Ancient Egypt and Africa –
The first homosexual couple in recorded history comes from Egypt. Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum date back to 2400 BCE*. There is much debate from historians and archaeologists on whether or not this is a true homosexual couple.
The tomb was discovered in 1964 by British Chief Inspector Mounir Basta. He discovered depictions of two males in intimate poses, the most intimate being a ‘nose-kissing’ pose. He was surprised at the discovery, as Basta had never seen such depiction between two males before. The tomb was built for two men to cohabit.
The tomb is located among the necropolis at Saqqara and is one of the largest tombs there. The layout of the tomb was changed multiple times during its construction. Three different times, once at the entrance to the tomb, once again at a set of false doors leading to the actual site of burial, and then again in the room where the two lay at rest, the men are depicted in an embrace.
The pair shared identical titles, “Overseer of the Manicurists in the Palace of the King” and “Prophet of Ra in the Sun Temple of Niusserre”. King Niusserre reigned over Egypt in the Fifth Dynasty. The tomb has become known as the “Tomb of the Hairdressers”, thus leading to numerous homosexuals being typecast as salon owners, hairdressers, and interior designers in movies and television shows. Not really, but I think it’s pretty ironic.
The men’s families are depicted in the tomb as well – wives and children – but it’s interesting to note, that they are never pictured together, nor are the wives present in the depictions of embraces, but the children are represented. Many argue that the two are most likely brothers, possibly twins, explaining the dual tomb and the intimate depictions. However, the ‘nose-kissing’ pose was generally not used between men.
Also interesting is the meaning of their names. Niankhkhnum means “Life belongs to Khnum” and Khnumhotep means “Khnum is satisfied”. Now, Khnum is an ancient Egyptian god, the god of rebirth, creation, and the evening sun. But, one could also interpret the names to be reflective upon the pair’s relationship.
Homosexuality is evident throughout history between those in power and the lower classes and slaves. So while those may argue that Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum are actually twin brothers, the idea that they could have been lovers can’t be fully denied. The depictions of the pair show a strong relationship between the two. Whether this is one of love or kinship will never fully be discovered.
Not much is documented in the rest of Africa regarding homosexuality. However, in Lesotho, a country near the southern tip of Africa, women practiced long term relationships with other women. Usually, a woman would have a motsoalle, or ‘special friend’ with which they would spend time together. They claim no sex occurs between the two, but descriptions of interactions among motsoalle included kissing, penetration, rubbing, and cunnilingus. However, I believe that by not using the terms ‘sex’ or ‘intercourse’ in describing their relationships, it keeps them safe from punishment by their government, who insists that homosexuality only exists because Westerners brought the practice over with them.
There have also been documented instances among male Azande warriors in the northern Congo, who have taken on young male lovers between the ages of 12 and 20, who would help in household tasks alongside the women.
*BCE stands for Before Common Era – a newer, all-inclusive term used in place of BC (Before Christ)
The next installment will look at homosexuality in the ancient Americas.