On Oyèrónké Oyèwùmí, colonial Afro-masculinities and the subjection of African cultural praxis in Inxeba

  • Rantsho A Moraka Department of Jurisprudence, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Keywords: Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyèwùmí, pre-colonial African gender, Inxeba (Trengove 2017), queer masculinity, Afro-masculinities


The understudied work of Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyèwùmí has pointed to the incommensurability of the westernised phenomenon of gender with African conceptions of personhood and social identity. Oyèwùmí’s work has challenged the idea of gender as a universal identity and subject position, not by arguing for a distinct form of gender embodiment that is African in its phenomenology, but by historically and conceptually demonstrating that gender is a product of western social constructs not universally related or applicable to African social schemas. Oyèwùmí presents the argument that the presence of gender as a social signifier of African peoples’ identity (whom prior to colonialism inhabited a cultural order without gender as a primary organising principle) occurs at the co-instance of western cultural domination and colonialisation of Africa. Relying on such a view toward African society’s historically non-gendered social organisation schemas, this paper offers a critique of the film Inxeba (Trengove 2017), arguing that, contrary to the popular reception of the film as a gender progressive representation of African queer identity and its attendant liberation from a purportedly hetero-patriarchal African culture, the film in effect constitutes the inverse. In essence, the reception around Inxeba inadvertently re-inscribes colonial gender grammars into an African cultural praxis and in the process undercuts African cultural autonomy for self-progression on its own terms. I further argue that the film’s thematic treatment of both a purported “African hetero-patriarchal masculinity” and an “African Queer masculinity” could be read as merely mimicking western/colonial gender embodiment discourse.