Perspective on Nigerian Post-colonization Homosexuality in the Thing Around Your Neck
The Thing Around Your Neck: Taboo to Who?
In The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie there are two very different short stories touching beautifully on the views of Nigerian post-colonization homosexuality. In one story, “On Monday of Last Week” the reader sees an ongoing and subtle curiosity between characters of the same sex, and in the other story, “The Shivering”, homosexuality is present in a very strong and open matter after the reader experiences a type of reveal of character. While the history and stance on African homosexuality is not written in stone by the author in these stories, the reader must wonder what the purpose of incorporating homosexuality in these stories represent, and how Nigerians have historically changed their views on homosexuality and why.
Before examining the short stories “On Monday of Last Week” and “The Shivering”, one must take a brief look into the history of homosexuality in Nigeria. Very simply put, homosexuality has been present in all countries and in all cultures for centuries. In Nigeria, the colonization of Westerners has greatly affected the social constructs of what is “taboo” and what is not, when it comes to homosexuality. Before the Biafra war and pre-colonization time, it was not uncommon to see Igbo people acknowledge same sex relationships as “tolerant” as opposed to “intolerant”. It was not yet even in mind that a woman having another woman as a companion was “gay”, but more so just “the norm” or even a privilege to their family. Women would marry on the count that they had a sacred and queen-like status, and this would commonly be termed “woman-husband” or “woman-wife”. In other situations, because the woman may have been widowed, a single parent, or not a parent at all, it was not against Nigerian beliefs to have a female-to-female companionship to compensate for a male-to-female marriage or relationship (Igwe 2009).
In an article by Cameroonian journalist, Eric Lembembe, titled “What Traditional African Homosexuality Learned From the West”, he includes an interview done with Patrick Awondo. Awondo has a doctorate in political sociology and medical anthropology from the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris. Awondo states, “By demanding rights based on sexual practices, they [Westerners] make homosexuality a political issue. This emergence of a homosexual identity is marked by a social lifestyle and identification with the ‘gay culture’ that developed first in the United States in the late 1960’s and then in Western Europe”…he continues to say “Knowing historical truths lets us avoid unhistorical lies” (Lembembe 2012).
In the story “On Monday of Last Week”, readers see Kamara, a Nigerian immigrant who is babysitting for a boy named Josh in an upper class household. Tracy, Josh’s mother is an artist who secludes herself in the basement, but sometimes has interactions with Kamara. There is an ongoing and subtle curiosity between Kamara and Tracy as she learns more about Josh’s family, and she eventually develops an infatuation with Tracy. When there is finally an intimate interaction between Kamara and Tracy, Tracy says to Kamara while lightly touching her chin, “You have the most beautiful teeth,” and Kamara obsesses over her overwhelming flood of feelings at that moment. Kamara says she, at first, felt like a little girl and then proceeded to feel like bride. Kamara feels extremely aware of her body, Tracy’s eyes, and the space between them being very small (Adichie 87). The subtlety of Kamara’s curiousness is broken at this moment, and Adichie’s words are so graceful and soft, that it does not feel like an abrupt encounter. Although Tracy is very free-flowing and artistic in nature, she does lead Kamara to have a larger curiosity for her than she has for Kamara. Despite the intertwining of boundaries crossed, most moments that are homosexual in nature in this story are from Kamara’s head and fantasies about Tracy, and not necessarily active responses to Tracy’s bold and yet intimate behavior.
In the story “The Shivering”, the reader sees a Nigerian woman named Ukamaka who is sitting in her apartment/dorm in the United States and has learned that there has been a plane crash in Nigeria. She gets an unfamiliar knock at the door with a familiar face of a Nigerian man named Chinedu. Concerned that her ex-boyfriend, Udenna, may have been in the plane crash, she unguarded, lets Chinedu in and he immediately starts to pray about the crash. Chinedu makes Ukamaka feels odd because of his strong religious nature, but she continues to pursue a friendship with him because she still feels like they are connected. After Ukamaka finds that her ex-boyfriend Udenna is fine, she still revels in their relationship and talks about their past and how she felt love for Udenna. Upon hearing this, Chinedu opens up to Ukamaka and tells her that he, too, was once in love, and that perhaps Ukamaka should try and let go of her past with her ex-boyfriend. Not to Ukamaka’s surprise, she learns that Chinedu is gay and his love was a man named Abidemi. From there on, Chinedu is relieved and speaks freely about his relationship with a man and Ukamaka listens intently, with an open heart and mind (Adichie 159).
The direct correlation between religious folks and homosexuality has been a negative one, specifically to Christians. The expectant surprise in Ukamaka’s response in the book is a classic “Western” example of an assumed reaction to a very religious, Nigerian male, coming out as gay. The alleged surprise to the reader is perhaps not only that a Nigerian, religious, male, is gay, but that there is no surprise in Ukamaka’s response. This further implicates the “Westernization” of homosexuality transforming from a norm into an abnormal and “taboo” topic. Adichie wants the reader to understand that homosexuality in African history was never originally taboo or abnormal…that love is complicated and can come in many ways, shapes, and forms through subtlety and traditions. By viewing Ukamaka’s response of lack of surprise and continued inquiry into Chinedu’s life, readers can see that it is only the socio-political agenda that the post-colonial Westerners imposed the idea that homosexuality was no longer a positive experience or an African one. In part, this story widely emphasizes that the reader’s reaction to Ukamaka’s reaction is a direct result of the changes that colonization in Nigeria has brought onto the topic of homosexuality. The Westerners have taken away the idea that homosexuality has been around for centuries in Africa, and that even though it is viewed as a negative attribute, that homosexuality did not exist somehow until the Westerners discovered and condemned it. Readers can not only tell from Ukamaka’s relationship issues with Udenna- that straight relationships and love can be the same as gay ones in “The Shivering”… but we can also tell that homosexuality in Nigeria, has a complicated history that deserves examination by people who see it as “taboo” in the first place.
In light of both stories, one examining a female-to-female sensuality and curiosity, the other examining a Nigerian Christian male opening with his love story for another man, the reader can see in both situations that love comes in all forms and can be subtle, despite the present nature of homosexuality. It can also be described that “love” is not defined by gender, but defined by companionship and compassion for each other.
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The Thing Around Your Neck: Taboo to Who? In The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie there are two very different short stories touching beautifully on the views […]