sexual functions of the penis. Among this group of people the penis is called mucuthe which means “tail”. Among the Embu it is called muthimo while among the Ambeere it is called mucino words which mean something used for pricking or digging or something that is meant to go into something else. In some communities the penis is called karamu , which means pen. In the Kenyan context it appears that there is no pseudonym for vagina, which is considered even more shameful to name.[19] Machera has reported that when she was about nine years old she was caught by her mother red-handed looking at her private parts through a mirror. Her mother gave her a thorough beating because it was considered bad manners to do so. She was told never to do it again. Besides, her mother told her that good girls never talk about issues regarding the vagina.[20]

The mysteries of sex and human sexuality seem to be well spread across Africa. In most African societies and cultures discussions pertaining to human sexuality are considered a very sensitive subject. As a result, parents cannot directly discuss sexual matters with their children. Studies which have been carried out in most African countries have found that both rural and urban parents, and even the professional community, feel that sexuality can only be discussed through a third party, who might be an aunt, an uncle or grandparent. [21]

This is very much the case among the Chewa of Malawi where coded language is used to describe issues of a sexual nature. In his paper “Towards a study of the lexicon of sex and HIV/AIDS”, Francis Moto has observed that among the Chewa communication pertaining to sexual matters is done mainly in an indirect way. For example, a woman wanting to say that her husband is not able to have sexual intercourse with her would say “amuna anga salowa mnyumba” which literary means “my husband does not get into the house”. Again, a husband complaining that his wife is unwilling to have sex with him would say “akazi anga akundikaniza mwendo” which literary means “my wife is denying me her leg”. In the same vein, male and female genitalia are not normally called by their real names. For example, although the penis is directly defined by its vernacular counterpart as mbolo, people use euphemistic terms such as chikodzero or chokodzera meaning “that you use to urinate”. Sometimes the penis is called maliseche a amuna meaning “male’s nakedness”. Similarly, for the vagina whose direct translation in Chichewa is nyini, euphemistic terms such as njira yamkazi (woman’s path or path into a woman); maliseche amkazi (female’s nakedness), and chiwalo chamkazi chomwe chimatulukira mwana pobadwitsa (that part of the body through which a child is born) are used. The same euphemistic language is used to describe sexual intercourse. While the direct translation in Chichewa is kuchindana, people use coded terms such as chiwerewere (promiscuity), mkwato (marriage), or mankhwala owongolera nsana/mchiuno (medicine to heal your backache) to name but a few. Again, the word chibwenzi (friendship), if referred to between a boy and a girl, signals that the people concerned are sexually involved with each other. Among the Tumbuka and Tonga peoples of Malawi the term mbulu (friend) has sexual overtones. Another word, which has been found to be pregnant with sexual meaning among the Chewa, is chikole a material gift given by a man to a woman or her parents or guardians in courtship which may end up in marriage. The word chikole means “to get hold” or “capture” or “take control”. From a sexual perspective it means that the man has access and claim to the woman’s sexual territory.[22]

It is important to note that in the context of Malawi, the coded language used in sexual affairs is also used to refer to matters pertaining to the HIV and AIDS pandemic which makes matters even more complicated. The disease itself has been coded as magawagawa (that which is shared), kachilombo (a small beast); matenda a boma (the government’s disease) due to the fact the government has shown unprecedented interest in the disease. Other terms used to describe the disease are kanyera and tsempho diseases in traditional setting connected with weight loss, generalised oedema, diarrhoea, body chills and others symptoms.[23]

The trend of using coded language in sexual matters is also fairly common among the Shona of Zimbabwe. For example, among this group of people metaphors are used to convey messages of a sexual nature since sex is considered as taboo. Genital parts are called pamberi (front). This practice has also been used to call the HIV and AIDS pandemic with euphemistic terms such as Shuramatongo (disaster that wipes out everyone), Chakapedzambudzi (disease that kills goats), Gurukahundi (rain that falls in autumn), Jehovha Ndouyako (Lord I am coming), and one who is infected has been referred to as Ane pemu (thinning with loss of hair shine), or akarohwa namatsotsi (attacked by thugs). As for condoms these have come to be known as jumbo (gumboots) or “raincoat”.[24]

My own research in Botswana also shows that Batswana use a great deal of euphemistic language when it comes to matters of human sexuality. For example, the direct translation for penis is polo (Setswana) and mbolo (Kalanga). But people find it difficult to use these terms in public conversation. Instead, they use figurative language such as thobane (Knobkerrie); molamu (stick), bonna (manhood) as well as monwana (finger). Similarly, the direct translation for vagina is nnywana, or mpapa or nnyo. These terms, however, are not in common use. Instead, indirect words such as bosadi or kobosading (womanhood) are used at meetings and other occasions where sexual matters are discussed.[25]

