Feminist journal 2 review pages
Eroticism, sensuality and “women's secrets” among the Baganda: A critical analysisSylvia Tamale1
Sexuality is intricately linked to practically every aspect of our lives: to pleasure,
power, politics and procreation, but also to disease, violence, war, language,
social roles, religion, kinship structures, identity, creativity… the list is endless.
The connection and collision between human sexuality,2 power and politics pro-
vided the major inspiration for this piece of research. Specifically, I wanted to
explore the various ways in which the erotic is used both as an oppressive and
empowering resource. In her compelling essay sub-titled The Erotic as Power
Audre Lorde (1984) argues for the construction of the erotic as the basis of
women's resistance against oppression. For her, the concept entailed much more
than the sexual act, connecting meaning and form, infusing the body and the
psyche. Before Lorde, Michel Foucault (1977; 1990) had demonstrated how the
human body is a central component in the operation of power. He theorised the
body as “an inscribed surface of invents” from which the prints of history can
In a bid to gain a better understanding of African women's sexuality, this
article focuses on one particular cultural/sexual initiation institution among the
Baganda3 of Uganda, namely the Ssenga
.4 When one speaks of “ensonga za
matters) among the Baganda, this is at once understood to
signify an institution that has persisted and endured through centuries as a tra-
dition of sexual initiation. At the helm of this elaborate socio-cultural institution
is the paternal aunt (or surrogate versions thereof), whose role is to tutor young
girls and women in a wide range of sexual matters, including pre-menarche
practices, pre-marriage preparation, erotic instruction and reproduction.
In the heterogeneous metropolitan area of the capital city, Kampala, the
phenomenon of “commercial Ssengas
” has emerged, whereby women avail
themselves for hire by young women or their parents to perform the traditional
roles of Ssenga
. In addition, the print, electronic and broadcast media have
columns and call-in programmes.5 Ssenga
booklets are also
readily available for sale on the streets of Kampala. The institution is thus being
transformed by “modernisation” and urbanisation, as well as capitalist eco-
nomic practices within the liberalised market economy of Uganda.
The article opens by laying out the conceptual landscape that underlies
Baganda women's sexuality, followed by a brief note on the research process.
A short historical evolution of the institution of Ssenga
is then provided. I move
on to explore some of the ways in which the erotic infuses the cultural lives of
Baganda women, and discuss the erotic-textual constructions of Baganda
women's bodies before providing some concluding remarks.
Sexuality is a key site through which women's subordination is maintained and
enforced in postcolonial Africa (McFadden, 2003; Pereira, 2003). This study, like
others, was conducted against a backdrop of multiple patriarchies and the legacy
of colonialism. Across Africa, the colonial era saw a politicisation of African
women's sexuality. In Uganda, the colonialists' constructions and perceptions of
Africans as profligate and hypersexual led to intensified surveillance and repres-
sion, of African women's sexuality in particular. Having constructed the hyper-
sexed female body, the case was made for the strict regulation and control of
African women's sexuality (Gilman, 1986; Commons, 1993). To do so, various
legal and policy strategies and discourses in the areas of medical health and
hygiene were deployed. Traditional customs, which in the first instance were
seldom egalitarian, were reconfigured in order to introduce new sexual mores,
taboos and stigmas. Women's sexuality was medicalised and reduced in purpose
to reproduction (Vaughan, 1991; Musisi, 2002). One result was the suppression
of women's sexuality, erotic culture and sexual expresssion. Colonialists worked
together with African patriarchs to develop inflexible customary laws that evolved
into new structures and forms of domination (Schmidt, 1991; Mama, 1996).
More broadly, the need to control and regulate women's sexuality and
reproductive capacity is crucial in capitalist societies. Marxist feminist theory
draws our attention to the fact that such control consolidates male domination
through men's control of resources and their relatively greater economic power.
The patriarchal family engenders these economic relations, in which men, as
household heads, exercise control over the lives of women and children who
effectively become the man's property (Engels, 1972; Barrett and MacIntosh,
1985; Barrett, 1988). Heteronormativity thus forms one of the essential bases
of power for men in the domestic arena.6 Capitalism required a new form of
patriarchy to that which had existed in pre-colonial Uganda – one that
embraced a particular (monogamous, nuclearised, heterosexual) family form
(Zaretsky, 1976; Mama, 1997). As this model of patriarchy requires that the
man's acquired property and wealth is passed on to his male offspring, it
becomes important to control women's sexuality in order to guarantee the
paternity and legitimacy of children when bequeathing property. To this end,
the monogamy of women is required, without necessarily disturbing or chal-
lenging the polygynous sexuality normalised for men.7
Secondly, capitalist patriarchal societies are characterised by a separation of
the “public” sphere from the “private” sphere. The two spheres are highly gen-
dered, with the former inhabited by men and the locus of socially valued activ-
ities, such as politics and waged labour, while the latter constitutes the mainly
unremunerated and undervalued domestic activities performed by women.
This necessitated the domestication of women's bodies and their relegation to
the “private” sphere, where women provide the necessities of productive and
reproductive social life gratuitously
(thus subsidising capital)8 while remaining
economically dependent on their male partners (Zaretsky, 1976; Nicholson,
1986). Regulating and controlling women's sexuality, therefore, is central to
the survival of patriarchal and capitalist structures and systems. It is an impor-
tant means of maintaining the domesticity of African women.9 It works to
delineate gender roles and to systematically bar women from gaining access to
and control of resources. In Africa, the process of separating the public-private
spheres preceded colonisation, but was consolidated and reinforced by colonial
policies and practices. Where there had been a blurred distinction between pub-
lic and private life, colonial structures (legal and religious, for example) and poli-
cies (educational, for example) clarified and hardened this distinction, guided by
an ideology that perceived men as public actors and women as private perform-
ers. Where domestic work had co-existed with commercial work in pre-colonial
satellite households, a new form of domesticity, which existed outside produc-
tion, was constructed. And where land had been communally owned in pre-
colonial societies, this was replaced by a tenure system that allowed for absolute
and individual (and predominantly male) ownership of land.
Orthodox religions, especially patriarchal forms of Christianity and Islam,
stress the impurity and inherent sin of women's bodies (Goodson, 1991).
Through proselytising, Africans were encouraged to reject their previous beliefs
and values and to adopt the “civilised ways” of the colonial masters. New
scripts, reflecting these moralistic and anti-sexual edicts, were inscribed (and
continue to be inscribed) on the bodies of African women, along with elabo-
rate systems of control. (For an exploration of some contemporary systems of
control developed in the northern states of Nigeria, see Charmaine Pereira's
feature article in this issue of Feminist Africa
In Uganda, the institution of Ssenga
has been reconfigured to suit the
times (Kisekka, 1973; Sengendo and Sekatawa, 1999). The phenomenon of
represents one of the most powerful cultural inscribers of women's
bodies among the Baganda. The institution of Ssenga
facilitates and reinforces
patriarchal power, while at the same time subverting and parodying it.
