Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Africa , African History, Britain, Human Rights, Queer Politics

This Alien Legacy The Origins of “Sodomy” Laws in British Colonialism

Human Rights Watch have released a 66 page report describing the sodomy laws created by the British colonial governments and continued today in over 36 countries from India to Malaysia, Nigeria and Uganda. The report explains how one sodomy law imposed on India in 1860 formed the basis for all other anti-homosexual laws across the British Empire.

The laws that the Europeans brought dragged a long prehistory behind them. The first recorded mentions of “sodomy” in English law date back to two medieval treatises called Fleta and Britton. They suggest how strictures on sex were connected to Christian Europe’s other consuming anxieties…

Less well known is that codifying sexual offenses began far earlier, in 1825, when the mandate to devise law for the Indian colony was handed to the politician and historian Thomas Babington Macaulay. Macaulay chaired the first Law Commission of India and was the main drafter of the Indian Penal Code-the first comprehensive codified criminal law produced anywhere in the British Empire.[48]

The colonial environment was the perfect field for experiments in rationalizing and systematizing law. The colonies were passive laboratories. A nineteenth-century historian observed that the Indian Penal Code was a success because there, unlike at home, the British government could express “a distinct collective will” and could “carry it out without being hampered by popular discussion.”[49]This autocratic imposition of a unified code took advantage of the “absence of a developed and contentious Indian public opinion around questions of criminal law,” allowing Macaulay a “free field for experimentation.”[50]

Fears of moral infection from the “native” environment made it urgent to insert anti-sodomy provisions in the colonial code. A sub-tradition of British imperialist writing warned of widespread homosexuality in the countries Britain colonized. The explorer Richard Burton, for instance, postulated a “Sotadic Zone” stretching around the planet’s midriff from 43 degrees north of the equator to 30 south, in which “the Vice is popular and endemic …. whilst the races to the North and South of the limits here defined practice it only sporadically amid the opprobrium of their fellows.” [51]

It is this law that is used by former British colonies in Africa such as in Uganda, Nigeria and Zimbabwe as well as religious leaders such as Bishop Peter Akinola of the Anglican Church in Nigeria to criminalise same sex reationships under the pretense that they are unAfrican and a Western import. The report is a direct challenge to the lies and cultural revisionism of these people and supports what African GBTI activists and those from other former British colonies in Asia have been insisting – the truth being it is the law that is UnAfrican and a Western import rather than same sex relationships.


  1. anengiyefa

    @case, it is not comfortable for me that a comment relatng to a film about sexual abuse of young boys by their adult techers, should be made alongside a comment about the extraneousness to Africa of laws against homosexual practices, or the legislative interference in the traditional attitudes of Africans to homosexuality. Basically, the two subjects do not seem to be related whatsoever.

  2. Comment by post author


    Anengiefa @ thanks for brining this to my notice – I did not read the comment and I cant see the connection whatsoever especially as watched the programme mentioned by case. I completely agree with what you are saying.

    Case@ Your comment is inappropriate and offensive. The two issues are in no way connected and I too find it disturbing that you some how feel it is OK to make your comment which I am therefore deleting.

  3. Comment by post author


    Case@ If you continue to post these kind of comments I will continue to delete them. It is not a case of whether I agree with what you say or not.

  4. case

    the wider view is that life is all joined up.

  5. Comment by post author


    Indeed it is but one needs to think about what you are joining and where that sits in the wider view.

  6. anengiyefa

    @Case, I do not see how and where equal rights for homosexual people is joined up with sexual abuse of children and/or paedophilia and its victims.