This is also common in the Hambukushu culture where the direct translation for the penis is didha. However, instead of using this term, which sounds rather insulting, people use terms such as ngurume wange (my manhood), ghukafumu wange (my chieftaincy), thitondo thange (my stick). When it comes to female genitalia people find it even more difficult to mention it, let alone to pronounce it. While the direct translation for a vagina is nnyu, people prefer to use the words ghukamadi wange (my womanhood). Again, while the direct translation for sexual intercourse is kuruma, people commonly refer to it as “food”. Thus a man wanting to have sexual intercourse with his wife may say to her “nina di yidya or naku shana yidya which means “I have food” or “I want food”.[26] All these terms can be misleading to the uninitiated in the era of HIV and AIDS.

Rev. Dr. O. Kealotswe informed me that when the news about HIV and AIDS reached Botswana in the second half of 1980s, people were told that they should be aware of a new disease which attacks people when they “sleep”. In order to protect themselves, people were advised to wear socks when they sleep. When one old lady heard about this, she phoned her friend in Johannesburg warning her about the new disease. Towards the end of the conversation, she asked her friend that on her way back to Botswana she should buy for her as many pairs of socks as possible so that she can protect herself against the new disease when she goes to bed to sleep. It was only a year later that she learned that the new disease is caused by HIV and that people are infected by the virus if they have unprotected sex with someone who is already infected. She was further told that in order to protect oneself, one needs to use condoms. The old lady was very upset about this. She felt she was made a fool because the person who communicated to her in the first instance used figurative language to describe the disease. She thought this was unhelpful for she took everything literally.

6. Demythologisation of sex language: A gateway to prevention and eradication of AIDS

It has been noted in the introduction of this paper that the method of demythologisation was used by Rudolf Bultmann as an interpretative method in Biblical studies. In this paper we intend to apply it to the interpretation of sexual language in Africa, which is full of euphemisms. We argue that in the era of the HIV and AIDS pandemic the euphemist language on matters of human sexuality common in African societies as discussed above is a barrier towards effective sex education designed to save the lives of many people in Africa. Certainly, euphemism is not helpful to the uninitiated especially the youth who have not gone through initiation ceremonies. This, therefore, necessitates the demythologization of both the attitude towards sex and human sexuality in African societies as well as the language used to discuss sexual issues. It is only through the process of demythologizing that the true message pertaining to the dangers posed by HIV and AIDS pandemic can be conveyed to young people so that it can help them to change their sexual behaviour accordingly and as a result enjoy good sexual health. According to WHO, “sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and health. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled”.[27]

It is important to note that in recent years, as a result of a complexity of factors, the myth surrounding human sexuality in Africa is being challenged by societal needs arising from, globalisation, modernisation, rapid urbanisation in African societies, the mass media and recent international agenda and consensus goals of development. Consequently, African conceptions of sex and human sexuality have come under attack by feminists and rights activists. Makinwa-Adebusoye and Tiemoko have observed that myths of human sexuality in Africa and the traditional, religious, and moral perspectives and ideologies they breed are particularly suited to the needs of a male-dominated agrarian societies.[28] They have also noted that in view of the negative consequences of sexually transmitted diseases which include, among other things, HIV and AIDS, teenage pregnancies, rape and other forms of violent sexual behaviour demand a re-thinking in the way in which the African people view sex and human sexuality. There is a need to transmit proper, accurate and scientific knowledge to young people as part of their defense in the response to HIV and AIDS.[29] Demythologizing African concepts of sexuality will lead to health and responsible sexual behaviour. It will also lead to the empowerment of women and protecting their human rights. The method of demythologizing should entail a complete overhaul of the way in which the African people view and understand human sexuality as well as the elimination of euphemisms whose primary purpose, as we have seen, is to conceal the meaning of that to which it is being refereed.

Demythologizing African conceptions of human sexuality will possibly relieve the burden of diseases and risks related to sexual and reproductive health which, according to Makinwa-Adebosoye and Tiemoko, is heavy and poses a great threat to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This, therefore, necessitates proper sexual education whose goal is to equip individuals with knowledge and skills to foster health and responsible sexuality.[30] In my view, this can only be achieved, if the African people can take the bold step of unmasking both their conceptions of human sexuality and its various expressions in society.