To help tease out the transgressional features of the Ssenga
make use of Judith Butler's theories of subversion and performativity (1990).
Butler makes a clear distinction between the concepts of “performativity” and
“performance”. She describes performance as a “bounded ‘act'” that people do
to conceal or reject performativity (wearing drag, for example). Performativity,
on the other hand, is “a reiteration of norms which precede, constrain, and
exceed the performer” (1993: 234). It is based on the idea that gender con-
struction is a daily, habitual, learned act, based on cultural norms of feminin-
ity and masculinity. In this sense, we performatively produce and reproduce
gender and sexuality. Through deconstructing the arrangement of gender and
sexuality as constituted by the institution of Ssenga
, I investigate some of the
unexamined constructs of Kiganda femininity and masculinity. How has the
evolution of Ssenga
affected the [re]interpretation of entrenched norms con-
cerning femininity, masculinity and subjectivity? Do we see any performativity,
imitation and ambivalence in the institution of Ssenga
? Are gender represen-
tations fluid and ambiguous within the framework of Ssenga
African sexuality10 is usually mediated through metaphors and symbols. One
of the principal tenets of the institution of Ssenga
is its elaborate use of
metaphor. Not only does the institution construct metaphoric models for map-
ping Kiganda femininity, masculinity and sexuality, but it has also come to
symbolise Kiganda sexuality. In this sense, “metaphor” is not used as a narrow
linguistic device for figurative embellishment, nor as a form of convoluted
communication, but as a fundamental mechanism for encoding knowledge
(Lakoff and Johnson, 1980; Travers, 1996). Hence the use of metaphor by
and the symbolic significance of the institution become useful con-
ceptual tools for analysing sexuality as a broad socio-cultural phenomenon.
To what extent does the institution of Ssenga
reinforce patriarchal control
of women's bodies in postcolonial Uganda? Does it represent any liberating
possibilities for women (that is, does it open up new opportunities for women to
subvert patriarchal mechanisms for controlling women's sexuality)? What does an
analysis of the Ssenga
institution imply for the ways in which women live and
are oppressed? These are the three main questions explored in this article.
Data collection and analysis were primarily guided by feminist research method-
ologies, which foreground the sexual experiences of participants, as well as the
meanings and interpretations that they attach to those experiences (Reinharz,
1992). Thus, although quantitative methods were employed (for example, in
the gathering of demographic data), qualitative research techniques of non-
participant observation, informal interviews and focused group discussions
dominated the study. Although the study area was limited to urban Kampala,
the institution of Ssenga
is ubiquitous in urban and rural Buganda.
A review of existing literature was conducted to gain insights into concep-
tual, historical and contemporary issues concerning the topic. Radio and tele-
vision broadcasts of Ssenga
programmes were taped and analysed.11 In-depth
interviews were conducted with 35 women and 17 men regarding their direct
and/or indirect experiences with the institution of Ssenga
. At least five com-
mercial female Ssenga
s and one male Ssenga
were interviewed. I also sat in on
sessions” as a non-participant observer.12
I focused on the experiences of female sexuality, although the research also
tried to solicit the views of some male partners of women that have undergone
tutelage, as well as those that have not been influenced by the institu-
tion. A random sample, mainly from tertiary institutions, religious clubs and
peri-urban households, was carried out in order to select interviewees. In addi-
tion, I interviewed several elders and some leaders of prominent women's
NGOs. This enabled me to gain a better insight into the historical and contem-
porary significance of the institution of Ssenga
Ethical issues in a research study of this nature are extremely poignant. While
it is important to explore and understand African sexualities, the researcher must
deal with the dilemma, for example, of how much to reveal of the community's
“sex secrets”. The fact that I myself am a Muganda did nothing to mitigate this
ethical dilemma. In fact, my ethnic background and social position gave me
considerable advantage and access as I gathered information, some of it
extremely intimate. I did not hide my status as a researcher, and in spite of the
nature of the topic under investigation, most participants spoke freely and fully.
In writing my report, therefore, I constantly faced the painful predicament of
deciding how much to reveal, of balancing the delicate equation of knowledge
production with respect for the age-old women's secrets within the Ssenga
institution of the Baganda. Such “pain” emanated largely from my strong sense
of in-group allegiance – especially to the “modern” Ssenga
s, whose confidence
I had drawn on throughout the study. This conflicted with my other loyalties:
to the African feminist scholarly community of which I am part, and to my prin-
ciples as a sexual politics activist. I was therefore careful in selecting what infor-
mation to reveal, the goal being to contribute to existing knowledge about
African sexuality through my African feminist epistemic positioning.
The role of Ssenga among the Baganda: Ancient and contemporary
A brief historical note on the Baganda people
The social structure of the Baganda has a strong patriarchal, patrilineal and
polgynous base, with a well-entrenched patriclan system of organisation. Every
Muganda belongs to one of the 52 recognised totemic clans, and each clan
forms a large extended family. Endogamous (intra-clan) marriages and sexual
relations are, with a few exceptions, still strictly forbidden.
The traditional kingdom of Buganda has a rich history that dates back to the
sixteenth century (Roscoe, 1911; Reid, 2002). With the kabaka
(king) as the polit-
ical head, Buganda's monarchical system was based on a hierarchical social struc-
ture shaped by gender, people's relationship to the kabaka
, and the means
of production (Kiwanuka, 1972). Social classes included chiefs, officials, sub-
chiefs, retainers, peasants and slaves. Women were generally subordinate to men
with the exception of the queen mother (Namasole
) and the kabaka's
(usually his eldest sister) (Lubuga
), who both wielded considerable political and
economic power in the kingdom (Lebeuf, 1963; Schiller, 1990; Musisi, 1991;
The kingdom enjoyed relative strength and stability during the pre-colonial
era, and was protected by the British colonial administration, only to be abol-
ished by the Republican government in 1966. It was restored in 1993, with the
reinstatement of a largely ceremonial kabaka
. In many ways, this restoration
served to galvanise the Baganda into nostalgic attempts to revive their culture
and traditions. However, too much socio-political current had flowed under the
cultural bridge and things would never be the same again for the Baganda, as
can be seen with regard to the transformed Ssenga
Sexuality among the Baganda was traditionally defined along gender and
class lines, with wifehood and motherhood central in shaping women's sexuality.
The control of women's sexuality was demonstrated, for example, by a refusal to
tolerate extramarital affairs by women, while at the same time endorsing male
promiscuity, adultery and polygyny. Male dominance of women's sexuality was
more pronounced within the ruling class.13 Female virginity (embeerera
highly valued (Kaggwa, 1999; Kimala 1995), although premarital sex did not
seem to ruin women's future marriage prospects (Roscoe, 1911).14
Many Kiganda rituals, beliefs and taboos were (and to a certain extent still are)
directly linked to women's sexuality and reproductive powers. For example, a mar-
ried woman could not touch or go anywhere near her father-in-law.15 It was also
taboo for a mother to appear before, let alone touch, her son-in-law. Furthermore,
it was taboo for men about to depart on hunting or fishing expeditions to come
into contact with women, including sexual contact (Sacks, 1979: 212). During the
planting season, menstruating women were barred from the fields, as it was
believed that menstrual blood would adversely affect the harvests. Similarly, they
could not cook food for the family nor touch a drum – a symbol of power. It is
important to note, however, that such negative associations with women's men-
struation and fertility in Buganda evolved over time. Historical accounts of the
early agrarian magic of the Baganda illustrate the honour, fecundity and power
associated with the rejuvenative properties of menstrual blood (Jjuuko, 1993: 110).