It seems to me that the mythological aspects of human sexuality do not allow frank discussion on matters of sex. The fear to talk frankly and openly about human sexuality arises from the fear that talking about sex may initiate young people to experiment sex with their playmates. This, however, need not be the case. Scholastic Nganda has indicated that the importance of sexuality education lies in the fact that it “addresses the biological, social-cultural, psychological and spiritual dimensions of sexuality from the cognitive domain (information), affective domain (feelings, values and attitudes), and the behavioural domain (communication and decision-making skills). Such education enables the young person to know him/herself and hence relate comfortably with others”.[31] I would add, with the environment, the social order and ultimately with God.

Nganda has pointed out that sexuality education programmes teach knowledge and skills of critical issues such as intimacy, human relationships, sexual identity and gender roles, reproductive anatomy and body image, emotional aspects of maturation, the value of abstinence among teens who are not sexually active, alternative methods of contraceptives and HIV/STI prevention and the health consequences of avoiding contraceptives and prevention methods among sexually active youth.[32] I am in total agreement with Nganda that if this is to be achieved, then, there is a need for an “honest, open communication between parents and children through childhood, pre-teen years, adolescence and young adulthood, which can help lay the foundation for young people to mature into sexually health adults.[33] The urgency for demythologizing sexual language in Africa, that can lead to effective sexuality education lies in the fact that:

“due to the breakdown of tradition and the extended family structures, effects of urbanisation and migration of people from the rural to urban areas, the role of taken by aunts, uncles and grandparents in educating children about sex is diminishing. Uncles, aunts and grandparents now tend to live far away and this makes it impossible for them to provide sex education. Their role has been taken over by the teachers in schools and parents in the home. Children at home or attending school do not receive adequate and realistic information about sex because it is viewed as embarrassing. As a result, children get too little or no meaningful information at all about sexuality and tend to experiment with sex, based on the little information they come across in books, on television and from their peers”.[34]

At the ecumenical conference in Gaborone, Botswana, which was organised by the Botswana Council of Churches (BCC), the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana and the African Independent Churches in 2003, the then BCC’s General Secretary, Mr. David Modiega, noted that the traditional form of sex education which was based on paternal aunt/uncle system in Africa has become eroded and lost some credibility as a result of urbanisation and social change. The negative attitude of the churches towards sex education provided in schools has left young people vulnerable to the whims of mixed messages from the media, advertising, culture and religion.[35] At the conference the author, who served as one of the resource persons, made a passionate appeal that in order to make sexuality education effective there is need to demythologise the language that parents use at home in counselling their children on matters of sexuality. There is a need for a straight talk, of calling a spade a spade. What this means is that there should be an open and frank discussion with children in the home. The genitalia and sexual activities must be called by name as they are and not by euphemistic terms. The stark message which children will receive from parents will equip them with the necessary knowledge they need to live an authentic life which focuses on behaviour change. In order to do this, sex education educators and parents must find a way of addressing young people in a language that they can understand in order to enable them to make informed decisions that can help them to tackle decisively the dreaded consequences of the HIV and AIDS in the world today.

7. Conclusion

In conclusion, in this paper it has been argued that the language used in ordinary conversation on issues pertaining to sex and human sexuality in Africa is replete with euphemisms which in the process conceal the meaning of the subject under discussion. The paper began by defining the terms sex and human sexuality and went on to discuss the myths that account for the emergence of sex and human sexuality in African societies. After that the paper has discussed the various facets of mythological terms or euphemisms used in sexual discourse in Africa with examples from various African societies. It has finally been argued that such language must be demythologized in order to enable young people to get the message on matters of human sexuality that can help them to make informed decision in their sexual life that can ultimately help them to enjoy good sexual health free from the threats of HIV and AIDS.

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Respondents

Kealotswe, O,Gaborone, on 6/4/2010

Nthoiwa, Gaborone, 7/4/2010.

Internet sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_sexuality assessed on 7/14/9

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_sexuality assessed on 7/14/9

http://www.csun.edu/~vcpsy00h/students/sexual.htm assessed on 7/14/9

http://www.csun.edu/~vcpsy00h/students/sexual.htm assessed on 7/14/9

http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/index.html assessed on 4th April, 2010.

Subsaharan Africa: General notes http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/GESUND/ARCHV/GUS/AFRICA.HTM assessed on 3/4/2010

The New Penguin English Dictionary, London: Penguin Books, 2000, p.1282.