The historical context of Ssenga
To my knowledge, no scholarly study has systematically analysed the Kiganda
institution of Ssenga
. Most of the historical material presented here is therefore
largely based on oral histories, tales told to me by Ssengas
, and popular beliefs.16
The origin of the special status attached to paternal aunts among the
Baganda is not entirely clear. Magoba (not dated) suggests that paternal aunts
evolved as tutors to young girls and women in ancient Buganda in response to
the gender violence and abuse that took place within families. The male patri-
arch in the home often ruled his wives and children with an iron hand. Physical
chastisement and wife abuse were accepted as part of his cultural duties. In
order to offset this, ba jajja
(grandmothers) came up with a plan for survival:
paternal aunts were enlisted to tutor young girls in behavioural tactics that
would save them from the wrath of their future husbands.
As the sister of the husband/father, the Ssenga
was perceived as a reliable
individual who would have free and unhindered access to her nieces at any
time; mothers' positions were not as secure, as they often fled their homes to
escape the violence meted out to them. Moreover, among the patrilineal
Baganda, men respected their sisters more than they did their wives. Among the
father's sisters, one would be selected (on the basis of her exemplary behaviour)
to play the role of Ssenga
. Her role was to “socialise” her nieces in the art of
becoming “good” and subservient wives. Of course, sexual placation was a key
strategy in counteracting domestic violence, and it was the Ssenga's
bility to inculcate in her nieces values and behaviour geared to create maximum
pleasure for the husband. Nevertheless, married women (with the exception of
' and chiefs' wives) had the option of abandoning abusive husbands and
returning to their parent's home, a cultural practice known as okunoba
to sexually satisfy a wife was another recognised ground for kunoba
Separation was usually followed by mediation and conciliation of the marital
dispute, facilitated by clan elders, but with the Ssenga
playing a prominent role.
Over the years, the status and power of the Ssenga
grew among the
Baganda. A man's sister became extremely influential in the selection of his
wife (Kimala, 1995). If she did not approve of his choice, he had to abandon
the woman in question. Sisters could even cause the dismissal of an existing
wife. The Ssenga
also attracted considerable respect from her nephews, nieces,
brothers and sisters-in-law. She was accorded the same respect as one's father-
in-law. Use of vulgar speech was generally not permitted among the Baganda.
However, the Ssenga
was exempted from this taboo. As a result, Ssengas’
to their charges abounds in “sex talk”, masked in metaphors and symbols.
also featured among the indigenous religions of the Baganda. Among
the 28 “gods” (balubaale
) venerated by the Baganda was Nagaddya
, also known
as the “Ssenga
of Buganda”.18 Her main shrine was located at Bbendegere near
Nkumba, Entebbe, and she was responsible for both marriage and harvests. No
would get married before visiting Nagaddya's
shrine.19 The interface
between sexuality and the institution of Ssenga
is evident in this ancient religious
tradition, as are the links between human and plant reproduction.
could freely come and go in her brother's home under the aegis
of instructing the children. She could even take his children to her own home
for tutelage. The focus, however, was on the girls (her nieces), from whom she
would select her heir. Her responsibility was to ensure that young girls became
well-versed in appropriate feminine behaviours and roles; these included the
proper ways a good girl should sit, walk, conduct herself, respect elders, pre-
pare food, and so on. The young adolescent would also be instructed in the
ritual of “visiting the bush,” which involved a procedure of stretching or elon-
gating her inner labia.20 As soon as a girl started menstruating, the Ssenga
Under the ancient system, marriages were not pre-arranged, but the Ssenga
nevertheless played a pivotal role in the courtship and negotiations surround-
ing her nieces' marriages. As her primary responsibility was to groom her nieces
to become “good” subservient wives or co-wives, a husband who was dissatis-
fied with his bride's behaviour, particularly her “bedroom etiquette”, would
blame it on the laxity of her Ssenga
, even returning the bride to the Ssenga
However, this tutelage also included some empowering messages. For
instance, a Ssenga
would encourage her nieces to engage in some home indus-
try or economic ventures (such as weaving or pottery) in order to avoid total
dependence on her husband. The Ssenga
also made it clear that a wife did not
have to tolerate an abusive spouse; that she had the right to kunoba
to say, sexuality featured prominently in Ssenga
's tutorials, which would focus
on erotic skills, sexual paraphernalia and aphrodisiacs in the form of herbal per-
fumes, sensual oils, sexual beads (obutiti
), and so on.
In their bid to eliminate “harmful cultural practices” and to westernise the
sexual morality of the natives, missionaries and the colonial establishment
showed a special interest in Baganda women. Nakanyike Musisi observes:
Through their pedagogy and medicine, missionaries like Cook managed to
make sexuality, particularly women's, not only a religious concern but a
secular one as well, one that needed to be regulated by the colonial state.
Sex became an area that required legislation that would put individuals
under colonial surveillance. The medical and socio-political project of
managing births, children, and mothers' lives required that sexual moral-
ity itself be controlled by the state rather than by clan and kinship groups
A massive “moral purity campaign” was launched by the colonial administra-
tion in the early twentieth century, which threatened many of the values of the
institution. Although the Ssenga
represented an ideal establishment
through which the British could spread their Christian sexual ethics among the
Baganda, there is no evidence to show that this was ever tried. This is proba-
bly due to the fact that colonialists dealt mostly with the elite male Baganda
chiefs, largely excluding women from governance. Perhaps for this reason, the
cultural institution of Ssenga
remained intact through the colonial era.
As in many other African cultures, marriage and the family (for which, read
procreation) were (and in many ways still are) viewed as the basis of society. In this
sense, given the crucial role that Ssenga
played in this sphere, she ceased to be an
individual; her role and practice became an institution in and of itself within
Kiganda culture. In many ways, this Ssenga
institution established (and still influ-
ences) patterns of expectation for Baganda men and women, ordering the social
processes of everyday life (see Lorber, 1994). Hence, contrary to popular belief, the
institution of Ssenga
is not restricted to erotology, nor is it an “Aphrodite cult” of
the kind described by Abdoulaye in his paper on the Lawbe people of Senegal
(1999); it extends into every area of Baganda women's lives.21 The present study
reveals that Ssenga
as an institution is fraught with contradictions and ambigui-
ties. As we shall see later, along with the main theme of subservience, we find sub-
texts of defiance, manipulation and control by women.