World Health Organisation (WHO). Draft working definition, October 2002; http://www.waaids.com/youth/sexuality-whats-right-for you. html assessed on 3rd April 2010.


[1] John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977, p. 133.

[2] The New Penguin English Dictionary, London: Penguin Books, 2000, p.1282.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_sexuality assessed on 7/14/9

[4] World Health Organisation (WHO). Draft working definition, October 2002; http://www.waaids.com/youth/sexuality-whats-right-for you. html assessed on 3rd April 2010.

[6] The New Penguin English Dictionary,…….p.1282.

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_sexuality assessed on 7/14/9

[8] http://www.csun.edu/~vcpsy00h/students/sexual.htm assessed on 7/14/9

[9] http://www.csun.edu/~vcpsy00h/students/sexual.htm assessed on 7/14/9

[10] Paulina Makinwa-Adebusoye and Richmond Tiemoko, “Health sexuality in East, West, North and Southern Africa” in Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale et al (eds.), Human sexuality in Africa: Beyond Reproduction, Sunnyside: Fanele, 2007, p.2.

[11] John Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy, London: Heinemann, 1969, pp. 92-95.

[12] Myth, Kaonde ethnic group, Zambia, collected by Fr. John Ganly in Joseph G. Healey, Once upon a time in Africa: Stories of wisdom and joy, New York: Orbis Books, 2004, pp.5-6.

[13] Personal communication with Tabona Shoko at the ATISCA conference, Swaziland, 3rd August 2009. See also Canaan Banana, Come and Share: An introduction to Christian Theology, Gweru: Mambo Press, 1991, pp.44-45.

[14] Michigu Kiiru, “Delaying gratification as a beautiful choice” in Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale et al (eds.), Human sexuality in Africa: Beyond Reproduction…, p.22. (pp.19-28).

[15] Scholastica Nganda, “Sex education. Do our teens need it?” in Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale et al (eds.), Human sexuality: Beyond reproduction…, p.53.

[16] Bene E. Madunugu, “Empowering youth through sexuality education: The challenges and opportunities” in Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale et al (eds.), Human sexuality: Beyond reproduction…p.91.

[17] Eno B. Ikpe, “Human sexuality in Nigeria: A historical perspective”, Paper presented at the Africa Regional Sexuality Resource Centre (2004); pp. 19-20,

[18] Ikpe, “Human sexuality in Nigeria….”, p.20.

[19] Mumbi Machera, “Opening a can of worms: A debate on female sexuality in lecture theatre” in Signe Arnfred (ed.), Re-thinking sexualities in Africa, Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2005, p.158.

[20] Muchera, “Opening a can of worms….” p.160.

[22] Francis Moto, “Towards a study of the lexicon of sex and HIV/AIDS” Nordic Journal of African Studies 13 (3):343-362) (2004).pp.347-357.

[23] Moto, “Towards a study of the lexicon …” p.351.

[24] Tabona Shoko, “HIV/AIDS and Christian Ethics in Zimbabwe”, in James N. Amanze et al (eds.), Christian Ethics and HIV and AIDS in Africa, Gaborone: Bay Publishing, 2007, pp.208-9.

[25] Interview (henceforth int. with) with Rev. Dr. Kealotswe, Gaborone, University of Botswana, 6th April, 2010.

[26] Int. with Mr. K. Mothoiwa, Gaborone, University of Botswana, 6th April, 2010.

[27] Bene E. Madunugu, “Empowering youth through sexuality education: The challenges and opportunities” in Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale et al (eds.), Human sexuality: Beyond reproduction…p.85.

[28] Paulina Makinwa-Adebusoye and Richmond Tiemoko, “Health sexuality in East, West, North and Southern Africa” in Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale et al (eds.), Human sexuality in Africa…,p.2.

[29] Makinwa-Adebusoye and Tiemeko, “Health sexuality ….”, p.3.

[30] Makinwa-Adebusoye and Tiemeko, “Health sexuality …..” p.4.

[31] Scholastica Nganda, “Sex education. Do our teens need it?” in Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale et al (eds.), Human sexuality: Beyond reproduction…, p.56.

[32] Nganda, “Sex education….”, p.56.

[33] Nganda, “Sex education…..”, p.58.

[34] D. F. Jensen, Growing up sexually, Vol.1, World Reference Atlas, 0.2 (ed.) Berlin: Magnus Hirschfield for sexology, May 2005.

[35] See James N. Amanze et al (eds.), Come let’s rebuild, A Report of the Faith Based HIV/AIDS Summit 1st-5th December 2003, p. 26 where this has been discussed in detail.

 

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