Contemporary influences and the Ssenga institution
The institution of Ssenga
has in many ways exhibited resilience and tenacious
adaptability in the wake of widespread socio-political and economic changes in
Uganda during the last few decades. The hardships that have dogged Uganda
since the early 1970s as a result of political instability, economic mismanage-
ment and civil unrest have had a significant impact on the average household.
Specifically, the various attempts to adjust the structure of Uganda's economy
through IMF- and World Bank-prescribed policies since the early 1980s have
greatly affected women and the ideology of domesticity (Tamale, 2001;
UWONET, 1998). The devaluation of the shilling and liberalisation of the econ-
omy, for example, led to an increase in commodity prices; with higher food
prices, the dietary and nutritional standards of most urban homes fell. As those
responsible for the welfare of the home, women bore the brunt of these and
other crises. In addition to their traditional reproduction and production roles in
the domestic arena, many women were forced to engage in income-generating
activities outside their homes (mostly in the informal sector) to make ends meet.
The emergence of commercial Ssengas
represented just one of the creative
ways that women responded to the diminished economic opportunities in
urban areas like Kampala. But far from being a simple demand-and-supply
response in a highly competitive liberalised economy, the new phenomenon
radically transformed this traditional institution. The traditional role of Ssenga
thus metamorphosed into a new, liberalised form; its discourse shifted from the
“private” to the “public” sphere. Today, the phenomenon of commercial
has overtaken natal aunts. It is not uncommon for young women to
hire commercial Ssengas
for purposes of tutelage in sexual matters, and even
to stand in as their Ssengas
at traditional bridewealth ceremonies.
A historical and unpaid institution that had served the specific role of ini-
tiating young girls into marriage and domesticity suddenly held great potential
as a moneymaking venture. The urban setting appears to have provided a ready
and willing market, tailor-made by the historical context and the vacuum cre-
ated by socio-economic and political circumstances. The withdrawal of public
health and educational services, for example, facilitated Ssenga
as an income-
generating activity in an era of income-generating promotion. Thus, Ssenga
presented an informal career opportunity, providing a material base for an
ongoing socio-cultural institution.22 The numerous call-in Ssenga
that have emerged on various vibrant FM radio stations, as well as the various
newspaper columns, have not only expanded employment opportuni-
ties in this area, but have also transferred Kiganda sexuality from the private
realm of the home to everyday public discourse.23
Men were quick to cash in on this new career opportunity. Within the new
discourse of liberalised sexuality, a male Ssenga
is referred to as kojja
.24 In fact,
it is not new for men to shift into traditionally female tasks once such activity
enters the paid labour market (for example, cooking as chefs and sewing as
designers). But because male Ssengas
are a relatively new development, nor-
mative reference to them is rare in the sexuality discourse.
include both “conservative” elements that refuse to bend
from century-old practices and “progressive” ones that move with the times.
The age and education of the Ssenga
seem to be influencing factors here, with
younger, more highly-educated Ssengas
leaning towards more liberal views
than their older, less educated counterparts. Other contemporary influences
that have changed the traditional institution of Ssenga
include religion, edu-
cation, feminism, HIV/AIDS, increased intermarriage and information technol-
ogy. Some Ssengas
, for example, have embraced the mobile telephone and the
Internet.25 But, as we shall see in the next section, in the context of “moder-
nity,” the institution has continued to shape urban domesticity. The ancient
and the modern exist in delicate balance, as is reflected in a common Ssenga
mantra, “Ssabasajja awangale
” (long live the king). The institution of Ssenga
thus remains a vital cog in the socio-political wheel of the Buganda kingdom.
This is reflected in the fact that the Minister for Culture and Tradition in the
kingdom, Nakibuule Mukasa, is herself a commercial Ssenga
Exploring the contours of the erotic landscape
The contradictions and dilemmas surrounding Ugandan women's sexuality
come into bold relief when the issues of women's eroticism and pleasure are
discussed in public. While women's sensuality and eroticism are recognised,
there is at the same time a great fear of their sexuality. Heteronormativity is
promoted at every turn, and women are largely barred from expressing their
sexuality in the public domain. Women's sexuality is thus confined to the hid-
den realm of “women's secrets”, with the Ssengas
acting as the chief custodi-
The extent and degree of these contradictions were seen in full force in
February 2005, when four Ugandan women's groups tried to stage Eve Ensler's
play, The Vagina Monologues
, in Kampala. Designed to celebrate female sexu-
ality, as well as spotlight sexual violence against women, the play promised to
break every sexual taboo in Ugandan society. The government, through the
Media Council, was quick to slap a ban on the performance, arguing that the
title was “offensive to cultural sensibilities” and that the content was “obscene”
and “promoted lesbianism in Uganda”.26 Not only did this action on the part of
the patriarchal state deny women's basic freedom of expression, it also exposed
its fear of women's sexual liberation. The play threatened to disturb the order
of gender and sexual politics in Ugandan society.27 But beneath the surface of
such overt political repression lie women's subversive and counter-hegemonic
struggles. Before examining the subversive and transformative elements of
, let us consider the use of metaphor in this institution.
“Mortar-pestle dialogues” – metaphorically speaking
institution wields remarkable power in constructing knowledge
systems. Whenever the Ssenga
tradition is invoked, it is a metaphor for sexu-
ality and therefore a threat to conservative interests. Ironically, as the Ssenga
grooms, moulds and regulates young girls to turn them into “good Baganda
women”, she performatively and discursively reinforces the dominant culture
(patriarchal, heterosexual and heteronormative). But parts of the Ssenga
course also destabilise assumptions that underlie the dominant culture, hold-
As already noted, metaphors and symbols play a central role in the Ssenga
discourse. Referred to as “okwambaza ebigambo
” (dressing words), metaphors
and symbols provide an acceptable medium for communicating about sexuality,
shifting it from the “private” to the “public” realm. Such coded communications
about sexuality are decipherable by women and other adults, but hidden from
Through sexual metaphors and erotic symbolism, the Ssenga
able to articulate and define Kiganda sexual identities, which are central to
gendered cultural prescriptions. The cultural dimensions of sexuality that shape
its practice and the values associated with it can be seen in the language used
to describe sexual representations (see Thornton, 2003). Metaphoric concepts
are derived from the everyday life of the Baganda people. This means that
knowledge about sexuality is facilitated by elements of structured understand-
ing drawn from familiar reality.28 Below, I focus on two metaphorical themes
that are part of Kiganda life – agriculture and the game of omweso
As cultivating crops is the primary economic activity of the Baganda, many
sexual metaphors and symbols are couched in language that reflects this. We
have already noted the historical-cultural tie between women's and plant repro-
duction among the Baganda. Related activities – ploughing, sowing, watering,
weeding, harvesting and eating – are all freely used for encoding knowledge
about the sexual lives of Baganda women and men. Hence a man who is impo-
tent is described as “no longer able to cultivate his farm” (takyalima nnimiro
one who is lousy in bed is a “bad farmer” (ennima embi
); one who experiences
premature ejaculations is referred to as “unable to complete his lubimbi
of arable land apportioned for the day)”; to “eat one's dinner” (okulya eky'ekiro
or “digging one's lubimbi
” both refer to having sex; “food must be eaten with
ebirungo (spices),” means to introduce variety into the sexual routine; and a
woman who is not adequately lubricated is referred to as asiriza entamu
“burns the cooking pot”). The sexual symbolism of mortar and pestle is univer-
sal, with the omusekuzo
(pestle) signifying an erect phallus and okumusekula
(pounding) referring to the rhythmic movements of sexual intercourse.
Games are another familiar icon within Kiganda culture, and thus provide
another popular theme for speech among the Baganda. Here, I use the exam-
ple of an ancient Kiganda board game called omweso
(mancala), which has
gained international status. It is of the “count and capture” genre of games,
and involves two players moving seeds (empiki
) along a wooden board.29 The
objective of the game is to capture the opponent's seeds until she or he is no
longer able to move. The terms used in omweso
are sexually suggestive, for
example, “sowing” (i.e., moving the seeds), “capture” and “reverse-capture”
(taking opponent's seeds). There are various ways that the game may be won,
including ekutema (literally, to chop), akakyala
(literally, feminine) and Emitwe-
(literally, two-headed). Hence, Ssengas
will use suggestive phrases such as
“okutebuka, nosinzira empiki n'ozizako emmabega
” (to hesitate during the
game and move the seeds backwards), “okutambuza empiki z'omweso
move the seeds along the board) and “omweso gw'omuddirijjano
games), all of which have sexual undertones.
Traditional folklore, lullabies and children's songs also provide useful
metaphorical models to mediate sexuality messages among Baganda women.
Teaching about sexuality involves many elements for the Ssenga
, but the most
important is the ability to impart conceptual understanding and a sense of
intellectual excitement about the topic. The creative use of metaphor is a vital
element in this process. At the same time, Ssenga's
of sexuality is a source of power that threatens conservative forces in society.
Such “structuring metaphors” therefore facilitate the construction and con-
solidation of sexuality by the Ssenga
institution. They also validate gender
power relations among the Baganda, as well as helping to create and sustain
the discourse of heteronormativity (as seen in the mortar and pestle metaphor,
for instance). Hence, the subordination, dependency and control of women is
both maintained and disrupted by the institution of Ssenga
. We turn now to
examine some of the more subversive or disruptive subtexts.
Ssenga and the reconfiguration of urban domesticity
As indicated earlier, many Ssengas
do not necessarily conform to the norma-
tive script of gender and sexuality; there are Ssengas
, for example, who carry
emancipatory messages concerning women's autonomy and economic inde-
pendence. Some examples are given here.
Live with a man for some time before committing yourself to him in
Why can't men stomach their wife's extramarital affairs when women
endure it all the time? Men need to understand that their wives get
similar feelings of betrayal, shame, hurt when they cheat on them.31
It's extremely important for every woman to get some kind of income,
however small. Never depend on a man for all your financial needs.
I myself learned the hard way, raising two children on my own.32
Home hygiene is the responsibility of everyone in the home, including
the father. It should not be left exclusively to the wife/mother. Men must
share in domestic chores.… Forget about old practices because culture
The debate that ensued following this last remark during Ssenga
call-in radio programme was most interesting, indicating the potential of
to rock the cultural boat:
God placed the responsibility of home hygiene
Culture is not static and indeed we men should
participate. In olden days women used to work exclu-
sively in the home. Today, they work outside the
home and we must share responsibilities at home.
Men should wash their own underwear, for example.
Men should understand that we don't get married
No, no, no, it's our role as women to take care of our
homes, including washing our husband's underwear.
What is this rubbish, if my woman (mukazi wange
Correction, please refer to her as “my wife” (mukyala
The radical views expressed by Ssenga
Najjemba are in fact fairly common among
educated commercial Ssengas
. They are nevertheless generally supportive of
Kiganda culture, with Ssenga
Najjemba herself explaining that she strongly sup-
ports those aspects of Kiganda tradition and custom that “hold value”.
One commercial Ssenga
noted that the question most frequently asked by
women in her sessions is: “N'omukazi amala?
” meaning, “Do you mean even
a woman can orgasm?” She further revealed that she herself had never experi-
enced an orgasm in fifteen years of marriage, during which she had five chil-
dren. It was not until she had an extramarital relationship that she discovered
(a woman's peak). This was reason enough for her to
, and she now has a relationship that is sexually fulfilling.
As a result, explicit and daring topics such as “female ejaculation” and “cli-
toral orgasm” are part of this particular Ssenga's
repertoire of tutoring techniques.
Of all the public Ssenga
sessions I attended, that of Ssenga
Katana's was the most
striking for sheer presence, charisma and dynamism – her style resembled that of
the charismatic evangelical pastors that are so popular in Uganda today.
Similarly, those being tutored by Ssengas
are beginning to challenge hege-
monic narratives embedded in the Ssenga
institution and to question their
logic. For example, some of the young women at a private Ssenga
I attended, rejected the part of the Ssenga's
core lesson that insisted that they
prioritise their mothering role, taking their husbands as their “first-born child”.
Below is a sample of some of their responses, which caused gasps and mutters:
Do you mean we should remain docile even when he wrongs us? Should
we remain quiet even where it is obvious that he's mistreating and
Wait a minute; all we've heard this evening is how to please a man. How
we must wait on him and our children all the time, what we must do to
please him in bed, blah, blah, blah… Can you tell me what a man can do to
Obviously, these women reject the ideology that privileges men over women.
They also defy the imposition of motherhood as the paradigmatic self-identity
of Baganda women. The demand that men also receive training in how to please
their female partners sexually is a radical move on the part of young Baganda
women. Most importantly, it points to the fact that the Baganda regard sex not
primarily for purposes of procreation, but for leisure and pleasure. This relocates
sex from the medicalised/reproduction realm to the erotic zone. The erotic thus
has the potential to be an empowering resource for Baganda women.
Traditional sexuality has been complemented and enhanced with “modern”
and “foreign” sexual practices. For instance, some Ssengas
' instruction now
includes lessons in oral sex, deep kissing, masturbation, women's ejaculation,
orgasm, and other forms of sexual self-discovery:
Most of us are shy when it comes to kissing and oral sex.… Try it, you'll
love it! … I myself was truly ignorant about female ejaculation until I met
my current lover.… It works best with the Banyankore kachabali
course) technique. If your lover knows what he's doing, you'll pour rivers
and experience multiple orgasms at the same time.35
For a fee, commercial Ssengas
are ready to provide more intimate one-on-one
instruction and advice to individuals and couples on a topic of their choice.
Often, a message included in the curriculum is that men can be controlled and
manipulated through sex. In other words, they encourage women to use sex to
undermine patriarchal power from behind a façade of subservience:
Men are like children…. Let him believe that he's in control while you take
charge. Spoil him, pamper him, treat him like a king and you'll have him
under your wing on a tether; he'll never leave you. He may get other
women, but he'll always return to you. The best time to ask your man for
anything is during sex. Men's brains are weak when it comes to sex. this
Such messages resonate with the old Chinese proverb: “Man is the head of the
family, woman the neck that turns the head!” Using sexuality as a manipulative
tool can be empowering and even subversive. The engagement in explicit and/or
subversive sex talk, as well as the commentary that links men's sexual power to
their economic and political dominance reveals not only women's “embedded
struggles”, but also points to a legacy of cultural forms that marginalised groups
appropriate in defining and pursuing their own needs and desires.
An analysis of commercial Ssengas
' matchmaking services further reveals
that Baganda women are beginning to take the initiative in sexual relations.
For example, a popular segment of the radio programme, Muyizi Tasubwa
given to reading out short resumes of those that seek partners. Ssengas
cation forms require the applicant to provide a photograph plus information
regarding their age, tribe, clan, religion, marital status, etc., as well as their pre-
ferred criteria for a potential partner. Almost half of those that send in requests
are women. It is worth noting that most female applicants indicate that inter-
ested partners must be ready to test for HIV. It is relatively new for Baganda
women to take control of their sexuality and exercise power quite so emphat-
Of course, this sometimes sparks a backlash, as already seen in the govern-
ment ban on staging The Vagina Monologues
. Likewise, conservative forces
denigrate the presence of Ssenga
on university campuses and associate the
practice with the promotion of promiscuity and immorality. During Makerere
University's orientation week last year, the authorities roundly condemned
who “hawked their advice” to female students. The
authorities were particularly concerned by the emphasis that campus Ssenga
sessions placed on sexual intercourse techniques, how to attract men, and how
to extract money from a lover. They felt that these were not matters that “hon-
ourable educated girls” should be focusing on.38 It is clear, however, that much
of their discomfort derived from the potential that such Ssenga
for young women to take control of their sexuality.
So we see the significance of the Ssenga
institution in redefining and refram-
ing the ideology of urban domesticity in Kampala over the last two decades,
through reinforcing and actualising hierarchies of gender and sexuality. The
sexual boundaries that the Ssenga
tradition draws and redraws within the
domestic arena speak to multiple issues of class, gender and religion, as well as
to notions of conformity and transgression. The cultural connotations of sex-
uality as reflected in the evolving institution of Ssenga
thus go beyond hetero-
sexual intercourse and erotics. In the next section, we focus on aspects of the
Constructions of bodily text
Women in diverse cultures have always “fixed” or otherwise transformed their
bodies (through dieting, plastic surgery, waxing, piercing, tattooing and vari-
ous forms of grooming) to fit their cultural norms. One of the ways that
Baganda women “fix” their bodies is through an elaborate routine of “packag-
ing the vagina” for men's maximum pleasure. Such “packaging” takes many
forms and may be divided into two stages: pre-pubertal and marital.
The cultural labia: Pre-pubertal vaginal preparation
Between the age of nine and twelve, before experiencing menarche (first men-
struation), a Muganda girl would be guided by her Ssenga
to prepare her gen-
itals for future sex. This was done through a procedure that involved elongat-
ing the labia minora. Known as okukyalira ensiko
(visiting the bush), this rite
was traditionally performed in a clearing among bushes where the herbs (for
, and oluwoko
) used for the procedure were
found. Pubescent girls would “visit the bush” for a few hours every day over a
period of about two weeks. The Ssenga
would persuade them to comply by
advising them that if they did not, no man would ever ask for their hand in
marriage.39 Worse still, if a man discovered that his bride had not “visited the
bush”, he would send her back home for the Ssenga
to fulfil her duty.
A [Muganda] woman who did not elongate the labia minora is tradition-
ally despised and regarded as having a “pit” (kiwowongole, kifufunkuli,
). If a bride was found not to have elongated her
labia minora, she would be returned to her parents with disgrace (1999).
Over the years, how has this culturally specific practice been mediated and
transfigured? When I began this study, I was under the impression that the
practice was dying out. However, the findings revealed not only that it is alive
and thriving in the urban and peri-urban areas around Kampala, but that it has
also spread to many non-Baganda women (including some of European
descent), who seek the services of commercial Ssengas
to elongate their labia.
Nevertheless, a great many younger urban women have chosen to opt out of
this cultural practice, dismissing it as “useless and primitive”. It may no longer
be obligatory for most young urban women, but it certainly remains a well-
entrenched tradition, especially among the Baganda aristocracy.
The findings show that the practice of elongating the labia minora seems
to serve three main purposes. The first one is functional in that the extended
labia enhance the erotic experience of both the male and the female. When
touched and manipulated in the correct manner during foreplay or mutual
masturbation, they may be the source of immense pleasure to the couple.
Secondly, elongated labia serve as a kind of self-identifier for Baganda women
– the stamp of legitimacy for a “true” Muganda woman.40 The Ssenga
stands that a Muganda woman without elongated labia is a “half-baked” one.
Similarly, many participants in this study were of the view that it was a prac-
tice worth preserving (see Sengendo and Sekatawa, 1999). The third function
is a purely aesthetic one; several Baganda men interviewed said that they
enjoyed looking at and fondling the stretched labia of a woman.
These findings contrast sharply with the definition put forward by the
World Health Organisation (WHO). Classifying it and condemning it as type-IV
female genital mutilation, the WHO lumps this procedure together with FGM
procedures that pose health hazards to women.41 It completely disregards the
ways in which this practice, encoded within the Ssenga
enhanced sexual pleasure for women, and expanded their perceptions of them-
selves as active sexual beings. Interestingly, harmful cosmetic procedures (such
as clitoral piercing) sometimes performed in Western countries are not listed
under type-IV FGM. Through such discourse, this global health body writes this
African practice of sexual enhancement into the broad negative rubric of harm-
ful cultural practices that violate the rights of women and children. Far from
suffering feelings of “incompleteness, anxiety and depression”42 that the WHO
associates with this practice, most of those interviewed in this study spoke pos-
itively of this cultural practice. This “lived experience” of Baganda women con-
tradicts the negative blanket characterisation of the cultural practice of labia
Eroticism and sexual etiquette in the marital chamber
The basic Ssenga
message to married women is: “Be a nice, humble wife, but
turn into a malaya
(prostitute) in your bedroom!” As a sure recipe for healthy
sexual relations, women are constantly advised by Ssengas
to throw shyness,
coyness and embarrassment out the bedroom window. This is reflected in their
own demeanour: when Ssengas
are talking about “bedroom matters”, their
entire comportment and tone changes. They adopt a sensual, sexy voice to
underscore their messages. In fact, a radio Ssenga
will only be hired if she has
a deep, soothing, romantic voice that will charm her listeners.43
Among the erotic paraphernalia associated with Kiganda sexuality are the
stringed, colourful waist beads called obutiti
. Traditionally, the butiti
made out of tiny, delicate clay beads that would make a tinkling or rattling
sound as they knocked against each other with any slight movement.44 The
sight of a woman adorned with rows of butiti
around her waist strutting
around the bedroom excites her male partner. Similarly when a man twirls the
around or rubs them against the woman's body, they function as a stim-
ulant or aphrodisiac.45 Special herbs are often injected or otherwise soaked into
Usually, during a private Ssenga
session, observers will be taught how to
enhance their lovemaking techniques through a guided performance. Two
may lie on a bed and take the couple or group through a blow-by-
blow display of “how it is supposed to be done”. They come prepared with sex
gear and gadgets (including dildos). Key among this sexual equipment is the
(literal translation, hoe), a large, soft, absorbent white cloth used for
hygienic purposes during and after sex. The practices and beliefs associated
constitute a ritual enterprise that in itself is very important to
the Baganda people. Ssengas
even teach various “lovemaking noises” (for
example, okukona ennyindo
– nasal; okusiiya
– hiss; okusika omukka
breath/gasp). Watching two half-naked women in bed did not seem to suggest
After the demonstration, the Ssengas
display the different paraphernalia for
sale, including enkumbi, obutiti
and various sex herbs. A variety of herbs are
prescribed for different effects. Among the aphrodisiacs recommended are
(the local “Viagra”), mulondo
, both of which
are said to be potent in bestowing “power to the bull”. Several herbs are sug-
gested for tightening the vagina and maintaining its warmth – the smoke of
smouldering in a porcelain clay bowl directly into the vagina is rec-
ommended for this purpose. The Baganda prefer “wet sex” to “dry sex”.46 To
this end, the leaves of ekibwankulata
and the bark of kiffabakazi
smoked into the vagina, or boiled and taken orally to enhance vaginal lubrica-
tion for women. The crushed and rolled leaves of kajjampuni
will tighten the
vaginal walls if inserted a few hours before sex.47 Many women routinely grow
these herbs in their backyards and gardens. Love potions recommended by
are numerous, such as the leaves of the kawulira
plant. When these are
mixed into vegetables during cooking and fed to a man, they are supposed to
The article has explored the dynamism and complexity of sexual culture as
illustrated by the institution of Ssenga
. Sexuality is a site for the production of
hegemonic gender discourse, presenting both constraints and opportunities for
empowerment. In many African contexts, the relationship of women to their
own bodies is often different from the disembodied, negative relations rooted
“Body politics” for African women also hold an empowering subtext,
reflected through resistance, negotiation, identity, self-desire, pleasure and
silence. The analysis of the socio-cultural institution of Ssenga
in this study,
therefore, aims to bring into sharper focus the politics, contradictions, anom-
alies, interlocking pieces and locations of Ugandan women's sexuality. Much of
the sexual knowledge and discourse around the Ssenga
tradition is not very dif-
ferent from that found elsewhere in Uganda, or the rest of the African conti-
nent. What makes Ssenga
unique is the institutionalised form that it takes.48
The institution was set up to socialise and direct the sexual lives of Baganda
women, schooling them in heteronormative gender relations. Colonial and post-
colonial forces attempted to exercise hegemony over learning processes around
sexuality via the state and its “modern” public health and welfare institutions
(which have not been maintained). In this context of deterioration of public
services, the institution of Ssenga
among the Baganda has persisted. Not only
has it endured and survived, but it has also expanded, gaining currency beyond
the ethnic and national boundaries within which it was originally located.
This study widens academic research on and theorisations of sexuality as a
zone of pleasure in Uganda specifically and the African continent generally.
One important lesson that I learned from this research experience was that
when we go beyond conventional research paradigms on African sexuality
(which primarily focus on reproduction, violence and disease) to explore the
area of desire and pleasure, we gain deeper insights into this complex subject
matter. I believe that in the long run, by broadening the scope of our research
on sexuality, we can offer fresh perspectives that support more astute strategic
interventions on critical areas such as sexual rights, health education, HIV/AIDS
and development. Specifically, we can envisage how practitioners in these fields
can work inventively and collaboratively with communities that possess long
and complex knowledge traditions of sexuality.
Adopting Lorde's conceptualisation of the erotic as power and Butler's
notions of performativity and subversion have been especially useful in show-
ing how the evolution of Ssenga
practices has allowed Baganda women to
negotiate agency, autonomy and self-knowledge about their sexuality. This
illuminates the liberatory value of indigenous institutions, and represents a very
different perspective to their idyllic or nostalgic portrayals as repositories of
“tradition”, often seen in mainstream patriarchal Africanist thinking. Indeed,
commercialisation, professionalisation, commodification and modernity have
invested the institution of Ssenga
with new scope for challenging subordina-
tion and sexual control. While the patriarchal agendas and discourses embed-
ded within Ssenga
are unmistakable, women's subversive and counter-
hegemonic “silent struggles” allow them to negotiate agency, providing a neat
example of how African women can inherit and shape traditions of their own
that go beyond the discourse of rights imposed from above.
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I wish to thank the following people who read drafts of this article and made veryuseful suggestions: Amina Mama, Charmaine Pereira, Takyiwaa Manuh, DesireeLewis, the two anonymous Feminist Africa
reviewers, and the entire team of the“Mapping Sexualities in Africa” research group.
Human sexuality, as used here, encompasses a wide array of complex elements,including sexual knowledge, beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours, as well asprocreation, sexual orientation, and personal/interpersonal sexual relations. Ittouches a wide range of other issues including pleasure, the human body, dress,self-esteem, gender identity, power and violence. It is an all-encompassing phe-nomenon that involves the human psyche, emotions, physical sensations, commu-nication, creativity and ethics.
Baganda (the singular form is Muganda) is the name of the largest ethnic groupin the Bugada region of Uganda. Their culture is referred to as Kiganda, and theirlanguage is Luganda.
The literal interpretation of the Luganda term Ssenga
is “paternal aunt”.
Although the circulation figures for newspapers in Uganda are low (approx. 40 000for the biggest daily), there are a number of ways that news percolates throughthe populace. For example, non-purchase newspaper “hires” and “newspaperbriefs” regularly transmitted on radio stations are popular.
The concept of “heteronormativity” refers to the ideology that views heterosexu-ality as the normal and only legitimate socio-sexual arrangement of society(Hennessy and Ingraham, 1997).
Such double standards are clearly reflected in Ugandan law: for example, the crimeof adultery applies to women, but not men; and the offence of prostitutionpenalises only the “sellers” (the majority of whom are women) and not the pro-curers (who are almost exclusively men).
By keeping women subordinate, capitalist systems can both justify and profit frompaying women who work outside the home lower wages than men.
The link between women's sexuality and domesticity can be seen in the regulationand censoring of women's reproductive capacity, behaviour, movements, dress,appearance, and so forth.
Reference to the term “African sexuality” here is not meant to essentialise Africanwomen's sexuality. Rather, I use it in the same way that Helle-Valle does, to referto those “aspects of sexual practices and ideology that are widely shared amongAfricans (in contrast to other regions of the world)” (2004: 195).
The television programme analysed was Tuula Twogere
on WBS TV, and the FMradio programmes included Gunno Mulembeki
? (with Ssengas
Eseza Najjembaand Sarah Kabenge, plus kojja Hajj
Musibankutu of Akaboozi Kubbiri FM); MuyiziTasubwa
Hajjat Kayongo and Sandra Babirye plus kojja
BakuluAsomba of Radio Simba); Atanayitayita
Nnalongo Madina of SuperFM); Ebbasa
(with Ssenga Omumbejja Nvannungi of CBS Radio); and AbayitaAbabiri
(with Ssenga Nakibuule Mukasa of Radio Simba).
Being a Muganda myself, I had previously encountered the institution of Ssengaon numerous occasions. Doubtlessly, these earlier experiences also informed myanalysis.
For a discussion of the state sexual control of royal women, see Sacks (1979) andMusisi (1991: 773-776).
However, women who had premarital pregnancies, could not be married to chiefs(Sacks, 1979: 214).
In Kiganda culture, there was no difference between one's father and the broth-ers of one's father.
Some important information was also obtained from the following male historians:Waalabyeki Magoba's Ssenga N'Omuganda
(undated pamphlet); Apollo Kaggwa'sEmpisa Z'aBaganda
(1999); and Adam Kimala's Abaganda Ab'edda
This points to the fact that traditionally among the Baganda, women had the rightto sexual satisfaction.
The Kiganda term lubaale
was translated as “god” by the early British explorersand missionaries. The official website of the Buganda Kingdom challenges thisinterpretation, arguing that the closest equivalent of lubaale
in Western religionwould be a saint or guardian. See http://www.buganda.com/eddiini.htm.
Kabaka Mutebi visited Bbendegere when he got married in 1999 (see Bukedde kuSande
, 19 December 2004).
This practice is discussed in more detail below.
See Tshikala (1999). The institution of Ssenga
is in fact central to gender relationsamong the Baganda. However, the scope of this study is mostly restricted to thesexual aspects of the institution.
are self-appointed and do not undergo any formal trainingor nomination. Most draw their knowledge from their own Ssengas
, popular liter-ature, mass media and various people knowledgeable in the subject.
The Luganda daily, Bukedde
, devotes more than one page on Ssenga
Two English dailies, New Vision and The Monitor
, also carry Ssenga
columns atleast once a week. The Runyankore weekly Orumuri
, has adopted a Kinyankoreequivalent of Ssenga
known as shwenkazi
The Luganda word kojja means “maternal uncle”. This mirror image of the Ssenga
(paternal aunt) portrayed in the male version is interesting. Use of the term for“paternal uncle” was probably not appealing, given that it means the same thing asfather (taata
); it is taboo for a father to discuss sexual matters with his daughter.
Listeners that call into Ssenga
radio programmes or read their columns are usuallyprovided with the personal mobile phone numbers and e-mail addresses of variousSsengas
to enable them arrange one-on-one encounters. Similarly, many Ssengas
today surf the Internet for information on sexuality, and then feed this to theiraudiences; for example, see Bukedde Ssenga
, “Weetegereze w'asuza emikono,” 14September 2004.
See Media Council ruling: In the Matter of the Press and Journalists Act and Inthe Matter of the Media Council and In the Matter of a Play, “The VaginaMonologues” (unpublished), 16 February 2005. For an analysis of the ruling, seeMakubuya (2005) and Jjuuko (2005). See also A. Wasike and E. Wafula,“Government Opposes ‘Vagina Monologues'”, New Vision
, 11 February 2005; F.
Ahimbisibwe, “Vagina Play Dropped”, New Vision, 18 February 2005.
By the time the performance was banned, tickets worth 20 million Ugandanshillings (US$11 500) had been sold. After the ban, only 20 people collected theirticket refunds. This was an important endorsement of people's solidarity with thecause and a protest against government (see “Women Activists Blame Governmentfor Violence,” Daily Monitor
, 28 June 2005; “Women Activists Fetch sh20m,” NewVision
, 28 June 2005).
Similarly, the study by Zubeida Tumbo-Masabo of the Wayao people of Tanzaniaalso revealed that their sex initiation songs “call not only for knowledge of every-day use of language, but [also make use of] euphemisms, symbolic meanings andimagery.” (1998: 108).
For detailed instructions on how to play the game, see the website of the Omweso
International Society at www.omweso.org.
Hajjat Mariam Kayoga, Muyizi Tasubwa
, Radio Simba, 18 September2004, at 12.40 a.m.
Katana, Public Talk, Pride Theatre, 24 November 2004, 6.00 – 9.00 p.m.
Nakibuule Mukasa, Abayita Ababiri
, Radio Simba, 5 December 2004, 5.00– 7.00 p.m.
Eseza Najjemba, Guno Mulembe ki
? Akaboozi ku Bbiri FM, 23 November2004, 5.35 p.m.
Private session with Ssenga
Katana, at Wandegeya, 11 November 2004.
Roughly translates as “A Must-Listen for Learners”, and airs on Radio Simba everyFriday between 11.00 p.m. and 1.00 a.m.
See Ultimate Media, “Ssengas
Invade Makerere,” Monitor
, 23 July 2004.
The cultural and aesthetic practice of elongating the inner folds of the labia isfairly common among several Bantu-speaking communities in Eastern andSouthern Africa, including the Tutsi (Rwanda), the Basotho (Lesotho), the Shona(Zimbabwe), the Nyakyusa and Karewe (Tanzania), the Khoisan (Southern Africa)and the Tsonga (Mozambique).
It does not seem to matter that the practice of elongating the labia is practised byseveral other communities in Uganda and even beyond.
See WHO definition of type-IV female genital mutilation at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/.
Some of the weekend live call-in Ssenga
radio programmes are aired as late as2.00a.m., but fans will nevertheless stay up to listen in.
Today, the beads used for most butiti
are synthetic; most Ssengas
say that theyare not as “effective” as those made from clay
The number of rows around a woman's waist is supposed to be uneven (for example, 15 or 21). This number signifies that she is one ahead of her rivals!
Dry sex is practised in parts of Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Cameroon and theDemocratic Republic of Congo. Women in these communities insert “dryingagents” (such as herbs, powders, pharmaceutical products and dry cloths) into theirvaginas. The cultural beliefs associated with dry sex vary; among them is the beliefthat a dry, hot, tight vagina enhances male sexual stimulation and pleasure. Manyresearchers have documented the health risks posed by dry sex for women (seeBaleta, 1998; Kun, 1998; Civic and Wilson, 1996; Brown et al., 1993).
The fresh, rolled leaves are introduced into the vagina like a tampon and must beremoved prior to sex.
Compare, for example, the sexual initiation roles played by the following Ssenga
equivalents that have not developed into institutionalised forms: the Shwenkazi
among the Banyankore of Uganda; the Tete
among the Shona of Zimbabwe; theAlangizi
among the Yao of Malawi and the Che ˆ
is an Associate Professor and the Dean of Law at
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